Keith Law recently wrote an article in which he opined that the money given by the Diamondbacks to Russ Ortiz was dead money from the moment he signed his contract. From the article:
They won't be eating one cent, because the money was already gone. The Diamondbacks ate that money the moment the ink dried on Ortiz's laughingstock of a contract.
The decision of whether or not to use the player or product or service is independent of the money committed, because it's already spent. You often see the misunderstanding of sunk costs from people who sign a multi-year contract to use a fitness club, then drag themselves to the gym because they're spending the money anyway -- when the truth is that the money is gone even if they never set foot on a treadmill. The go/no-go decision should have nothing to do with the expense.
Josh Byrnes, the Diamondbacks' GM should be applauded for having the guts to release Ortiz. He realized that Ortiz is detrimental to both the team's current and future success and decided to release him, regardless of how much money he's still owed. To be fair, the decision was made somewhat easier by the fact that Byrnes never signed him in the first place (that was Joe Garagiola Jr.'s grave mistake), so he never had to publicly admit any personal wrongdoing.
Recent history is riddled with overpaid players who remained within organizations simply because of their exorbitantly high-priced contracts. Bobby Higginson, who provided almost no value to the Tigers in his final seasons, is perhaps the archetype of this phenomenon. As for the Blue Jays, Eric Hinske is probably the first player who comes to mind when discussing overpaid, expendable players who nevertheless occupy roster spots. To be fair, unlike in past seasons, he hasn't been awful in 2006. While considerably overpaid, he provides value as a utility player and he's demonstrated that he's somewhat productive against right-handed pitchers.
Here are some American League players who, if not for their contracts and past glories, would probably be released by their respective organizations:
Bruce Chen, Orioles (0-6 W-L, 7.33 ERA, 1.74 WHIP): Prior to joining the Orioles in 2004, Chen was a mediocre journeyman who had spent time with eight different organizations. Last season was impressive, of course, but he actually fared considerably better than his underlying statistics would suggest. His FIP, for instance, was 4.96, approximately a full run more than his actual ERA of 3.83. Even though he's only 28 years old (hard to believe for someone who's been a member of nine organizations), he's not someone around whom the Orioles would like to build for the future.
Matt Clement, Red Sox (5-5, 6.61, 1.76): Since the 2005 All-Star break, Clement has been, in one word, awful. He's 18-11 as a member of the Red Sox, but that's clearly a result of fortunate run support than quality pitching on his part. The fact is that the Red Sox boast many good pitching prospects in the minor leagues, any of whom could improve upon Clement's totals. At this point, Clement has absolutely no trade value and he's a liability in the rotation.
David Wells, Red Sox (0-1, 8.64, 1.92): Wells was serviceable last season, pitching 184 innings of approximately league-average baseball. This season, however, he's been either injured or wholly ineffective. He's 43 years old and it appears as though his career is on its last legs.
Jaret Wright (3-4, 4.86, 1.57): The Yankees have been criticized for signing Wright from the moment he was awarded his contract. His strikeout rate has plummeted as a Yankee and, by all indications, his performance will only continue to regress. Since the Yankees are short on starting pitching, it might be slightly rash to release him. But the fact is that he's evidently replaceable. If any MLB-ready starters emerge from their farm system, Wright's workload should be significantly reduced or he should simply be released. For a team with as much talent and as high a payroll as the Yankees, they sure have a lot of dead weight on their roster.
Todd Jones, Tigers (1-5, 7.00, 1.56): Okay, he's probably not as bad as he's pitched thus far. Regardless, however, he's not suited for the closer's role with the Tigers. Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, who may ultimately become a starter, are far superior. The only reason Jones regularly pitches in the ninth inning is because he's a "proven closer" who signed a lucrative deal in the offseason. He easily has the worst ERA on the team, and it's not all that unlikely that a current minor leaguer in the Tigers farm system would outpitch him by a significant margin.
Any relatively high-priced, veteran Royal: The Royals won't be in contention for a while, and should therefore solely be focused on rebuilding. Doug Mientkiewicz, Scott Elarton, et al. will not help the team reverse its fortunes.
Kyle Lohse, Twins (2-4, 9.00, 1.98): He should have been traded during the offseason, though, to be fair, his drastic decline, much like Brad Radke's and Carlos Silva's, came unexpectedly.
Ruben Sierra, Twins (.188/.300/.250): He's not particularly overpaid at this point in his career, but he doesn't deserve to be a member of any major league organization. Give the younger guys a chance.
Jeff Weaver, Angels (3-9, 6.02, 1.48): Weaver should be the odd man out of the rotation when Bartolo Colon returns from the DL. He may be able to help the team in a long relief role, but it's by no means a sure bet.
Adrian Beltre, Mariners (.236/.298/.336): He's been a monumental bust since joining the Mariners, and it doesn't appear as though he'll ever break out. Considering the size and length of his contract, it's likely that Beltre will receive substantial, yet highly unwarranted playing time with the Mariners for years to come.
Carl Everett, Mariners (.248/.323/.383): A team like the Mariners should not be granting old, unproductive players like Everett playing time ahead of its prospects.
Some names were probably omitted, so feel free add any that you feel should belong. Unless they break out of their long cold spells, once-productive players such as Richie Sexson, Randy Johnson, and even Josh Towers may someday attain a similar level of notoriaty as those listed above.