To cut the tension during Rich Harden's near-perfecto tonight, trusted colleague/official TGTBATB fact-checker Ali and I went down the rosters of every major league team and picked ourselves a 25-man roster of the most glaring underperformers. These are guys making seven or eight figures and struggling to play at replacement level. These are the guys who are going to cost GM's their jobs.
Sources for this bit of research were ESPN.com for basic stats and salaries, MLB.com for injury news, and Baseball Prospectus for VORP figures. I checked Hardball Dollars a couple of times to confirm contract lengths as well. All salary figures are rounded to the nearest $100,000.
Catcher. This was a hard spot to fill seeing as MLB's current standards for offense from a catcher are not very high. There are a few guys making big money and earning it, and there a lot of guys making nothing and deserving less. Philadelphia's Mike Lieberthal is the obvious starter for our team, making as he is $7.5 million to hit .240/.323/.400 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging). Lieberthal's VORP is 6.7, which is on the high side for this group. As backup we went with Houston's Brad Ausmus, perennially one of the worst hitters in baseball. Ausmus's numbers are .241/.327/.294, and his VORP is barely positive at 1.1. He's a relative bargain at $3 million this year.
First base. Hopefully it's due to injury and not permanent decline that the Phillies' once-great Jim Thome makes this list as our everyday starter at first. Philadelphia certainly has to hope so seeing as they're paying Thome $13.2 million this year and have three more comparable years left on his deal. The numbers are pretty awful: .207/.360/.352 for a 2.8 VORP. And he's now hurt (again).
Second base. We've assembled a dynamite platoon combination to handle the second base job. The New York Mets' Kaz Matsui, making $7.1m this season and more next year, has a negative VORP (-2.7, to be exact) and a mind-boggling .234/.284/.321 line. He'll be partnered with Bret Boone, recently acquired by the Twins after a disastrous half-season in Seattle. The Mariners are still on the hook for Boone's $9m salary. For their trouble they received a stat line of .227/.295/.379. A 4.3 VORP makes Boone one of the stars of this team.
Shortstop. Thanks to all of the good vibes coming out of Washington this year, the historically bad play of Cristian Guzman has somehow gone under the radar. Guzman is making $4.2m in the first year of a four-year deal. For that money he's been the worst position player in the big leagues by a wide margin, hitting .198/.236/.288. His -13.1 VORP would be an incredible figure for a full season, let alone not quite half of one. We want Cristian in the lineup every day, but in case he gets hurt, Matsui is the backup.
Third base. An embarrassment of riches. There were so many great candidates for the hot corner spot that we could only pare them down to three, rationalizing that some of these guys can DH or back up at second and first. Florida's Mike Lowell is a fine player having an inexplicably awful year; he's at .226/.281/.353. That's good for a -4.5 VORP. Lowell's salary is $7.5 million this season. That's nothing compared to Seattle's Adrian Beltre, who gets paid $11.4m this year and more going forward in recognition of his one good season for the Dodgers. Beltre's 7.1 VORP is easily the highest on the team, but for $11.4 million (according to Hardball Dollars, $17 million) you should really be able to do better than .262/.303/.403. Finally, if you detect the distinct scent of cheesesteakemanating from our infield, you're not imagining things. David Bell is the third Phillie to crack the roster, earning $4.7m for his .252/.302/.359 numbers. We just couldn't overlook a regular with a -1.8 VORP.
Left field. A personal anti-favorite of mine since his days in Oakland, the remarkable Terrence Long continues his careerlong parade of ineptitude in front of the long-suffering fans of Kansas City. T-Long is "only" getting paid $4.9 million, with San Diego assuming some of that burden, but for a team with a total payroll of around $47 million, it's pretty hard to stomach this guy, who unlike more than a few of his "teammates" has never been good. .266/.304/.371, VORP of 0.1, meaning he's just this side of being a guy off the street. Billy Beane still has nightmares about Terrence Long.
Center field. While Darin Erstad and Orlando Cabrera came close, our lone Anaheim representative is the eminently deserving Steve Finley. While being compensated $6 million on the button, Finley has compiled a .230/.290/.414 line. That computes to a VORP of 1.9. Finley probably should have retired after last year, but hey, if someone was willing to give him this much money to be this bad, more power to him.
