As Orioles face a decision with Chris Davis, what are the largest contracts ever eaten by a team? -

Paul Folkemer

As Orioles face a decision with Chris Davis, what are the largest contracts ever eaten by a team?

At Orioles’ spring training so far, youth has been the star of the show. Prospects such as Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle have flashed their potential, while Rule 5 picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson are generating buzz.

Amid the youth movement, though, one veteran — Chris Davis — has been a focal point. Plenty of questions surround the Orioles’ longest tenured player, who is coming off a nightmarish 2018 season in which he batted .168, the lowest average in MLB history.

Davis, who is sidelined because of a sore hip, was off to a sluggish start in Grapefruit League play before the injury, going 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts.

The Orioles will give Davis more time to find his footing. Still, some Oriole fans are already grumbling for the club to simply cut ties with the embattled slugger, even though they’d still owe him the $110 million remaining on his contract.

But is it realistic to expect the club to eat that much dead money? Only a handful of times has a major league club jettisoned a player — and paid his remaining salary — with more than one season left on his contract (not including players whose careers ended because of injury, including Prince Fielder and David Wright).

Let’s look at the five most expensive dead-money contracts in MLB history. How does Davis’ situation compare?

Carl Crawford
Released June 13, 2016 by Los Angeles Dodgers
Remaining salary eaten: $34 million

Crawford, a four-time All-Star outfielder for Tampa Bay, was long removed from his best years by the time he was given his walking papers in 2016. After signing a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in December 2010, Crawford’s speed almost immediately dried up, transforming him from a speedy, dynamic spark plug into a lumbering, defensively challenged albatross. Crawford, who’d had seven seasons of 45 or more steals with the Rays, stole only 71 for the remainder of his career.

The Dodgers bailed the Red Sox out of Crawford’s onerous contract in just its second year, acquiring Crawford along with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and veteran righty Josh Beckett (and their considerable salaries) in a blockbuster trade in 2012. By 2016, though, the Dodgers had little use for an injury-plagued Crawford amidst a young outfield that included Joc Pederson, 24, and Yasiel Puig, 25. The Dodgers released the 34-year-old Crawford in July, eating about $12.7 million of his remaining 2016 salary and his entire $21 million for 2017. It was the end of his baseball career.


Troy Tulowitzki
Released Dec. 11, 2018 by Toronto Blue Jays
Remaining salary eaten: $38 million

It’s been three months since the rebuilding Blue Jays parted ways with a player who used to be considered one of the best in baseball. Tulowitzki, during his Colorado Rockies’ days, was a five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover who thrice finished in the top 10 of the National League Most Valuable Player vote. In November 2010, the Rockies locked up Tulowitzki to a 10-year, $158 million extension that was meant to keep him in Colorado his whole career.

It wasn’t to be. By 2015, with the Rockies freefalling toward their fifth straight losing season, they made Tulowitzki available on the trade market. The contending Blue Jays eagerly snapped him up that July, happy to add arguably the best all-around shortstop in the game for the pennant race even for the somewhat exorbitant price tag.

The Jays won the AL East that season, but Tulowitzki put up mediocre numbers down the stretch and in parts of two seasons that followed. He was limited to 66 games last year after undergoing surgery on both heels in April. The Jays, wanting to make room for their young infield prospects, decided they’d be better off without Tulowitzki, eating his $20 million salary for 2019, $14 million for 2020 and a $4 million buyout for 2021.

Tulowitzki signed with the New York Yankees for the league minimum this January. He’s expected to be their starting shortstop while Didi Gregorius recovers from 2018 Tommy John surgery.

Jose Reyes
Released June 23, 2016 by Rockies
Remaining salary eaten: $39 million

So, how did the opposite side of that Tulowitzki trade turn out? Not great, actually. The other major league piece in that deal was Reyes, whom the Blue Jays sent to the Rockies to replace Tulowitzki at shortstop. Ultimately, the Rockies paid an almost identical amount of money for Reyes to go away as the Blue Jays did for Tulowitzki to do the same.

