While it might appear that writing about an article that features no current members of the Cardinals would be irrelevant for a Cardinals-based website, it is the lack of a mention in one particular article that is noteworthy. There are a lot of ways to rank contracts by how good or bad they are, some more subjective than others. Over at ESPN, Dan Szymborski undertakes a more objective method, using projections and the remaining money left on the contract to come up with the deficit for a player when comparing his expected production to his salary.
To answer this question, I started out with the ZiPS projections and calculated the difference between the projected long-term performance and how much a team is projected to pay for that performance for every player in baseball, whether from a signed contract or from predicting arbitration-year salaries. That difference, known as surplus value, is expressed in wins rather than dollars; raw dollars can be misleading given that a dollar committed for 2030 (see: Chris Davis contract breakdown) and a dollar committed for 2016 are two very different things.
Szymborski did mention that he used some of his personal judgment as well, but the basis for the rankings began with his ZiPS projections. The Cardinals did not have a single player on this list, although former Cardinals great Albert Pujols did top the list. One thing the Cardinals have been good at over the years is avoiding these types of deals. It would be easy to say that the Cardinals just avoid big deals altogether, but that has not actually been the case.
In looking at the 25 worst contract on Szymborski's list, eight of the contracts are for $100 million or under and another seven are $130 million or less. The Cardinals have signed many players to similar contracts, but they have not met the same fate.
Here are the largest contracts on the Cardinals:
7 years, $120 million
Holliday's contract will go down as one of the very best big-money free agent signings in history and if Holliday has a good season, this contract could easily turn into 8 years and $136 million and still be a good deal for the Cardinals.
5 years, $95.5 million
This one is not quite the slam dunk like Matt Holliday's contract, but he has been worth more than his contract so far despite missing most of last season. If Wainwright can pitch a year and a half out of the next three years the Cardinals will break even on this contract. Any more than that, and the Cardinals will come out ahead.
5 years, $80 million
This deal is obviously still up in the air as Leake has yet to pitch an inning for the Cardinals. The Cardinals are paying Leake to be average or very close to it over the next five years. It would not be surprising to see this deal turn bad for the Cardinals, but by the time it does, there will be little in the way of money or years owed that it would turn out to be one of the worst in baseball.
5 years, $75 million
The Cardinals are already ahead on this deal, mostly thanks to Molina's incredible 2013 season. If Molina can play even at an average level over the next few years, this deal could turn out about as well as Holliday's contract.
4 years, $53 million
The Cardinals have already won on this deal as well. Peralta is owed just $22 million over the next two years, and as long as he does not fall off a cliff, he will continue to provide a positive return.
6 years, $52 million
The Cardinals still have $47 million to go on this contract, and even though Carpenter is heading into his 30s, it is difficult to see his value cratering to the point where the contract would be a drain on the Cardinals.
Those are the only Cardinals contracts on the current roster above $50 million. Jedd Gyorko might not be a great value, but he is still only owed a little over $16 million during the next few years. Jaime Garcia is into his option years, which proved to be valuable for the Cardinals. Boston is now paying Allen Craig.
Being too conservative can backfire, and the Cardinals do not have any future contracts that look to be incredible bargains. However, not making mistakes when it comes to major decisions has been one of the underrated aspects of the current Cardinals front office.