Fans can get emotional when it comes to player contracts. The Red Sox meltdown at the hands of the Angels on Saturday brought calls for the heads of Pablo Sandoval, John Farrell, and Clay Buchholz. When the penalties were announced for the Sox international signing shenanigans, jokes were made about getting out of the contract for Rusney Castillo, who is now set to be the highest paid player in the International League for the foreseeable future. Unlike the NFL, the entirety of contracts in Major League Baseball are guaranteed—if a team releases a player they still have to pay them regardless of whether they go home or sign with another team. But sometimes players actually do get released with their Jacob Marley financial chains intact.
Coming off a 2010 season that was in many ways his best, Carl Crawford signed a massive free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox. However, the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder who averaged .296/.337/.444 with 50 steals and 13 home runs per year in Florida was a shadow of his former self. Under-performing and injured, Crawford was shipped off to Los Angeles along with Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett in one of the biggest reset trades any organization will ever see.
After averaging 146 games from 2003 through 2010, his first two years in LA saw Crawford appear in 116 and 105, respectively. For a player only in his early 30s that was a disappointment, but his OBP was near his Tampa days. The power he showed before arriving in Boston was gone and his speed was reduced but he was a useful player as part of a team that didn’t especially care about the cost it was undertaking for the return.
When Crawford logged just 69 games in 2015 and Joc Pederson emerged into the outfield picture, things didn’t look great. His dreadful start to 2016 (.185/.230/.235) sealed the deal. With the Dodgers on the hook for most of the $21 million Crawford was due in 2016—plus that entire amount for 2017—he was designated for assignment, ultimately released, and free to sign with any team. That said, while the Rays have considered a reunion with their prodigal son, Tampa is a last place team that needs more than what the outfielder has left in the tank to get back on track in either of the next two seasons. Would any other team be interested? The Red Sox could use some help in left field, but that ship has obviously sailed.
Another Dodgers product, Guerrero was signed out of Cuba in 2013 to a four-year $28-million deal. The plan with Guerrero wasn’t immediately clear, but he was 26 and had success in Cuba. Regardless of the difference in leagues, that’s the type of player to bet on. Guerrero would spend almost all of 2014 in the minors—which may have been part of Ned Colletti’s plan. But once that administration ended and Andrew Friedman took charge, any previous ideas were going to be rethought.
When 2015 began a need for Guerrero soon arrived in Los Angeles. And the 28-year-old delivered. In 13 April games he hit five home runs while batting .423. Was this the shot in the arm the Dodgers needed? Not really. In his next 93 games Guerrero hit just .207/.238/.347 with an additional six homers, entering the offseason having essentially played himself out of a job with Corey Seager and Chase Utley claiming infield roles of their own.
The other problem? A clause in Guerrero’s contract that allowed him to refuse being sent to the minors plus another that allowed him to become a free agent if traded. Those two factors combined to make a struggling player impossible to keep and impossible to trade.The Dodgers will have to pay his way now wherever he ends up through the 2017 season. But at that point, will anyone want to take a shot on a 31-year-old with limited MLB experience?
Somehow of these three players it is only José Reyes who currently has work in 2016. After starting his career with the Mets, Reyes joined the Marlins during their 2011 spending spree only to find himself traded to the Blue Jays when the Marlins decided that committing all that money to Reyes and Mark Buehrle wasn’t a good idea.
Last summer, a middling image of his former self, Reyes was traded to the Rockies in the Troy Tulowitzki deal as essentially ballast to make the financial impact of Tulo work out between the two clubs. The Rockies had no need for his services and likely hoped to flip Reyes themselves in the offseason.
Of course, a domestic violence incident complicated that possibility as Reyes waited for MLB to complete an investigation. In the meantime, prospect Trevor Story made the most of the situation by claiming the starting job out of spring training and playing well enough that as Reyes’ suspension came to an end, there was little question as to who deserved to play based on skill.
And so the Rockies released Reyes, which was the right baseball move—he had no place to play and little trade value—and the best decision from a PR perspective. The New York Mets, apparently not bothered by either, signed Reyes once he was available and are going to slot him in at third base to replace the injured David Wright.
To be fair, Reyes does have a long history of success, but he hasn’t been the dynamic player he was with the Mets in several years. He’s not really any more likely to recover on the field than Crawford. Sure, either player might still have something left, but why bet on the guy with the PR headache—even if when you squint and see a third baseman who might fill a need?