The Rockies were the third team to get stuck with Reyes’ bloated contract, a six-year, $106 million pact that he originally signed with the Miami Marlins before the 2012 season. After just one year, the Marlins — in typical Marlins fashion — traded away a slew of veterans in a fire sale, including Reyes to Toronto. Three years later, he was on the move again in the Tulowitzki trade, and Reyes struggled in Colorado for the remainder of the 2015 season.

In 2016, MLB suspended Reyes 51 games after he was arrested for a domestic violence incident against his wife the previous October. He never played another game for the Rockies, who released him in June. They owed him the remainder of his 2016 salary (about $13.3 million) plus $21.5 million for 2017 and a $4 million buyout for 2018. Reyes rejoined his original team, the New York Mets, from 2016 through 2018.

Pablo Sandoval
Released July 19, 2017 by Red Sox
Remaining salary eaten: $48 million

Less than a month after catching the final out of the 2014 World Series for the San Francisco Giants, Sandoval scored a hefty payday with Boston in free agency: five years, $95 million. It wasn’t long before he became the poster child for expensive contracts gone horribly wrong. Sandoval was a dud with the Red Sox from the get-go, amassing career worsts in nearly every offensive category in his debut season in 2015 while facing criticism about his lack of conditioning. The following year, he played just three games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.

Sandoval returned to the starting third base job in 2017, but it lasted only about a month before the Sox pulled the plug. Sandoval was batting just .212 with four homers in 32 games when the Red Sox cut their losses and designated him for assignment. Sandoval has since returned to his first home, San Francisco, where the popular “Kung Fu Panda” was a two-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion.

The Sox will be paying Sandoval a while longer. They owe him $18 million in 2019 and a $5 million buyout for 2020, adding to the $25 million or so that they’ve already paid him since his release. Swallowing Sandoval’s contract, though, hasn’t prevented the defending champion Red Sox from finding success. It’s much easier to overcome a dead weight on the payroll when you have a talented roster — and deep pockets.

Josh Hamilton
Traded April 27, 2015 by Los Angeles Angels to Texas Rangers
Remaining salary eaten by Angels: $73.5 million

When the Angels inked Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal in December 2012, they likely knew the deal was fraught with risk. Hamilton was already 31 years old, and he spoke openly about his previous battles with substance abuse, which had led to multiple failed drug tests and MLB-issued suspensions. Still, after Hamilton got clean and worked his way back into professional baseball, his numbers on the field couldn’t be denied. When the Angels signed him, he’d posted five straight All-Star seasons for the Rangers, including a 2010 campaign in which he won the AL MVP award with a league-leading .359 average and 1.044 OPS.

The Angels’ gamble backfired badly. Hamilton played just one full season with the club, 2013, in which his stats paled in comparison to his Rangers’ years. He missed half the 2014 season with an injured thumb, and finished the year by going 0-for-13 in the Angels’ Division Series loss to the Kansas City Royals. Those were his final at-bats in an Angels’ uniform.

In February 2015, Hamilton notified MLB that he had suffered a relapse in his sobriety. The Angels’ brass bristled, especially when an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton hadn’t violated the rules of his treatment program and would not face a suspension. The Angels were willing to eat nearly all of Hamilton’s contract simply to get him off the team.

In April, they agreed to trade him back to the Rangers. Texas picked up only about $7 million of Hamilton’s remaining salary; the Angels absorbed the remaining $73.5 million. Hamilton slogged through one injury-plagued season with the Rangers before knee problems ended his career.


That brings us back to Davis and his remaining $110 million. If the Orioles were to release Davis at any point this season and absorb his remaining salary, they’d be paying an unprecedented amount of money in MLB history for a player not on their team.

That’s assuming, of course, that the Orioles can’t find another team to take on any part of Davis’ contract. It seems like a safe assumption. Davis’ historically bad 2018 season has likely scared off any possible trade partners, even if the Orioles were to foot most of the bill.

