By Jonathan Northrop - AngelsWin.com Columnist
We're now a quarter of the way into the season and it is time to look at the mega-contracts that were signed this off-season; I'm going to include Wells, as his trade was effectively signing him to a four-year deal.
CLIFF LEE (5/$120MM)
2-4, 3.84 ERA, 13:68 BB:K in 58.2 IP; 1 WAR.
Lee is "only" making $11 million this year, although his contract averages out to $24 million a year. Ignore the win-loss record - that's more a factor of luck and how his team's offense has done while he's pitched. His ERA isn't great but his peripherals are, which means his ERA will probably drop. A His Baseball Reference WAR ("brWAR") over the last three years has been 7.3, 5.0, and 4.3 - some decline, but I would think he'll finish in the 4-5 range, which is star-caliber for a pitcher. Lee was somewhat over-rated due to his great postseason performance, but this is still a top 20 starter - maybe even top 10 - just maybe not the top 5 starter that many thought he was.
ADRIAN BELTRE (5/$80MM)
.258/.313/.503, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 121 OPS+, 1.6 WAR
Beltre's got a nice 1.6 WAR so far - which puts him in the top 20 in the AL, I believe. Furthermore, his BABIP so far has been .225, well below his career average of .292, which means that his batting average and overall numbers are likely to sky-rocket. Good news for the Rangers but bad news for Angels fans: It looks like Beltre's 2010 performance was not a mirage. expect him to finish with numbers around .290/.330/.540, 30+ HR and 6+ WAR. Whether he'll be that good in three or four years remains to be seen, but right now he's well worth the money and will only get better throughout the year.
JAYSON WERTH (7/$126MM)
.238/.333/.422, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 108 OPS+, 0.6 WAR
So far, not good. He is looking like a typical "quality regular" - a player average or slightly above for his position. Actually, for a right fielder he might be below average, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He's been disappointing but not terrible, and should improve, maybe even earning his contract for 2-3 years, but things could get ugly in a few years and the Nationals will be looking to deal Werth to the Angels.
CARL CRAWFORD (7/$142MM)
.208/.241/.283, 1 HR, 6 SB, 44 OPS+, -0.7 WAR
Ouch. He is showing some signs of coming out of it as he has hit .290/.302/.371 in May, but he's hit .190 (all singles and no walks) in his last five games, so who knows. It is obviously too soon to tell, but Crawford's performance so far supports my fears during the off-season when it looked the Angels were the front-runners: that he's not a superstar, maybe not even a star except at his very peak; Crawford looks more like a borderline star, that is, assuming his numbers improve. And they will - in fact, I expect he'll return to star level and learn to utilize the Green Monster. But we're looking at an .800 OPS player with excellent speed and defense - a very good player, just not a great one, and not one that will come close to earning his contract.
ADRIAN GONZALEZ (8/$159.5MM)
Contract includes $5.5MM remainder of current contract and 7/$154MM extension)
.327/.384/.583, 9 HR, 37 RBI, 162 OPS+, 2 WAR
This is exactly what the Red Sox hoped for: MVP-caliber performance from their new first baseman. Gonzalez's numbers were good in San Diego, but Petco is one of the worst hitter's parks in baseball. These numbers are for real - expect more of the same for at least the next few years.
VERNON WELLS (4/$81MM - subtracted $5MM paid by Toronto)
.183/.224/.303, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 48 OPS+, -1.0 WAR
I can't say I'm surprised, especially when you look at his atrocious road numbers last year. Well, no one thought Vernon would be this bad and he really shouldn't be - even a pessimistic outlook would expect league average performance and maybe a .750 OPS and 20-25 HR. Is that what $20+MM a year gets you these days? I suppose the best-case reasonable scenario is that he comes back and mashes and ends up with an OPS close to .800 and 20 HR. But if he continues to struggle, what do the Angels do? Given his contract they almost have to give him another chance in 2012, but if he struggles, what then? One interesting aspect of his contract is that he can opt out of it after this year. Now given that he'd still be owed $63 million, there is a fat chance that he'd do that, but would the Angels consider buying him off, maybe offering him a $20-30 million settlement and release, and then Wells could try to re-start his career elsewhere, maybe sign a one-year deal in the hopes of having a good year and signing a multi-year contract? Of course this is unlikely and I suspect that the Angels will give him at least another year no matter what, but if he's bad in 2012 as well than we might see sort of interesting arrangement.
Looking at those six contracts, it is interesting to note that exactly half of them are looking good so far (Lee, Beltre, Gonzalez) and half of them are looking bad (Werth, Crawford, Wells). Obviously it is too soon to make a definitive statements on any of the players, but if you look at large multi-year contracts handed out to players in their late 20s or 30s, only about half of them that end up working out. The obvious question is: Is it worth it? Do you drop $100-150 million on a player if there is a 50% that they'll earn their contract? Obviously not, but why do so many teams continue to do so? It is baffling to say the least.