The contract do-overs of the NL East

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Which contracts would teams get rid of if they had the chance?

The NBA has something called "the amnesty clause," in which each team can wipe a player's contract from the books each season. The player becomes a free agent if he passes through waivers, and the team gets salary-cap space. The team still has to pay the player, of course, but they lessen their salary-cap obligation. See, the NBA has a salary cap, which is why they have the kind of parity that allows fresh, new teams like the Spurs and Heat into the NBA Finals. It's mostly about parity, not keeping salaries down. It's just a coincidence that LeBron James makes Carlos Lee money instead of Justin Verlander money.

But now we're off track! We were talking about amnesty. Imagine that each baseball team could wipe one contract from their books. Except unlike the NBA amnesty, pretend that these teams don't have to pay a cent once they get rid of the contracts. Which players would they choose? We did the AL West last time, and now we'll turn to the NL East.

Phillies

Now I know the temptation is to suggest that the Phillies would get rid of Ryan Howard's deal, but the more I look at it, the more I'm not so …

Okay, the Ryan Howard deal. The Phillies still owe Howard $108 million, he's 33, and he's had some nasty injuries. Feels like more people should have been talking about how bad this deal was. Has anyone mentioned what a bad deal this was? Seems like it should have been brought up. Well, whatever the reason, it's been an under-the-radar disaster.

And if there were a magical amnesty clause, it would be invented for a contract like Ryan Howard's.

Braves

This is a tricky one. Do you think, based on three months of poor play, that the Braves would hit the eject button on the B.J. Upton deal?

Point: He's been awful. The kind of irredeemably awful that doesn't come around too often, even by baseball-is-weird standards.

Counterpoint: His defense is still exceptional, enough so that he can hit .173/.267/.318 and still be replacement-level according to FanGraphs. He's just 28.

Point: He's been so awful.

Counterpoint: What, you're going to trust his latest 245 plate appearances over the previous 4,000? Patience.

Point: He just swung at that last hypothetical question. Awful. So, so awful.

Counterpoint: His BABIP is .220 -- 100 points lower than his career mark. Come on. Have some faith.

Point: So, so, so awful.

Nope, I think he stays. Dan Uggla, a 33-year-old second baseman who will be a decent bet to finish under the Mendoza Line every year from now until he retires, is still due over $30 million over the next two-plus seasons. That's about half the commitment to B.J. Upton, but there's twice the chance that Upton turns in a couple good seasons between now and the end of his contract. Uggla's the pick.

Mets

Everyone, please, hold your Bobby Bonilla jokes until the end. This is a serious, investigative piece of analysis. Let me continue, please.

they'd probably get rid of bobby bonilla's contract lol

Phew. Thought you'd beat me to it. But the interesting thing about the Mets is that they don't have a lot of awful contracts on the books. We'll see what the David Wright deal looks like in a couple years, but for now the only contender is Johan Santana's contract. it expires after the season, but there's a $5.5 million buyout coming to him, and he's still owed over $13 million for this season.

Reminder: Carlos Gomez (traded for Santana) is approaching stardom now, and that Fernando Martinez and Lastings Milledge are baseball phantoms? I guess the odds were good that just one of the three would pan out, but no one figured it would work out quite like this.

Marlins

The Marlins actually have eight players making over a million this season. There's no way I'm spoiling which ones. Here's the team's Baseball-Reference.com page. Go through there and guess.

A hint: five of them are hitters, and they've combined for this line:

884 at-bats
28 doubles
8 triples
6 home runs
.223 batting average
.277 on-base percentage
.293 slugging percentage
$9 million total salary

Okay, fine. That's Greg Dobbs, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Jeff Mathis, and Adeiny Hechavarria. Woof.

But those are all expiring deals. So is Ricky Nolasco's, but he's making just over $6 million for the rest of the season. All things being equal, the Marlins would like to have that money back. All things aren't equal, and the Marlins will get Nolasco's money back, or at least part of it. He's tradable.

Of those names up there, the priciest one is Polanco, who is still owed about $1.5 million this season. Oddly enough, the Polanco experiment didn't work out, and the Marlins would probably like that money back.

Nationals

Jayson Werth is the obvious answer. In second and third place is Jayson Werth. He has almost $90 million left until 2017, he's 34, and he's having a tough time staying on the field. If it's not the worst contract in baseball, it's in the top 10.

What's amazing about it, though, is what it represented at the time, and how different things are today. When the Nationals signed that deal, they were the Royals. They were coming off horrid seasons, and they wanted to make a splash, but they had to overpay to do it. In the words of GM Mike Rizzo:

"I think anyone is a little uncomfortable with giving anyone a seven-year deal," Rizzo said. "But we're in a position with the Washington Nationals at this place and this time that we have to do a little bit more than the championship-caliber, win-today teams. I think that it's kind of a two-fold process. Sometimes you have to give the years to get the player.

Or in the words of a commenter after that article:

The only way for the Nationals to bring in top level FAs is to pay him a lot of money over a lot of years. Is Werth going to sign here for $50m over 3 years? No frakkin way. If the Nats are serious they should immediately offer Carl Crawford 7 years and $175m. In for a penny (alot of pennies!) in for a pound.

Alot of problems with that idea in retrospect. But you could see where he or she was going.

The Nats had to pay a we're-awful tax just to get Jayson Werth. That was two-and-a-half years ago. I'm always fond of bringing up the 2003 Tigers as an example of how quickly things can turn around. But the overspending Nationals of 2010 are a great example, too.

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