At this point, the remaining $110 million is a sunk cost. The Orioles are going to be paying Davis his full salary, one way or the other, barring an unexpected retirement. So the Orioles’ new decision makers are faced with one key question: is the team better off with Davis on the roster or without him? The money is irrelevant.

It’s understandable that the Orioles’ analytics-minded front office wants to get fresh eyes on Davis and try everything possible to wring at least a little bit of value out of that contract. Davis, for his part, has said he’s amenable to suggestions from executive vice president Mike Elias and his staff, and made some adjustments during the offseason.

It remains to be seen just how long a leash the Orioles will give Davis, though, if he fails to show noticeable improvement in 2019. Sooner or later, the club could face the difficult prospect of swallowing a record amount of salary for Davis not to be an Oriole.



  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    March 11, 2019 at 7:30 am

    Jeepers just think .. dump Crush with with $110 million left and it quite possibly could go down with Dimagio’s 56 game hitting streak and Cal’s 2632 as records that may never be broken? That’s something to hang your hat on!

    (this is of course taking into account inflation over the years)

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 10:00 am

      It would certainly be a dubious way to get into the record books, Boog. But if it has to be done, it has to be done. The new O’s administration didn’t sign Davis to that contract, and I don’t see them hanging on to him if they feel the team is stronger without him.

    • Bancells Moustache

      March 11, 2019 at 10:02 am

      Maybe we can recycle the old 2131 warehouse sign and add a few digits? It might help with attendance knowing each night we can watch 110,000,000 slowly reduce down to a more manageable 90,000,000.

  2. Mike1966

    March 11, 2019 at 8:22 am

    The Orioles can lose with Davis or they can lose without him. Time to “wave that baby bye-bye.”

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 10:01 am

      And I think the new regime would prefer to lose with young, up-and-coming players rather than veterans whose best days are behind them.

  3. Orial

    March 11, 2019 at 8:28 am

    $110 million. Ouch! Sorry fans can’t be done. Like Boog said don’t want to go down with the legendary stats/records that only baseball can supply. Sad thing is if he can’t perform he sits,if he sits he’s taking up space. Then your stuck holding back from joining MLB lore with DiMaggio/Ripken(sorry Boog had to steal it again). How about coaching?

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 10:04 am

      To echo what I said above, I don’t think Elias and company will be particularly bothered if they set a record for most money eaten on a contract. That’s not their concern. The money is already gone either way, so the only thing that should matter is whether holding on to Davis makes the team stronger.

  4. deqalt

    March 11, 2019 at 8:32 am

    I would give Davis until All-Star break to do something. Obviously he can’t ever be traded in this market. This team is in full development mode so if by then someone else needs to start getting AB’s then that needs to be explored. At this point it’s about the roster spot rather than the money. The $100 million is already lost this team is not winning. The sooner we get Trey at 1st and open an outfield spot the better.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 10:06 am

      I think that timeline sounds reasonable, deqalt. Davis certainly should get at least part of the regular season to show if he can improve. Particularly if Mark Trumbo isn’t healthy enough to start the season, that could open up a 1B/DH slot for Mancini while Davis stays in the lineup.

  5. bmorebirds

    March 11, 2019 at 8:53 am

    On a team that is going absolutely nowhere in 2019, count on Davis to be flailing away until the last pitch of the 162nd game. Last time I looked, $110 million was still a s— ton of money. Anyway, the man has only had 12 ABs. Let’s see how things play out.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 10:08 am

      Absolutely, the O’s won’t be making a decision this important based on only 12 spring training ABs. He’ll get plenty more time to show what he can do, both in ST and the regular season. I think they’d be happy if he plays well enough that they don’t even have to consider releasing him.

