Blame falls where it wants. Where the fans want, or the writers want actually. Often though, that blame falls in the wrong place, on the wrong person. This is seen most often in the failures of players playing under enormous contracts. Given hundreds of millions of dollars, these players are expected to perform better than anyone else. They are supposed to live up to their contracts. Yet contracts are the work of the front office, not players. Players and their agents make these contracts possible. They hold out. They demand more. They leave poor teams for rich teams. But they only do this because there are teams willing to pay the money. Players evaluate themselves in their own minds. They do not use objective tools or rationality. They listen to their agents and they listen to their ego. The job of evaluating players on quantitative evidence is that of the teams’ front offices. General Managers are tasked with making the right trades, negotiating the right contracts, and signing the right players. However, they are often not the first to blame when a contract goes bad. Take Eric Byrnes for example. Byrnes is a famous flame-out in the eyes of fans and media. On August 7, 2007, he signed a three year, $30 million contract. At the time, he was batting .303 with a .365 OBP. The deal was in response to a breakdown in contract negotiations earlier in the season. So, beginning in 2008, Eric Brynes was to make $10 million a year on average. The following season, Byrnes played in only 52 games, had a triple slash of .209/.272/.369, and painful -1.2 WAR. The Diamondbacks could swallow the lost season because, in the step-style contract Brynes signed, he was “only” paid $6,666,666. Perhaps the 6’s should have been an ominous sign of things to come. In 2009, Byrnes played in slightly more than half the team’s games (84). He triple slashed .226/.270/.393. He hit 8 home runs, drove in 31 runs, and had an OPS+ of 69, meaning 31% of the league had a better OPS than he. Byrnes was eventually shipped off to Seattle while the Diamondbacks were left footing the bill, but who’s to blame for that. Eric Byrnes always tried. I’m not sure there is a person who watched him play who could say he was lazy or didn’t give it 100%. The fact is, Byrnes wasn’t all that good a ball player. He was average with one good season. While many can say he didn’t play up to his contract, Byrnes didn’t offer himself that money. The Diamondbacks organization did. No one should fault him for taking it. A more recent example is Jason Werth in Washington. Werth first played more than 100 games in 2005 with the Dodgers, and he was mediocre at best. He posted a .234/.338/.374. He missed the entire 2006 season and was allowed to pursue work elsewhere as a free agent. In December of 2006, Werth signed an $850,000 one-year deal with the Phillies. And that’s where things started to turn around. In 2007, Werth, often batting ahead of Ryan Howard or Chase Utley, batted .298/.404/.459. He only had 8 home runs in 94 games, but the power numbers were coming. In 2008, he bumped his slugging percentage to .498, stroked 24 home runs, and drove in 67 runs. He was rewarded with a two-year $10 million contract in the off-season. Werth’s slugging percentage continued to climb. In 2009 he had a .506 slugging percentage. In 2010 he broke through with a .532 year. He hit 36 and 27 home runs respectively. And he captured the eye of the Washington Nationals. During the 2010-2011 off-season, Jason Werth was signed to a seven-year $126 million contract. Without the big bats of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and Jimmy Rollins, Werth found himself with fewer pitches to hit in Washington. So far in 2011, he has shown himself to be much more like the player in Los Angeles than the player in Philadelphia. He is currently hitting .230/.333/.389. He has a 1.9 WAR and looks far from a player worth $18 million a season. Yet again, the media and fans point their fingers at Jason Werth (and Werth surely has his flaws), but their blame is misdirected. The Nationals took a swing for the fences and missed so far on this signing. They failed to take into account the fact that Werth was seeing better pitches with Philadelphia because pitchers did not want to walk him and risk facing Howard or Utley or Victorino with runners on base. They failed to take into a account the fact that Werth was to be the protector in the line-up rather than the protectee, something he had never done in his career. They gave him $126 million gauaranteed and expected him to be Ryan Howard. They expected Werth to cause pitchers to throw better pitches to the players batting ahead of him in the line-up. They were wrong. A mis-evaluation on the part of Nationals that may cost both the organization and Werth in the long run. When high-dollar players struggle, look first at the circumstances. Look at the player’s career. Was this a signing based on a fluke, or was this a sound investment in the future that has simply not worked out? Often, the players are still trying their hardest. They want to succeed, and they want to earn the money that was given to them. Yet, they were placed in situations that prevented them from doing so. The next time a player is eating up an organization’s payroll and not performing, take a closer look. You’ll probably find the organization to blame. Not the player.