One of the biggest surprises in baseball this off-season was the contract that the Washington Nationals gave to outfielder Jayson Werth. After securing two stud young prospects via the draft with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nationals attempted to land a veteran superstar and chose Werth as their man. On a loaded Phillies team Werth put up some big numbers in his final year there (.296 batting average, 27 homers and 87 RBI’s) but the deal he got from Washington was more than questionable.
The Nats signed Werth to a seven-year contract worth $126 million. Though the deal will only pay him $10 million this season, it is heavily backloaded and Werth will make $21 million in the final two years of his contract, which will land him in the top 10 for MLB salaries for two seasons. That’s a pretty hefty price tag and it looks even worse when you consider that Werth signed the deal as a 31-year old and will be 37 and 38 when he receives those $21 million paychecks at the end of his deal.
What’s so shocking about the deal is that Werth really hadn’t proven he was worth the kind of money (or even the amount of years) the Nationals gave him. Werth has only had two great seasons at the big league level in 2009 and 2010 and that was with a stacked Philly line-up surrounding him and that gave him better pitches to hit as pitchers were more careful with Chase Utley or Ryan Howard and he also had more opportunities to collect RBI’s because of Philly’s great line-up. Prior to his years in Philadelphia, Werth had never played more than 102 games, hit over .262 or 16 homers and never drove in more than 50 runs.
Werth’s production, or lack thereof, shines light on a pretty big problem in Major League Baseball: The game’s highest paid hitters aren’t living up to their monster contracts. Here is a list of 12 of the 13 highest paid hitters in baseball this season (Joe Mauer hasn’t played enough this season to criticize him) as well Jayson Werth. Werth may not be making as much as these guys this season but over the course of his contract, his average salary per year is $16 million, so I lumped him in as well.
Player R H HR RBI BB AVG
A-Rod 53 90 13 52 32 .296
V. Wells 35 52 12 31 9 .216
Teixeira 52 77 25 65 45 .241
M.Cabrera 62 96 18 58 65 .319
T. Helton 36 82 9 39 37 .315
R. Howard 45 84 18 71 46 .258
Ichiro 45 98 1 22 25 .274
T. Hunter 34 75 9 40 32 .240
C.Lee 35 88 7 48 25 .267
C. Beltran 50 89 13 57 43 .285
A. Soriano 31 65 14 38 15 .261
J. Bay 33 56 6 28 27 .248
J. Werth 40 69 10 31 44 .219
As you can see, only five of these players are having decent to great seasons: Miguel Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Todd Helton and Carlos Beltran. Of those five, only five have over 50 RBIs on the year (Rodriguez, Teixeira, Cabrera, Howard and Beltran), only two are hitting over .300 (Helton and Cabrera) and only three have more than 15 home runs (Teixeira, Cabrera and Howard). That’s pretty mediocre production for the game’s highest paid hitters. Take a look at amount these guys are making this season compared with their WAR.
Player 2010-11 Salary WAR Cost of 1 WAR
A-Rod $32,000,000 4 $8,000,000
V. Wells $26,642,857 .1 $266,428,570
M. Teixeira $23,125,000 2.8 $8,258,928.57
M. Cabrera $20,000,000 3.1 $6,451,612.90
T. Helton $20,275,000 2.5 $8,110,000
R. Howard $20,000,000 1.2 $16,666,666.70
Ichiro $18,000,000 -.2 $90,000,000
C. Beltran $19,325,436 3.3 $5,856,192.73
C. Lee $19,000,000 1.4 $13,571,428.60
A. Soriano $19,000,000 .8 $23,750,000
J. Bay $18,125,000 .7 $25,892,857.10
T. Hunter $18,509,000 1.3 $14,237,692.30
J. Werth $16,000,000 .3 $53,333,333.30
Here is the definition of WAR for those of you who don’t understand it:
Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an attempt by the sabermetric community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic. You should always use more than one metric at a time when evaluating players, but WAR is pretty darn all-inclusive and provides a handy reference point. WAR basically looks at a player and asks the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a minor leaguer or someone from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” This value is expressed in a wins format, so we could say that Player X is worth 6.3 wins to their team while Player Y is only worth 3.5 wins.
It may surprise some folks but Alex Rodriguez actually has the most WAR this season of the highest paid hitters in the league and even though he has the highest salary in the group by far, it only cost the Yankees $8 million per WAR. On the other hand, guys like Vernon Wells, Ichiro and Jayson Werth are producing so little this season that their teams are overpaying them by astronomical amounts. Those guys present some of the worst values in the sport and its no coincidence that they are also the highest paid in the game. For comparison, take a like at the five best hitters in baseball this season as determined by WAR and the great value they give their teams.
Player 2010-11 Salary WAR Cost of 1 WAR
J. Bautista $8,000,000 6.7 $1,194,029.85
J. Reyes $11,000,000 5.2 $2,115,384.62
A. McCutchen $452,500 5.1 $88,725.49
C. Granderson $8,250,000 4.8 $1,718,750
A. Gonzalez $6,300,000 4.8 $1,312,500
Clearly, McCutchen is the best value in the league, giving the Pirates a WAR for only $88,725.49, but he is still on his first contract. It will come as no surprise that Jose Bautista, who I believe is the best player in baseball, is the second best value in the league given his power outburst since becoming a Blue Jay. Gonzalez and Granderson have third and fourth best values per WAR but Gonzalez’s contract this season is a bit misleading. His extension with the Red Sox will pay him $21 million a year over the next four seasons, so next year he’ll be up with those other guys. That being said, he won’t be overpaid. If we use the $21 million figure to measure up with his WAR this season, he produces 1 WAR per $4,375,000, which would be the best value in the group.
Of course, this season isn’t over yet, so a second half breakout for someone like Torii Hunter can bump his WAR significantly, making him a much better value for the Angels. But if the highest paid hitters in the league continue on their current pace, at the end of the year there will be few, if any, guys that are worth even half of their salaries. Whether most of these guys were just playing for their big contracts and have taken their foot off the gas pedals since they got paid (I hate to believe it) or some GMs around the league have criminally overpaid these players (I’m sure this is the case), the players making the big bucks aren’t earning them.
Jayson Werth isn’t the worst value in the league right now, but given what the Nationals invested in him this summer, to see such failure in their first year together could potentially harm the future of their franchise. Previously, guys like Torii Hunter or Carlos Lee have had great seasons for their current teams before starting to produce mediocre to below average numbers, but for Nationals, they have gotten absolutely nothing from Werth and they have to pay the 32-year old $116 million over the next six years.
I think its fair to say that Werth is not Werth that kind of money. And Washington should have known that before they signed him.