  6. Fareastern89

    March 11, 2019 at 9:20 am

    If there were no one to take his place and benefit from playing in the majors, you could just bat him eighth and make him a part-time player while working on changes to his approach — assuming he really is open to making any changes. But if Mountcastle hits well at Norfolk, and Davis is under .200 by the All-star break, then just eat the contract and endure the obloquy of the worst signing ever. It’s all on the previous regime (Peter Angelos, not Duquette) anyway.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 10:11 am

      That’s the thing. Mountcastle, assuming he sticks at 1B, will be beating down the door soon, and ideally Mancini should be playing 1B/DH, too. So the onus will be on Davis to improve before a younger, better player takes his spot.

  7. ClyOs

    March 11, 2019 at 9:54 am

    The Orioles stripped the team down to the foundation to rebuild it into a winner. You can’t do that with an Albatross around your neck. If he doesn’t show an improvement they’ve got to dump him.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 10:13 am

      Davis — and his contract — don’t fit well in a rebuilding effort, that’s for sure.

  8. willmiranda

    March 11, 2019 at 10:11 am

    “Off to a sluggish start”? Absolutely hilarious! Given Davis’ sore hip, it’s too bad the Orioles don’t have an Albert Belle insurance policy on him.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 11:46 am

      I don’t think Davis’ hip injury is a career ender like Belle’s.

  9. Bancells Moustache

    March 11, 2019 at 10:15 am

    The key here is Trumbo. Trade him for something and the outfield logjam is solved and Mancini is playing where he should be, with Davis backing him up and DH’ing. Even still, Davis should be treated like any other player and have to fight for at-bats if he is ineffective. This nonsense about disrupting his routine should be out the window, as he has had two seasons to get his head out of his a… At the very least, it needs to be said that Trey Mancini is the Baltimore Orioles first baseman and will be for the next 3-5 years. Keeping him in the outfield because Davis is the better defender is ridiculous, as it is physically impossible to improve as a first baseman while playing left field.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 11:50 am

      Yeah, I have to think Mancini’s days in left field are numbered, especially with Hyde putting so much emphasis on defense. Mancini’s future is at 1B or DH, which means Davis and Trumbo can’t coexist on the roster much longer.

    • cedar

      March 11, 2019 at 3:57 pm

      I agree. If Trumbo starts the season the injury list, Mancini can move to 1st while Davis can DH and see if there is anything left. If he doesn’t, he should be let go when Trumbo returns or when Diaz or Mountcastle can be brought up without starting their service time prematurely.

  10. Zoey Dog Says Throw Strikes

    March 11, 2019 at 10:25 am

    The biggest problem is that Davis, for the second offseason in a row, appears to have talked about making changes instead of actually making changes. At this point, his words ring hollow, and he looks like a buffoon.

    It would be one thing if he was trying new things, new approaches, etc. But so far it’s more of the same, a long loopy swing that bottoms out over the plate, no contact, and watching balls slide over the plate with his bat on the shoulder.

    It’s one thing to suck. It’s another to suck and be willing to give the impression you don’t care. Does he care? I really don’t know anymore. I don’t see evidence regardless of how much we hear from various media.

    We still need to see more at bats from this guy before the final decision can be made. But my gut tells me we’re only going to get confirmation that he’s done. There will be no grand turnaround. As an Oriole, this guy is done.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 11:53 am

      In fairness, 12 spring training at-bats isn’t enough to determine what adjustments Davis has or hasn’t made. I agree that I didn’t notice much difference in the very few at-bats I saw, but that doesn’t mean he’s not working on things behind the scenes. It could just take a while to implement those changes and get comfortable with them. Once he gets back into the lineup, we should have a clearer idea.

  11. Tony Paparella

    March 11, 2019 at 10:28 am

    A very tough decision when you are talking about throwing 100 mil plus out the door.I guess you hang on awhile longer to see if something changes but in fairness to the team and the process when is enough,enough? They stayed with him all last year and it is both embarrassing to the team and the player.That’s why I thought he should have kept a low profile over the winter and pre spring training when he said he will be turning things around.It is too early yet but so far it is the same old, same old, and that is not good.If he continues where he left off you have three options: Play him and lose games, time and money,bench him and lose time and money,or release him and just lose the money. I think you have to give him one last fair shot because of the money you have invested and hope for the best.I am a fan of the big guy and I believe a lot of others who embrace the team are also, though it is frustrating for everybody with any concern..Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a little while longer.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 11:57 am

      I think he did keep a low profile over the winter. He worked on his own for the most part, and we didn’t hear much from him except when he had public appearances for his charity or at FanFest. And I have no problem with him saying he’ll have a better season this year. I wouldn’t expect a professional athlete to say anything different after a season like that.

