Red Sox: Pablo Sandoval among five worst contracts in baseball

Apr 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) throws his helmet away after being forced out at second base in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jay at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) throws his helmet away after being forced out at second base in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jay at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval has the fifth worst contract in baseball based on ZiPS projections provided by ESPN.

You don’t need me to tell you that Pablo Sandoval hasn’t lived up to the 5-year, $95 million contract that the Boston Red Sox handed him just over two years ago. Anyone can see that he’s been a bust through the first two seasons of this deal, with his albatross salary now serving as an anchor on Boston’s payroll.

Many teams are burdened with bad contracts, but not all bad contracts are created equal. Sometimes they are the result of front offices vastly misjudging the value of a player or desperately overpaying a free agent to fill a position of need – either scenario could potentially be applied to Sandoval. Other times a player’s natural age-induced decline can make the back end of a lengthy contract look abysmal – an acceptable price to pay as long as the player exceeded value on the front end.

How do we sort out which players are tied to the worst contracts in baseball? That’s what ESPN’s Dan Szymborski set out to do. His method uses the ZiPS projection system to rank contracts based on the difference between the wins the team is paying for and the wins the team is expected to get from the player.

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As you might imagine, Sandoval made the list, coming in as the fifth worst contract in baseball. ZiPS projects Sandoval at -7.2 wins below what a team would expect to get for his remaining salary.

Sandoval has been below replacement-level in his tenure with the Red Sox, following a dismal performance in 2015 with a season that was essentially lost due to injury. The result was -1.1 WAR between the two seasons, for which he was paid $35.2 million. For that money you would expect a player to produce at least 3.0 WAR per season, which would make him a borderline All-Star. Instead, the Red Sox would have received more value by plucking a fringe major leaguer out of Pawtucket.

With just shy of $60 million owed to him over the next three seasons, when including the $5 million buyout for 2020, there is little hope that Sandoval will return sufficient value over the remainder of the deal.

However, we should expect him to bounce back to some extent. ZiPS projects Sandoval to be worth 0.5 WAR in 2017, which remains pathetically low given his salary but is still a step up from the value he’s provided to the Red Sox so far. Sandoval entered camp this spring having shed a significant amount of weight, so if he can remain healthy and in decent shape then it’s reasonable to expect he can exceed that projection.

The Red Sox would probably be content if Sandoval managed to get back to posting a 2.0 WAR, which seems to be within reach if he maintains the motivation he’s shown over the winter. He’d still be overpaid, but probably not by enough to remain on this list of terrible contracts by this time next year.

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The only other Red Sox player to make the list was Hanley Ramirez, whose name is found in the dishonorable mentions category at No. 17 with a projected -4.7 wins below expectations. That figure may be bit unfair to Ramirez, especially since he’ll see more time as a designated hitter this season. His transition to first base was considered a success compared to the embarrassing experiment with left field, yet he still provided negative value defensively that dragged down his WAR total last year. With less time in the field to negatively impact his value, Ramirez should exceed his projections; although, we shouldn’t expect his bat to deliver quite enough to be worth his $22 million salary.

Many fans were disappointed with the results from David Price last season, but his name is nowhere to be found on this list. You know who is? Zack Greinke, who fell short of Price’s record free agent deal for a pitcher in terms of total salary, but receives more on an average annual basis with a shorter deal. There was much debate last winter over which marquee starting pitcher the Red Sox should chase in free agency, so while Price hasn’t lived up to his value yet, it could have been worse had they went with Greinke instead.

The only other Red Sox player in that price range is Rick Porcello, but coming off a Cy Young season we can now look at his $20 million salary this year as a relative bargain. Dustin Pedroia ($15 million), Craig Kimbrel ($13 million) and Chris Sale ($12 million) round out the rest of the eight-figure salaries for 2017. Each of them has at least a reasonable contract, while Sale is a tremendous bargain.

Outside of Sandoval, there aren’t any players on the roster projected for Opening Day that are risks of performing significantly below value. The few other potential weak spots aren’t paid enough to be considered among the worst contracts in baseball.

Next: Betts ranked No. 8 by MLB Network

Hopefully Sandoval produces enough this season to take his name out of consideration for this list, but he has a lot to prove first. He’s never going to be worth the deal Boston gave him, but he does have an opportunity to make his contract simply a poor value rather than an abysmal one.