Right field. Another loaded position. Sammy Sosa, now of Baltimore, although the Cubs are paying a good chunk of his $17.9 million salary, is going on the cover of our media guide. The erstwhile Slammin' Sammy has been the black cloud spoiling the Orioles' otherwise resurgent season. Double-check if you wish, but it says here that Sosa is at .222/.300/.377. The former MVP has a -1.0 VORP. That's bad. Willie Mays-with-the-Mets bad. Our fourth outfielder is Texas's Richard Hidalgo, who could easily be a starter. Hidalgo's -3.7 VORP is one of the worst among all outfielders in the bigs. He's making $5m to go .211/.284/.405.
Starting pitchers. The competition was fierce indeed to crack our rotation. There were enough deserving candidates to staff three teams, really. Therefore the five guys we've picked, three righties and two lefties, are made of really sterling stuff. Our "ace" is Eric Milton. Perhaps you've heard a little about the struggles Milton is having in his first, $5.3 million year of a long-term deal with Cincinnati. His numbers bear closer appreciation. Eric Milton is truly the Cristian Guzman of pitchers. The number on the tip of everyone's tongue is Milton's 29 homers allowed, but he also boasts a 6.92 ERA and .305 batting average allowed. His VORP is a team-low -18.6. Joining Milton in the rotation will be Baltimore's Sir Sidney Ponson ($8.5m, 5.93 ERA, .331 BAA, -8.2 VORP), Florida's recently released Al Leiter ($7.2m, 6.64, .292, -9.7), and Arizona's Russ Ortiz ($7.4m, 5.88, .299, -4.0). The Rangers' Chan Ho Park will have to be our fifth starter, as he boasts the only positive VORP in the group (3.9). What distinguishes Park, besides his numbers (5.64 ERA, .293 BAA), is his salary -- $15 million. And he works for every penny!
Bullpen. Hey, if you thought the starters were nasty, it doesn't get any better in the late innings. We opted for balance, choosing four righties and three lefties, although certainly many deserving candidates just missed the cut. Danny Graves, late of Cincinnati, now of the Mets, is our closer. For $6.3 million, Graves has a 7.81 ERA, .341 BAA, and an inconceivable 2.06 WHIP. That adds up to a tasty -9.8 VORP, which is extraordinary for the limited number of innings a relief pitcher sees. Complementing Graves from the right side we have Boston's Keith Foulke ($7.5m, 6.23 ERA, .289 BAA, -1.9 VORP), Atlanta's Danny Kolb ($3.4m, 5.56 ERA, .286 BAA, 0.6 VORP), and the Tigers' Troy Percival ($5.9m, 5.76 ERA, 7 homers in 25 innings pitched, 0.1 VORP). Our southpaws are Yankee/National Mike Stanton ($4m, 7.07 ERA, .298 BAA, -2.0 VORP), Boston's Alan Embree ($3m, 7.93, .287, -9.1), and Baltimore's Steve Kline ($2.5m, 5.57, .252, -1.2). Bonus points go to Kline for badmouthing his own team and saying he wished he was still a Cardinal.
Disabled list. For fun, we also picked four guys, an infielder, outfielder, starter, and reliever, for the honorable distinction of being included on the team's DL. What we were looking for here was players who got off to horrible starts, then got lost for the season or a big chunk of it with catastrophic injuries. All while making gobs of money. Ladies and gentlemen, Bobby Higginson, .077/.111/.077 in 10 games for the Tigers, out since mid-May with an elbow injury. Higgy "makes" $8.9 million this year ($11.85 by HD's reckoning). Nomar Garciaparra, for $8.3m, was at .157/.228/.176 for the Cubs before going down with a groin injury you may have heard about. Oakland's Octavio Dotel, earning $4.8m, actually had some decent numbers -- 3.52 ERA, .185 BAA, 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings. But he blew 4 of 11 save chances and then elected to have elbow surgery despite the advice of no fewer than four expert doctors. Finally, we have Yankee Jaret Wright, he of the $5.7 million salary. Wright hasn't pitched since April, but thanks to small sample sizes he has some hysterical stats. 9.15 ERA. 2.29 WHIP. .400 BAA! For a starter! Wow!
Total payroll for our All-Stars? $205.1 million. Still less than the Yankees!