      We’ll just have to see how it plays out on the field.

    • Raymo

      March 12, 2019 at 10:15 pm

      Tony P: great point about the three options.

  12. ZantiGM

    March 11, 2019 at 11:12 am

    O’s are nowhere near ready to eat his contract but if he continues to be a below .200 hitter through July he will become a part time player and be dumped at some point in 2020.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 11:59 am

      If Davis has another season like 2018, the Orioles won’t stick with him nearly as long as they did last year, that’s for sure.

  13. jobu_23

    March 11, 2019 at 11:31 am

    Davis has done nothing to earn his playing time at first. If he doesn’t want to put in the effort to get better at the plate then he doesn’t deserve regular at bats. Perhaps a few innings at third or in the outfield will remind him that he needs to show up everyday prepared to work to improve. Let Mancini be the starting first basemen, the OF go to the youngsters, and Davis can fill in wherever needed until he earns a starting role again or the new regime cuts bait..

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 12:02 pm

      I don’t agree with the implication that Davis isn’t putting in the effort. I think he’s trying to do what he can to improve. Nobody wants to embarrass themselves.

      But sometimes no matter how much effort a player put in, his skills have eroded to the point that he’s no longer a major league caliber player. I don’t know if that applies to Davis, but it’ll certainly be something Mike Elias and his staff are keeping an eye on.

      • Frank Howard LF-1B

        March 11, 2019 at 3:41 pm

        “No longer a Major-league caliber player.” Any other player than Davis could be sent to the Minor Leagues (no sane team would take him on a waiver claim). I wish I were the Owner or GM, I would offer Davis to the Orioles’ Minor League affiliates, and leave it to him to explain to the Press and Fans why he is too good for a demotion to work on his failing skills.

  14. Birdman

    March 11, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Its pretty much a moot issue at this point, but I don’t understand why Davis never made a serious effort to bunt against the shift in 2017 and 2018 … I know you don’t pay players $21 million a year to get bunt singles, but you also don’t pay them $21 million a year to hit .168 and strike out 40% of the time.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 3:46 pm

      Davis talked about that in one of his offseason interviews. He said he tried bunting against the shift a couple times last year and it didn’t work, so he abandoned it. Personally, I would’ve liked to see him stick with it a little longer. But bunting is a skill that just isn’t in some players’ repertoire.

  15. jimcarter

    March 11, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    Can Davis veto a demotion to the minors? He’s not out of options.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 3:47 pm

      Yes, any player with at least five seasons of service time can refuse a demotion to the minors. Options are irrelevant at that point.

  16. willmiranda

    March 11, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Except for the money –a gargantuan exception, I know– Davis reminds me of an old Oriole, Mike Young. In the days of fewer home runs, he slugged 28 in his second or third full season and seemed to be established as a power bat. But he had a hole in his swing big enough to be noticed by game announcers, and he hit more than 10 only once more, as his average deteriorated as well. Davis is bigger on all scales, but I think the pattern is similar. Take away two phenomenal years, and Davis’s production is maybe average. I like the guy and I don’t doubt that he tries, but he just doesn’t seem able to do it. What first recruited, he was a phenom who hit a wall in Texas. When he came here, he was a phenom for a couple years. He hit another wall.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 11, 2019 at 3:48 pm

      Power hitters tend not to age well, and we’re seeing that with Davis. His swing seems noticeably slower than it used to be.

