We conclude our look back at the worst free agent contracts of the past decade, with a focus on the AL and NL West.
As with our looks at the AL/NL East and AL/NL Central, this rundown is drawn from ESPN baseball analyst David Schoenfield’s recent list of the best and worst free-agent signings of the decade for all 30 MLB teams.
The five worst AL West contracts:
Contract: Shin-Soo Choo, 2014 (7 years, $130 million)
Impact on team wins: Texas went 91-72 in 2013, and 67-95 in 2014. Choo compiled 4.2 WAR in 2013, but only 0.1 WAR in 2014.
Schoenfield: “The Rangers started the decade with back-to-back World Series trips and three consecutive playoff appearances (and then a loss in a tiebreaker game in 2013). After a down year in 2014, they bounced back with two more division titles in 2015 and 2016, although they barely outscored their opponents over those two seasons. Overall, the Rangers have cooled off their spending in recent seasons and haven’t spent more than $30 million on one player since 2014. There were expectations that might change as they move into their new stadium for 2020, but they lost out on Anthony Rendon.“
Other takes: In March 2017, Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel wrote, “The horrendous seven-year, $130 million contract the Rangers gave him is not his fault, yet history says he will not be here long enough to see the end of the deal with this team. We are blessed with sports owners who will flush guys if they aren’t worth it. Choo is locked in a death battle with former Rangers pitcher Chan Ho Park for The Worst Contract in DFW this century. Coincidentally, they are both from South Korea. Not coincidentally, they are both represented by Mr. Mephistopheles, who is more commonly referred to by his stage name: Scott Boras. In three seasons with the Rangers, Choo has appeared in 320 games and batted .258. I don’t care what his WAR is — his numbers ain’t good and are not worth it.“
Los Angeles Angels
Contract: Albert Pujols, 2012 (10 years, $250 million)
Impact on team wins: Los Angeles went 86-76 in 2011, and 89-73 in 2012. Pujols compiled 5.1 WAR in 2011, but only 4.6 WAR in 2012.
Schoenfield: “Hard to believe that Pujols has now played eight seasons with the Angels. He has basically been a replacement-level player for four seasons now and has totaled 13.7 WAR in his Angels career, 4.8 of that coming in his first season — the only season he has topped an .800 OPS in an Angels uniform. Put it this way: Since 2013, there have been 110 qualified first base/DH seasons of an .800 OPS or higher, an average of 15.7 per season. None of them have come from Pujols.“
Other takes: In December 2019, NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra wrote, “Pujols, however, who was 32 the first time he swung a bat for the Angels, almost immediately became a different player than he had been with the Cardinals. As measured by WAR, his first season with the Angels, 2012, was the worst of his career. It would also be the best season he would ever have as an Angel. In 2013 he posted career worsts in hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs, RBI, walks, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. Also beginning in 2013 he began to be bedeviled by foot injuries which would cost him hundreds of games and sap his production even more in the coming years. From 2014-16 Pujols remained a slightly above-average hitter, topping 40 homers once and 30 once, but he was one dimensional, a big liability on defense and on the base paths. For the past three seasons he has been among the worst overall players in the game. The only offensive categories he has ever lead the league in is grounding into double plays, which he was done four times.“
Contract: Billy Butler, 2015 (3 years, $30 million)
Impact on team wins: Oakland went 88-74 in 2014, and 68-94 in 2015. Butler compiled -0.3 WAR in 2014, but only -0.9 WAR in 2015.
Schoenfield: “Definitely not a Moneyball moment. Butler’s deal was much maligned at the time, as he was coming off a bad season with the Royals with a below-average OPS and he was limited to DH. Butler hit just 19 home runs in his year-plus in Oakland, and after making the playoffs three straight years from 2012 to 2014, the A’s collapsed to 94 losses in 2015.“
Other takes: In September 2017, White Cleat Beat’s Joey Lopez wrote, “The A’s were banking on Butler to rebound and rejuvenate his career in Oakland. No such rejuvenation would take place. Butler simply failed to produce in Oakland. Beane took a $30 million gamble and lost miserably. The A’s have had plenty of success under Beane despite having a relatively low payroll. Butler’s deal did not feel completely right for the A’s, especially at that high of a price tag. Butler failed to produce, but succeeded in helping destroy what was usually regarded as a fun, loose and positive clubhouse. Butler’s altercation with Danny Valencia was his low-point with the A’s. His release was announced shortly after and closed the door on his tenure with Oakland. Over his two years with the A’s, Butler slashed .258/.325/.394 with 19 HR and 96 RBI. The A’s are still paying Butler to this day, despite not featuring him on the roster. That $30 million could have been used to help some talent, but was instead invested in a player past his prime.“
Contract: Chone Figgins, 2010 (4 years, $36 million)
Impact on team wins: Seattle went 85-77 in 2009, and 61-101 in 2010. Figgins compiled 7.5 WAR in 2009, but only 0.8 WAR in 2010.
