Tuesday night, Josh Hamilton made eight outs in five at-bats, leaving seven runners on in a one-run, extra-inning loss. It was only the second time since 1916 that a player hit into three double plays and struck out twice in the same game. It's not the worst performance this year if you calculate the win probability, but it sure felt like the worst. The Angels fell behind the Mariners in the division, and that was a pretty fusty cherry on top of the fetid sundae.
Pretend the Angels had a gong in the front office. And if they stood up, picked up the mallet, and hit the gong in the middle of a game, that would get rid of Josh Hamilton's contract. They would have done it a month ago. That doesn't mean that Josh Hamilton is finished, and that he'll never be a productive baseball player ever again. That just means if the Angels could get Jaye P. Morgan to help them out magically somehow, they would.
But the Angels aren't alone. Almost every team would get rid of a contract if it could. Here, then, is a division-by-division look at the players teams would dump if given a one-time opportunity, starting with the AL West:
You wouldn't expect the A's to have a bunch of ill-advised contracts, and they don't. Chris Young is struggling pretty mightily, and he's still due over $5 million, so he's a consideration. But I'll bet there's at least one or two teams out there that would gamble on him for that price if the A's really wanted to get rid of him. The fact that Young is still there suggests that the A's aren't ready to bang the gong just yet.
That leaves Hiroyuki Nakajima, who sighed for two years, $6.5 million, but apparently can't play baseball very well. At least, not by MLB standards. The grumblings of regret came really, really quickly out of A's camp in March, and he's hitting .271/.340/.364 in the hitter-friendly PCL. And that doesn't even describe his defense, which is fringy at shortstop. Add it up, and I'd reckon the A's would rather have the refund than the raffle ticket.
For a team that has more than a couple of big contracts, the Rangers certainly don't have many mistakes. They might not have any. Adrian Beltre is a steal, even though his deal looked somewhat onerous when he signed after the 2010 season. Ian Kinsler's deal might look much worse in a couple years, but he's producing now. If the Rangers wanted to trade him, they could, which means the hypothetical gong is still in front of them right now, and they could even pick up a prospect to boot. They don't want to do that.
The Rangers are probably going to pay Joakim Soria a lot of money to not pitch. But they kind of figured that was possible. It was a calculated risk, and Soria is going to start a rehab stint in the next couple days. If he's pitching meaningful innings in October, the Rangers aren't going to blink at that deal. His total contract is less than a year of Jonathan Papelbon, for example.
For now, I'll give the Rangers an "N/A." But Lance Berkman's $13 million option vests at 550 plate appearances, which he might get close to. If he's still hitting .266/.366/.385 in September, he would be the most tempting candidate, even if the Rangers would rather have him as a DH in the playoffs if they get there.
There aren't a lot of bad contracts here, either. The AL West is pretty free of bad deals. And then there are the Angels. Aaron Harang is owed $1.5 million by the Mariners for this season, and he has a $2 million option for 2014. He also has a mesmerizing strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6-to-1, so even though he's allowing a lot of runs, would the Mariners really vanish him if they had the chance? Considering that they'd have to pay someone the minimum to pitch anyway, maybe not.
The Astros have exactly five players making more than a million if you don't include Wandy Rodriguez:
- Wesley Wright ($1.025 million)
- Erik Bedard ($1.15 million)
- Jose Veras ($2 million)
- Carlos Peña ($2.9 million)
- Bud Norris ($3 million)
Wright's been mediocre this year, but he's usually much better. The same goes for Veras. Both could be sample-size victims. After a rough start, Bedard's been pretty okay, and the Astros would have to pay a half-million to anyone who took his spot anyway. And Norris has been their best pitcher, and he has a fair measure of trade value.
That leaves Carlos Peña. If the Astros could end the Peña experiment and save $1.5 million, would they? He's 35 and about 800 at-bats into this new, final phase of his career, in which he doesn't hit for a lot of power. Peña not hitting for a lot of power is like a corkscrew that works only on aluminum cans. Now imagine that a person could have only one corkscrew, so this canscrew is preventing them from actually having something that works.
I'd guess they'd ditch him. It was a noble experiment, possibly with the trade deadline in mind. But considering money and opportunity cost, the positive-clubhouse vibes of a veteran like Peña probably aren't worth it anymore.
Boy, the AL West sure doesn't have a lot of bad contracts. What an awful division with which to start the series. How …
Right, right. That leads up to a big question: The Angels owe Josh Hamilton about $115 million for the next four-plus years. But they owe Albert Pujols $190 over the next eight-plus years.
Pujols is at least showing a semblance of his former bat control. Hamilton is not.
Pujols is also battling a nasty foot injury that doesn't necessarily auger well for his future. Hamilton has nothing like that going on … yet.
If you're expecting Pujols to hit more than Hamilton over the next four years (which you probably are), are you expecting him to hit so much better that you'd be willing to pay him $75 million more? That's a lotta clams.
Or maybe in 2020 it won't be. For now, though, I'd release Albert Pujols into the wild with my magic gong. I'd still want him on my team, maybe for the next few years. But good gravy does that contract look worse now than it did when he signed. And it looked sorta nuts when he signed.