Back in February of 2021, the Royals signed Hunter Dozier to a four-year, $25 million extension. From the beginning, the deal looked like a head-scratcher, with Dozier coming off the shortened 2020 season with a 99 OPS+.
Sure enough, with two years and nearly $17 million remaining on the deal, the contract looks quite bad—and that’s without even mentioning the $10 million club option for 2025—with no buyout, praise Babe Ruth.
In the past two years combined, Dozier’s been worth negative 3.1 WAR while inexplicably getting nearly 1,000 at-bats. This season alone, his OBP is barely above .300 while his slugging percentage is south of .400.
Clearly, this goes down as a bad deal for the Royals front office, a pact that’s currently restricting them as the team finally embraces the full rebuild.
Yet, it’s not nearly the worst contract in Major League Baseball.
And if you’re a fan of “change of scenery” trades, then there are some options.
Below are six options—four pitchers, two batters—with roughly the same amount owed to them as Dozier is owed by the Royals. A couple of these guys, though, have all that money owed to them in 2023 as opposed to over the next two years. That should be enticing for the Royals as they could clear the books sooner with such a swap.
Then again, if the Royals trade Dozier for another disappointing player who responds well to the Royals, then the team may want that guy around for a bit longer.
Pick your poison.
OF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Blackmon’s played his entire career, which is now in its 12th season, with Colorado, so he could block any trade brought to his attention. Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. The Rockies are terrible and have dealt or let go of plenty of stars since Blackmon made his debut, including Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story.
Timeline u up?— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) August 17, 2022
CHARLIE BLACKMON FOR THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/9bhH9HbF93
Blackmon, 35, has one year left on his deal, which is worth $18 million, so a shade over a million more than what Dozier will make over the next two seasons. The four-time All-Star has struggled the past three seasons, and this year has an OPS+ barely above league average (102) though it is up from last year (96).
LHP Hyun Jin Ryu, Toronto Blue Jays
Set to make $20 million in the final year of his contract in 2023, Ryu hasn’t pitched since June 1. When on the mound this year, the man who led the MLB in ERA back in 2019 hasn’t looked the same. In 27 innings, his ERA sits at a bloated 5.67 while his FIP is 4.79, with a decline in his strikeout percentage.
To move on from Ryu, Toronto would have to convince him to waive his full no-trade clause. But the Blue Jays would save money on this deal while the Royals would grab a guy who finished second in the National League Cy Young Voting in 2019 and looked pretty solid his first two years in Toronto, albeit it over only 43 starts.
Is it risky? Well, yes, but it’s trading a bad contract for another one. Risk is abundant.
3B, Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds
Remember when the Brewers and then the Reds tried to make Moose into a second baseman? Lolz.
Anyway, Moose is owed at least $22 million through the end of 2023—$18 million next season and then a $4 million buyout on a $20 million team option for 2024 that ain’t happenin’.
Essentially, this boils down to: how much does nostalgia cost? If the answer is just over $5 million and clearing the books a year earlier, then by Gawd, John Sherman needs to do this!
As a fan (i.e., I’m not paying these salaries), it would be far less frustrating rooting for a team with a beloved player riding the pine except for every so often than it would be rooting for a team that consistently puts a guy out there just because of his contract.
BRING BACK MOOSE!
LHP Yusei Kikuchi, Toronto Blue Jays
Didn’t I just write about a struggling lefty out of Toronto? Wait, this one seems to be struggling even more?
Kikuchi has two years left on his deal at $10 million per, so he’s $3.25 million more expensive than Dozier. This year, Kikuchi’s first in Toronto after three in Seattle, he’s struggled: 4-7, 5.36 ERA (73 ERA+), 6.07 FIP, 1.534 WHIP, walk percentage way up. But his strikeout percentage is also up, so...yay?
In two of his three seasons with the Mariners, he tossed at least 157 innings, and the 2023 Royals could use that kind of inning-eating.
RHP Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants,
Last year, DeSclafani broke out, going 13-7 over 31 starts (two complete game shutouts) with a 3.17 ERA (129 ERA+), 3.62 FIP, and 1.091 WHIP while whiffing 152 and walking 42 in just under 168 innings. The Giants rewarded him with a three-year extension that has two years and $24 million remaining after this season.
And this season hasn’t gone nearly as well. He’s only appeared in five games mainly due to an ankle injury. But also, those five games have been ugly. Only one time did he pitch at least five innings. In his last outing, on June 26 against the Reds, he gave up seven unearned runs while not even escaping the third.
A change of scenery worked for DeSclafani once. Could it work again?
LHP Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners
Gonzales actually has three years left on his contract, but the last is a $15 million team option with no buyout. In essence, he’s owed $18.5 million over the next two seasons.
After four solid seasons with the Mariners since being acquired by trade with the Cardinals, Gonzales has struggled this season. Though his FIP is down from last year, his ERA+ is a career-worst seven percent below the league average. And yet, the 30-year-old continues making starts, having just started his 25th game for a competitive Mariners squad.
Most startling, his strikeout percentage is down for the second straight year, from 23.1% in 2020 to 18.5% in 2021 to 13% this year. Something’s up with him in Seattle; maybe a move to Kansas City could fix that problem.