Atlanta Braves: 5 Worst Contracts In Recent Memory

BJ Upton is arguably the worst Braves signing ever (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Washington Nationals/Getty Images)
BJ Upton is arguably the worst Braves signing ever (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Washington Nationals/Getty Images)
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B.J. Upton #2 of the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
B.J. Upton #2 of the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Braves have had some serious wins when it comes to contracts, especially when it comes to extensions with guys like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr just to name a few.

While the Atlanta Braves had serious ups, they have also had some seriously bad downs in recent history as well when it comes to contracts. Some of these contracts are so bad, that they are used as arguments as to why not to sign big-name free agents to this day.

There surely will be more signings once the lockout ends, so let’s look at some relatively recent signings, or extensions, that the Atlanta Braves have made that the front office can look back on and try to avoid making the same mistake again.

Atlanta Braves Sign B.J. Upton

In November of 2012, it was announced that the Atlanta Braves would sign B.J. Upton to a 5 year, $75.25 million deal. In hindsight, the signing of B.J. Upton obviously looks bad. However, even though the contract was hefty at the time, Upton was coming off a three season stretch that was very good.

From 2010-12 Upton averaged 3.5 WAR per season with a batting line of .242/.317/.436 and an OPS+ of 109 (9% above average). He also slugged 69 home runs and stole 109 bases.

It could be argued that the front office put too much focus on home runs and stolen bases, and not on the complete package of a player, but the contract still was palatable at the time of the signing.

Things took a turn for the worst really quickly. As most of us remember, his first two years were a disaster. So much so, the Atlanta Braves had to trade arguably the best closer they have ever had in Craig Kimbrel to get out of paying the rest of Upton’s contract (three years remaining), cementing that the Braves were in rebuild mode.

Upton’s performance was dismal with a batting line of .198/.279/.314 with a 66 OPS+. Even his stolen bases suffered drastically, only stealing 32 total bases while being caught 27.27% of the time. From an overall game standpoint, he ended up bringing -1.7 WAR and -0.2 defensive WAR.

Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves /

Dan Uggla #26 of the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Atlanta Braves Extend Dan Uggla

In November of 2010, the Atlanta Braves traded Omar Infante and Mike Dunn. At the time, it seemed like a solid acquisition with Uggla having the best year of his career with a 131 OPS+, and even receiving some down-ballot MVP votes with a 4.3 WAR season.

Uggla then went on to earn an extension with the Braves the following year, even though he actually didn’t have too great of a season slashing .233/.311/.453 with a 107 OPS+, which was a 24% drop off from his previous season for the Marlins.

His extension was the highest annual salary for a second baseman ever at that point in time with a 5 year, $62 million contract.

His 2012 year was even worse than his 2011 from an offensive standpoint. Even though he led the league in walks, he still had a blow average OPS+ with a 98. To be fair, he did have his best defensive season ever with a 0.9 dWAR. Even still, the extension was not looking good.

In 2013 he fell off even harder with an 85 OPS+, and his defense didn’t save him this time having his second worse defensive season ever with a -1.1 dWAR.

His 2014 was so bad with a 27 OPS+ in his first 52 games, that the Braves ended up releasing Uggla by July.

It is safe to say that the misfires of extension of Uggla, and the signing of Upton, is what triggered the Braves rebuild that ultimately paid off in 2021 with a World Series win.

Derek Lowe #32 of the Atlanta Brave. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Derek Lowe #32 of the Atlanta Brave. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Atlanta Braves Sign Derek Lowe

Derek Lowe was a big-name player that fans were most likely excited about. He was a two-time All-Star, had garnered a third-place finish in Cy Young votes earlier in his career, and was a World Series champion in 2004.

The Braves signed Lowe to a 4 year, $60 million contract before the 2009 season. It did not seem like a bad signing at the time. After all, he just finished a four-year stretch being 20% better than league average at preventing runs (120 ERA+).

Almost instantly, the Atlanta Braves organization started to regret this signing. Lowe gave up the second-most hits per 9 innings in his career, his highest WHIP of his career, while posting an ERA that was 12% below average (4.67).

He did have 15 wins, but this was due to circumstance more than anything else, due to starting the most games in the league, and having a solid bullpen behind him.

For the next two years, Lowe never had an ERA+ at or above the league average, and his WHIP and strikeout to walk ratio continued to be an issue.

After posting a 76 ERA+ in 2011, the Braves had enough and ended up trading him to Cleveland to help mitigate some of the payroll damage.

Lowe ended up only providing 1.8 WAR in his entire three years in Atlanta. WAR is an accumulative stat, Lowe led the league in starts two of three seasons, and was only two starts behind the leader in the other — ouch.

Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves /

Chris Johnson #23 of the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Atlanta Braves Extend Chris Johnson

After coming off an above-average 2013 season (124 OPS+ and 2.5 WAR in 142), the Atlanta Braves extended Chris Johnson to a 3 year, $23.5 million extension with a club option. The deal was a moderate risk high reward scenario with Johnson never having a good year prior to 2013.

Johnson did nothing to boost confidence once he extended. In 2014 Johnson had a -0.6 WAR season slashing .263/.292/.361 which equated to 16% below league average with an 84%. It was not like he was making it up with his glove either, with a -0.4 dWAR.

By 2015, the Atlanta Braves had enough when Johnson slashed .255/.286/.337 with a 71 OPS+ through 83 games and shipped him off to Cleveland for Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher for nothing more than a swap of bad contracts. In fact, the Braves ended up losing about $7 million just to get out of the contract.

Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves /

Pitcher Kenshin Kawakami #11 of the Atlanta Braves. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)

Atlanta Braves Sign Kenshin Kawakami

More recently, we think of Cole Hamels, but at least with Hamels all that was lost was the pro-rated amount of $20 million due to the shortened 2020, and he provided zero value, not negative.

This final spot was a toss-up between Kenshin Kawakami and Bartolo Colon. Colon had one of the biggest drop-offs in recent memory going from a 3 WAR season in 191.2 innings pitched for the Mets in 2016 to a -2.1 for the Braves in only 63 innings and ended up being dumped to the Twins at the trade deadline.

Because it was only half of a year, we will go with Kenshin Kawakami. At the time (2009), the signing was praised. There had been many successful signings from the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan and Kawakami was one of the best. He had their version of Cy Young (Eiji Sawamura Award) under his belt in 2004, MVP in 2004, and rookie of the year in 1998. He also had a no-hitter in 2002 and 6 All-Star selections.

The Braves signed Kawakami to a 3 year, $23 million deal and at first, he looked to have been a decent pickup. In 2009, he had a 3.86 ERA (107 ERA+), WHIP of 1.343, 6 strikeouts per 9 innings with a 1.84 strikeout to walk ratio.

He fell off quick in 2010 even having the exact same strikeout to walk ratio. His ERA spiked to 5.15 due to giving up more hits per 9 innings. He had a 2 WAR season in 2009 in 156.1 innings. In 2010 he had a -0.8 in only 87.1 innings. Remember WAR is an accumulative stat.

The Braves ended up regulating him to the bullpen and then demoting him to Triple-A. He ended up finishing his contract through 2012 in Triple-A and never saw the majors again.

Next. 3 Braves Prospects Rank in BA’s Top 100. dark

Who comes to mind when you think of bad contracts? Comment below and point out who was missed!