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The Diamondbacks’ Worst Contracts: Wrap-up

So, what have we learned?

US-FIRES Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

What a long strange, journey it has been. This was one of those projects which seemed like a good idea at the time, but most of them turned out to be rather more than “dashing this off in a quick half-hour” that I expected. Even simply trawling through the various data to try and get the numbers proved quite tough, since there’s no one, single place which easily allows access to the data. Still, I enjoyed the experience: it’s the kind of research I find engrossing, going down into rabbit holes of history. With the publication of Matt Williams - the unexpected #1 - on Friday, the series is now complete, but I wanted to gather everything together in one place. So here’s where we’ve been so far.

I also wanted to include a chart, quickly summarizing the data used, so that’s below. It’s in chronological order of the contract be signed, except for the various honorable mentions, which are tucked away at the bottom of the table.

The D-backs worst contracts

Name Date Length Cost ($m) Adj cost ($m) bWar Neg value
Name Date Length Cost ($m) Adj cost ($m) bWar Neg value
Matt Williams December `1997 5 $45.00 $148.10 5.7 $102.50
Todd Stottlemyre November 1998 4 $32.00 $100.80 1.3 $90.40
Tony Womack December 1999 4 $17.00 $46.57 0.3 $44.17
Matt Mantei January 2001 4 $22.00 $51.06 1.5 $39.06
Russ Ortiz December 2004 4 $33.00 $63.00 -3.2 $88.60
Shawn Green January 2005 3 $32.00 $61.09 0.5 $57.09
Eric Byrnes August 2007 3 $30.00 $46.90 -1.7 $60.50
Miguel Montero May 2012 5 $60.00 $82.40 2.3 $64.00
Aaron Hill February 2013 3 $35.00 $45.53 0.3 $43.13
Yasmany Tomas November 2014 6 $68.50 $81.90 -2.5 $101.90
Zack Greinke December 2015 6 $206.50 $237.15 20.0 $77.15
Madison Bumgarner December 2019 5 $85.00 $85.60 0.3 $83.20
Honorable mentions
Travis Lee October 1996 4 $10.00 $49.40 2.0 $33.40
Jay Bell November 1997 5 $34.00 $111.90 9.7 $34.30
Luis Gonzalez March 2003 3 $30.00 $55.82 5.1 $15.02
Cody Ross December 2012 3 $26.00 $35.70 0.9 $28.50
Bronson Arroyo February 2014 2 $23.50 $28.09 0.6 $23.29
Yoan Lopez January 2015 N/A $8.27 $9.50 0.3 $7.10
Nick Ahmed February 2020 4 $32.50 $32.35 2.2 $14.75

If there’s a general theme, it’s the bigger the contract, the bigger the risk. Thank you, Captain Obvious. But perhaps more relevantly, the bigger the contract, the harder it is to be “worthwhile”, in terms of overall production. These kind of deals tend to be offered to older players. Excluding Tomas, which was a whole different tier of WTF, I think the youngest was Matt Mantei, aged 27 at the time of signing. Miguel Montero was approaching his 29th birthday, but all the others were signed by players already in their thirties. That puts them on the wrong side of the aging curve to begin with.

Length is another problem. There are a number of these deals which were fine for the first couple of seasons, but fell apart in the tail. None of these contracts was longer than six years. You wonder what’s going to happen with regard to some of these recent marathon signings, such as the trio of 11-year deals signed this winter by Rafael Devers, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts. There have now been 22 contracts in MLB for a decade or longer: hard to call any of the ones which have finished an unqualified success, though the recent tendency has been to sign players younger too. That said, the winter 2022 trio mentioned will be 36, 40 and 40 respectively when their deals finish. Plenty of time to repent at leisure.

You can argue, of course, that a contract’s success should partly be measured at a higher level. For instance, does the team’s 2001 World Series win, by itself, justify the Matt Williams and Tony Womack contracts? The latter’s part in the ninth inning of Game 7 can’t be understated, to be sure. But before that point, Womack’s WP for the series was -16%. In the 7th inning of a tied Game 4, he had hit into a double-play with two men on, ending the frame. So without Womack, maybe there wouldn’t have been the need for a Game 7? These “what if’s?” are impossible to determine. Can you put a price on success?

As entirely idle speculation, I think it’d be fascinating if all contracts in baseball were fixed at one year in length. Obviously, it’s something the union would never allow. But it would likely represent the free-market in its purest state, with players being compensated on the basis of what they would bring immediately to a team. Effectively, it’d make baseball into a non-keeper fantasy game, with franchises having to rebuild their roster each winter. This would completely destroy the minor-league system, since there’d be no point in developing a player for one year of service. It’s also destroy the market for jerseys with players’ names on the back. Still be fun, though...

Anyway, over to you. What lessons do you feel can be learned from the terrible contracts the Diamondbacks have had in the past? Tell us in the comments. Next winter, I’ll perhaps take a dive into the other end of the spectrum and look at the best contracts Arizona has had. Got a couple of thoughts on who might top the list; though as we saw here, I think there will likely also be some potential surprises!