MLB's most problematic contracts: Miguel Cabrera's massive deal leads AL Central issues

Sporting News

We all love to read (and write!) about the worst contracts in baseball. You know the big ones by heart: Josh Hamilton, Barry Zito, Jacoby Ellsbury, Albert Pujols, Mike Hampton and on and on.

But the big-money deals that go south aren’t the only types of contract situations that create big problems. Sometimes, lack of years is as big of an issue as number of years on a deal, and we’re going to look at all of those things with this series. These are the contract situations that keep general managers and team presidents — or whatever the official title happens to be for the decision makers — up at night.

MORE: Problematic contracts in the AL East

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They don’t have easy resolutions, though we’ll try and offer options where options might exist. We’ll go through MLB, division by division and look at the most pressing issues for every team in the majors.

Today: the AL Central, a division that, admittedly, lacks clunky contracts.

Twins: Eddie Rosario

Contract details: Arbitration-eligible in 2020-21, free agent after 2021

Need to know: The Twins are one of those teams without a legitimate contract "problem," in terms of bad contracts. The only two players signed past 2020 are Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, and both are on incredibly team-friendly deals considering their 2019 levels of production. So we look at Eddie Rosario, who will force an important decision sooner or later: Sign him to an extension — it wouldn’t be nearly as team-friendly as Kepler or Polanco — or trade him.

Rosario has earned a steeper arbitration price with his performance of the past three years, averaging 28 homers, a 114 OPS+, 86 runs scored an a .284 average. MLBTradeRumors.com projects his arbitration number for 2020 to land at $8.9 million, which would put him third on the club, behind Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez.

Resolution options: Just let him play and enjoy his production. The Twins can afford it.

Indians: Francisco Lindor

Contract details: Arbitration-eligible in 2020-21, free agent after 2021

Need to know: Cleveland has a lot of contract issues, but nobody moves the needle like Mr. Smile. And Cleveland baseball fans have been on edge pretty much since last spring, when owner Paul Dolan told them to enjoy Lindor now, while he’s still under club control because he’s not likely to be there long term. Yikes. And it’s not like this is a franchise that could afford to just let him walk away as a free agent, so that means trading him at some point. And if you’re looking to maximize trade value, why not doing it while he still has multiple years of club control? Two years of Lindor nets you more than one year of Lindor, and also takes out the risk of him getting injured.

So the rumors that circulated during the World Series — the Dodgers, among other teams, were interested in and targeting Lindor — at least have a solid foundation, even if the details shouldn’t be taken as gospel. The only way the rumors will go away is if Cleveland and Lindor agree to a long-term extension, and that doesn’t seem likely.

Resolution options: Feels like he’ll be traded by the July 31 trade deadline, at the very latest. That’s too bad for Cleveland fans.

White Sox: Alex Colome

Contract details: Arbitration-eligible in 2020, free agent after 2020

Need to know: Unlike Lindor or Rosario, who probably will be traded before they hit free agency, it’s unlikely Colome will go anywhere this season, even though he’s projected to have a $10.3 million salary in his final year of arbitration, making him the highest-paid player currently on the roster. After a painful rebuilding process, the White Sox are targeting 2020 as a year of contention, and having an experienced reliever like Colome — who was 30 for 33 in save opportunities in 2019, with a 2.80 ERA — at the back of the bullpen will be a big part of the club’s potential success in 2020.

Resolution options: It’s possible they could work out an extension with him, but that won’t be a top priority. More than likely, he pitches for the Sox in 2020 and tests the free-agent market after the season.

Royals: Jorge Soler

Contract details: Arbitration-eligible in 2020-21, free agent after 2021

Need to know: It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Soler’s first two years in Kansas City were a mix of frustration and disappointment, but in 2019 everything changed. He led the AL with 48 home runs, blowing away the franchise single-season record. And his contract situation is interesting. The original deal he signed with the Cubs in 2012 (nine years, $30 million) calls for him to be paid $4 million in 2020, but he has the option to go to arbitration instead. And, as you can guess, he’ll do that after a 48-home run season. MLBtraderumors.com projects him to get $11.3 million in arbitration. If he posts even a relatively similar year in 2020, that number will likely double for 2021.

Resolution options: So do the Royals — with their new owner — just let that scenario play out? Do they try to sign him to an extension? Or do they eventually trade him in an effort to find younger pieces to help with the rebuilding process? It’s a conundrum.

Tigers: Miguel Cabrera

Contract details: Four years, $124 million remaining on deal, with $30 million club option ($8 million buyout) in 2024

Need to know: This was a horrible idea from the very beginning. Cabrera won back-to-back AL MVP awards in 2012-13, and that next spring, the Tigers gave him an eight-year, $248 million extension. Thing is, that extension didn’t even start until 2016, two years later. There was no rush to make that happen, but the Tigers did it anyway, getting absolutely zero “home-team” discount. And it’s not like the deal is tapered, either. He makes $32 million in 2022 and 2023, his Age 39 and 40 seasons. And that buyout for 2024 isn’t chump change, either.

With four years remaining on the deal, he’s a shadow of the hitter he once was. The past three years, he’s averaged 101 games, 10 homers and a .749 OPS/99 OPS+, and his cumulative bWAR for that stretch is -0.1.

Resolution options: There really are no options for the Tigers, other than to hope Cabrera enjoys stretches of health and productivity.

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