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The List: Bad contracts

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The Yankees may have the highest payroll, but they have won the World Series three times in the last four years. And if you study their roster there are no Carlos Perez contracts -- or in other words, no huge, fat mistakes.

The one valid criticism of George Steinbrenner is that he ends up paying far more to Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera because he stubbornly wouldn't tie them up to long-term contracts early in their careers. Take Jeter. He'll be a year from free agency at the end of this season. Now, the top free-agent rate in the 1998-99 offseason for positional players was $12 million, exactly what Mo Vaughn got. This past winter, Shawn Green zipped to $14 million. Juan Gonzalez is going to clear $17 million, then Alex Rodriguez will likely get into the $20 million range just when Steinbrenner decides to tie down Jeter, who could have been signed when Nomar Garciaparra signed his deal with Boston.

Still, the Yankees don't make other silly mistakes or get left holding contracts the way they did in the 1980s. Go up and down the Houston and San Francisco rosters. They have no outrageous contracts, and are the best teams you can buy for $50 million. Ditto Cincinnati. All three contend on budgets 60 to 80 percent below the Yankees and Dodgers. The Braves are up near the top because they are in a 10-year championship cycle, but they seldom have a regrettable contract. Oakland is remarkable, considering that for $30 million they have a warehouse of self-developed talent, as well as signed veterans like Randy Velarde, Omar Olivares and Kevin Appier.

Then there are others. Oh, the Mets have nearly $8 million invested in left-handed middle relievers, some of whom are in Norfolk. The Indians might think they're in a little deep with David Justice, but his career has earned his $7 million. The Mariners wonder how they got stuck with Jose Mesa's $3.7 million deal.

In contrast to the Astros, Giants, Braves, A's and Reds in the Fiscal Responsibility column are the clubs stuck with the most regrettable contracts. Below is a list of those teams.

1. Dodgers: One player suggests that Carlos Perez, at more than $5 million, is lucky to get the ball to home plate. Jose Vizcaino is a $3.5 million utility player. Devon White was a terrible contract. They signed Gregg Olson to a multi-year deal, then were surprised when he had some arm problems, and four of their five starting pitchers are free agents at the end of the season.

2. Red Sox: Dan Duquette saved a ton by acting on Garciaparra when he did, and while he broke the pitching-contract record inking Pedro Martinez, it now is a fair-market deal. But as his owner tries to build a new park (which may happen in time for the tricentennial) and has jacked ticket prices to the highest level in the game, there are a number of bad contracts: Rod Beck at $3.7M, Tom Gordon at $4.5M without being insured, Jeff Frye at $2.5M, Sang Lee getting $2.1M to pitch in Pawtucket, Darren Lewis $2.5M to be a fourth outfielder and Bret Saberhagen a $4M risk. They'd love to get out from under John Valentin's $6M, but there are no takers presently out there.

3. Orioles: More than $16M on Delino DeShields, Mike Timlin, Brady Anderson, Buddy Groom and Chuck McElroy. Meanwhile, the owner risks losing three Hall of Famers in three years -- Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro and Mike Mussina.

4. Tigers: They traded a lot of young talent to get Juan Gonzalez, which left them at his negotiating mercy. Then they have Willie Blair, Gregg Jefferies, Masao Kida and Bob Higginson at more than $13 million. Again, check the rise in ticket prices, new park or no new park.

5. Padres: Randy Myers' $6.25 million is an albatross. Chris Gomez and Carlos Hernandez (because of his $3.25M contract next year) have been untradeable. It's not a lot, especially with some of the great contracts they hold in Phil Nevin and Trevor Hoffman, but it's enough, in a year when they need to pare $10 million, to necessitate the trading of Sterling Hitchcock and/or Woody Williams.

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