Baseball's 5 Biggest Contract Bubbles

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Even as the U.S. economy grows ever so slightly, Major League Baseball has seemingly been recession-proof, doling out massive contracts by the boatload this off-season.

Players such as Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, C.C. Sabathia and Prince Fielder received $100 million plus contracts during the off-season, with millions more payroll added throughout the American and National Leagues.

Not all of these contracts will work out for teams, especially as players age, their bodies break down and injuries become the norm, rather than the exception.

Here are five contracts that may become financial albatrosses for their teams.

Yadier Molina, catcher, St. Louis Cardinals

Yadier Molina, the youngest of three catching Molina brothers to play in the Major Leagues, enjoyed a successful 2011 season, hitting .305 with 14 home runs, and 65 RBIs.

Molina, generally regarded as one of the best defensive catchers of his generation (as evidenced by his four Gold Gloves), signed a five-year extension through the 2017 campaign for $75 million.

Twelve million dollars a year for a catcher is not a lot of money, but considering Molina, who will turn 30 in July, will have to shoulder the load with Albert Pujols moving on to Anaheim, this contract could come back to hurt St. Louis in years three to five.

Molina has averaged 118 games during the regular season and played in an additional 18 postseason games last year, helping St. Louis win the World Series.

Jonathan Papelbon, relief pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies

Having a reliable closer is extremely important, just ask the New York Yankees and Mariano Rivera. When the Philadelphia Phillies decided to let Brad Lidge walk and not re-sign Ryan Madson in favor of doling out big money to Jonathan Papelbon for big money, it left more than a few scratching their heads.

Papelbon signed a four-year deal with the Phillies for $50,000,058, the largest ever for a reliever. He could potentially earn an additional year based on games finished, making the contract five years for $63 million.

Papelbon, 31, was extremely reliable early in his career with the Boston Red Sox, but became increasingly unreliable in 2010 and to a lesser extent, 2011.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "Four years is a little uncomfortable, but on a player like this and a person who has had this pedigree and this background and success, sometimes you go the extra mile to do that."

These comments seem to say that even the Phillies believe this contract will come back to haunt them toward the end of it, but they felt they needed to do it now.

Jose Reyes, shortstop, Miami Marlins

When Jose Reyes left the New York Mets to join the division rival Miami Marlins, Met fans did what they always do: cry and complain and constantly bemoan that the grass is greener on the other side (Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong-suffering Mets fan).

Reyes signed a six-year, $106 million deal, with an option for a seventh year at $22 million -- $4 million guaranteed. Reyes had his best year offensively in 2011, leading the NL in hitting (.337) but he has had injury problems throughout his career.

Despite being just 28, Reyes has missed 126, 29, and 36 games over the past three years, respectively, due to a series of leg injuries. Reyes' game is built on his legs, his ability to turn doubles into triples and to steal 30-plus bases when healthy. If his legs (and particularly his hamstrings) continue to give him problems, Reyes' contract could prove to be disaster.

Prince Fielder, first base, Detroit Tigers

The son of former Detroit Tigers great Cecil Fielder, Prince Fielder is coming home in a way, but not at a hometown discount.

The former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman signed a nine-year, $214 million contract this year with his father's former team, making him the highest paid Detroit Tiger in history. Fielder is only 27, and injuries have never been a concern (he's played in 150-plus games every year since he's been a regular), but his weight could be a problem down the line. Fielder is listed at 275 pounds, as many people know when they age, your weigh usually doesn't go lower. Playing in the American League should help him to relax and rest his body occasionally, as he transitions toward becoming a DH.

Nine years is a long time, especially for an athlete. The Tigers better hope he helps bring a World Series or two to Motown, otherwise this contract will look like an albatross more than asset.

Yoenis Cespedes, outfield, Oakland Athletics

Cespedes did not sign for a big money deal, (four years, $36 million), but he could be the biggest risk the A's have taken in a long time.

The 26-year old outfielder from Cuba has not played in a major league game, and at 26, is not considered a top prospect by conventional standards. The A's are clearly betting that Cespedes can help them if not in 2012, then definitely 2013 and after, but no one knows how Cespedes will adapt to a new country, language and new pitching.

Cespedes is one of the most accomplished players ever to come out of Cuba, but the last good major league player from Cuba was Livan Hernandez. That doesn't exactly make A's fans brim with confidence that Cespedes will be a superstar.

The A's are a cash-strapped team, and GM Billy Beane has worked so many wonders with his roster. His philosophy of building the team was profiled in the book and movie Moneyball, but if Cespedes proves to be a bust, it could prove to be a strikeout for Beane.

-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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