  17. Bhoffman1

    March 11, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    Great Article Paul, batting 168 should be highlighted. I’m sure Davis feels embarrassed but he seems to be smiling a lot and 22 mil a year for 4 more years makes his pain a lot easier to take. One question no one wants to address. Davis had his big year when he was on Adderall. Once it was removed he immediately went downhill. Obviously he has a problem with ADD syndrome. Is he on any meds now because that’s the only thing that might turn him around.

    • Bhoffman1

      March 11, 2019 at 8:02 pm

      Waiting for a answer Paul

      • Disco Stupid

        March 12, 2019 at 1:08 am

        Re: Davis adderall. Pretty sure Davis secured that adderall exemption a while ago so that probably isn’t his issue. BTW there are a crazy amount of ball players with the exemption/prescription in relation to the general population. That stuff pretty much helps anyone focus and athletes will do anything for an edge and their doctors are paid very well.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 12, 2019 at 1:50 pm

      Last I heard, Davis had been granted a therapeutic use exemption for ADD medication.

  18. The Robski

    March 11, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Not a tough decision. Not even close. Here are your choices. Pay him $110 to be awful, as in painfully awful; pay him $110 to chew up a valuable roster spot better used by a young player who deserves ABs; or pay him $110 to golf.

  19. Jacobs1928

    March 11, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    Time to introduce a contract breaker, in my opinion, if I were the owner I would give him a 10 million payment and cut him off the team ..
    I would offer the facts that the existing contract was based on PERFORMANCE which
    He has not provided it is just like a e.g. a singer who is on a contract but looses the voice…it seems to me if this went to court the O’s would win.
    Owners DO IT!

    • Bhoffman1

      March 11, 2019 at 7:40 pm

      AGREE 100 percent

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 12, 2019 at 1:53 pm

      That would never fly, Jacobs. You can’t void a contract for a player not performing well.

      It’s part of the risk a team takes with long-term contracts. Sometimes they just don’t work out.

  20. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    March 11, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    Elias and company will use their analytics team to make improvements to Davis’s production. I think they will be patient with him to a point . If his failures continue with no apparent improvement. His role will be reduced and eventually released.

  21. BirdsCaps

    March 11, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Cash (formerly Crush) Davis is the perfect example of a one-dimensional ball player. Despite his decent defense, he could never beat the shift and forgot how to hit for power. It is a shame he couldn’t have performed like this in 2015. However, once Manfred and Co. ruin the game with new rule changes (see the Atlantic League rule changes that MLB asked for), maybe Davis will thrive in the new game.

  22. Lee

    March 11, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    Paul thanks for the article. I have a question. I know Hays has 34 days of service time. If he stayed down until about Memorial Day would that set his service clock back so that 2020 is his first full year and he wouldn’t be a FA until end of 2025? The answer to this is the answer to does he make the team now for me.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 12, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      I’m not 100% certain, but yes, I think if he stayed in the minors until Memorial Day, the O’s would get an extra year of team control. Personally I don’t think that will prevent the Orioles from putting him on the Opening Day roster, though.

  23. OrioleRick

    March 11, 2019 at 11:57 pm

    Paul, are there any platoon options that the new analytics team could employ to put Davis in the best hitting situations possible? Right handed finese pitchers who lack a good slider? I didn’t see any jump out. He seemed to do better with first pitch and 1-0 counts in 2018.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 12, 2019 at 1:58 pm

      The Orioles have access to much more data than the rest of us do, so maybe they can unearth some hidden secret to success for Davis. In general I’d say he needs to be more aggressive early in the count. Too often he would find himself behind in the count and then not be able to pull the trigger on strike three.

  24. OrioleBaaebal

    March 12, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Put some roids in his water so he’s suspended and we don’t have to pay him

    • Raymo

      March 12, 2019 at 10:23 pm

      Pretty devious, but I like it.

  25. Raymo

    March 12, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    So this is twice that the Os have been burned badly by a slugging 1st baseman named Davis. Let’s hope they never make that mistake again.

  26. Dpwilson33

    March 15, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    I expect Davis to start the season on the DL. That way the front office can have a hitting instructor spend more time trying to fix is approach at the plate.

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