One of the things I'm fond of saying about certain contracts is that they're "bad, but they won't kill the team." The Mariners gave one of these to Carl Everett just a few days ago - it's money they didn't need to spend, but for the price and the length, it's not that big of a deal in the long run.
However, I'm beginning to think that statement may convey the wrong message, because bad contracts are rarely signed in isolation, and once you get a few of them on your roster the money really starts adding up. One of my favorite examples of this is the 2002 Texas Rangers, whose failure many blame on the massive Alex Rodriguez contract. But take a closer look:
Juan Gonzalez: $11m
Carl Everett: $8.7m
Chan Ho Park: $6.9m
Rusty Greer: $6.8m
John Rocker: $2.5m
Jay Powell: $2.25m
Dave Burba: $2m
Todd Van Poppel: $2m
Gabe Kapler: $1.85m
Dan Miceli: $1m
Rudy Seanez: $1m
The Rangers spent $46m on those 11 players, or 44% of their $104m payroll. In return, they got a cumulative VORP of 27.8 - about three wins over what they would've gotten from 11 replacement players (if you're feeling generous). That's also more than twice what they spent on Alex Rodriguez that year, who, at the time, was the most valuable player in the world.
Bad front offices sign bad contracts. Occasionally you'll see someone like Billy Beane give Scott Hatteberg too much money, but more often than not, one bad contract is an indication that there are more on the way, and possibly of a larger magnitude. I was hoping that Everett would be the beginning and end of it, that the Mariners would go on to sign Kevin Millwood and make everybody happy, but this Jarrod Washburn rumor has left me rather mortified.
The market for middle-of-the-rotation starting pitchers is always the most vulnerable to severe inflation, and that's certainly been the case so far this winter, what with the commitments given to guys like Kenny Rogers, Paul Byrd, and Matt Morris. The market for aces generally remains pretty stable, though, and they almost invariably represent the best value for the money. So the key for a smart front office is to hone in on the true #1's (say, Millwood and Burnett) while avoiding the overpriced 3's and 4's. Guess where Jarrod Washburn belongs.
The reality of it is that bad contracts pile on top of each other, hurting the team far more as a group than you ever could've imagined by looking at them individually. Jarrod Washburn is virtually guaranteed to become one of those contracts, and at $9m+ per year (Jeff's update: and for four years!), he'd singlehandedly reduce Seattle's financial flexibility by 10% without providing the kind of performance to make it worthwhile. That's a big step in the wrong direction.
Please don't let this be real.