Schoenfield: “Remember when the Mariners tried the whole pitching-and-defense thing and graced the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s baseball preview issue in 2010? Yeah, they lost 101 games that year.“
Other takes: In December 2014, CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa wrote, “All told, Figgins hit an unfathomably bad .227/.302/.283 (68 OPS+) in 308 games with the Mariners, who also moved him to second base and saw his defense take a big hit. Figgins was done as an everyday player by the second year of his four-year contract. So let this be a reminder: giving a huge contract to the guy who just had a career year at age 31 probably isn’t the best investment. And don’t overrate versatility.“
Contract: Tony Sipp, 2016 (3 years, $18 million)
Impact on team wins: Houston went 86-76 in 2015, and 84-78 in 2016. Sipp compiled 1.7 WAR in 2015, but only – 0.4 WAR in 2016.
Schoenfield: “Not spending big in free agency also means the Astros haven’t made any mistakes. Sipp had a 1.99 ERA in 2015, but after re-signing he had a 4.21 ERA over three seasons, pitching mostly in low-leverage relief.“
Other takes: In November 2018, The Crawfish Boxes’ William Metzger wrote, “Astros fans remember Sipp as one of the heroes of the unexpected 2015 playoff run, which earned him a $6 million/year, 3 year contract. In 2016 and 2017 he rewarded the Astros’ faith in him by pitching below replacement level. For this many Astros fans have not forgiven him, or they simply can not believe in his resurrection in 2018.“
The five worst NL West contracts:
San Diego Padres
Contract: Eric Hosmer, 2018 (8 years, $144 million)
Impact on team wins: San Diego went 71-91 in 2017, and 66-96 in 2018. Hosmer compiled 4.0 WAR in 2017, but only 1.4 WAR in 2018.
Schoenfield: “When they signed Hosmer, the Padres were banking that his career-best 2017 season was a breakout. Look, players don’t usually break out in their seventh year in the majors. Hosmer has hit .259/.316/.412 in two seasons. The average major league hitter has hit .250/.320/.422. As a small-market franchise, you can’t make mistakes like this.“
Other takes: In September 2018, MLB Daily Dish’s Patrick Karraker wrote, “While Hosmer hasn’t had the brutal type of first year that big-money free agents like Jason Heyward, Ian Desmond, and Pablo Sandoval have had in recent seasons, he hasn’t been particularly good, either. He’s hitting .249/.314/.398 in 631 plate appearances, and while it would’ve been foolish to expect that he’d hit for exceptional power playing his home games in Petco Park, it’s somewhat alarming that he’s hit only 17 homers — just six more than O’Hearn in 492 more plate appearances. His .712 OPS ranks 19th among 22 qualified major-league first basemen this season (and one of the players below him is Chris Davis, arguably the worst hitter in the big leagues this year). That’s certainly not the most encouraging sign for an organization that is seven months removed from giving him the largest contract in franchise history.“
Contract: Ian Desmond, 2017 (5 years, $70 million)
Impact on team wins: Colorado went 75-87 in 2016, and 87-75 in 2017. Desmond compiled 2.7 WAR in 2016, but only -1.1 WAR in 2017.
Schoenfield: “Few deals in recent years raised as many eyebrows at the time as this one — $70 million for a player who had already moved off shortstop, had a .313 OBP over the prior two seasons, struck out too much and whom the Rockies signed to be some sort of super-utility player. He has ended up spending most of his time in center field, hasn’t hit enough and has been below replacement level all three seasons.“
Other takes: In December 2019, Purple Row’s Ben Kouchnerkavich wrote, “We all know how Desmond’s first three years in Colorado have turned out. Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs and Baseball Reference rated him as worth -1.2, -1.7 and -3.4 Wins Above Replacement, respectively. He has hit .252/.313/.429 during his time in Colorado, good for an OPS+ of 82. His ground-ball percentage skyrocketed, with a mark of 62.3% from 2017-18 that was the highest in baseball (not particularly conducive for success in the confines of Coors Field). The first base experiment did not work well, as Desmond was worth -7 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at the position. After the signing of Daniel Murphy prior to the 2019 season, the Rockies moved Desmond to center field, where the 33-year-old produced -19 DRS. Eventually, they shifted Desmond to left field, where he was credited with an even 0 DRS.“
Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract: Scott Kazmir, 2016 (3 years, $48 million) and Brandon McCarthy, 2015 (4 years, $48 million)
Impact on team wins: Los Angeles went 94-68 in 2014, 92-70 in 2015, and 91-71 in 2016. Kazmir compiled 3.3 WAR in 2015, but only 0.2 WAR in 2016. McCarthy compiled 1.1 WAR in 2014, but only -0.3 WAR in 2015.
Schoenfield: “With apologies to the $30 million gifted to Cuban right-hander Yaisel Sierra, let’s go with these twin $48 million contracts given to two injury-prone starters. Kazmir lasted just one season before breaking down (0.5 WAR), while McCarthy would make just 29 starts over three seasons (0.3 WAR). Dodgers fans can only wonder about what might have happened if that $96 million had been spent more wisely.“
Other takes: In December 2018, Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter wrote, “After seemingly flaming out due to injuries, Scott Kazmir rose from the ashes—or in his case, independent ball—in 2013, and then he signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Oakland Athletics that offseason. When the left-hander proved healthy and productive over the life of that contract, teams were much more willing to open their wallets during his next foray into free agency, and the Dodgers ended up inking him to a three-year, $48 million deal. The left-hander turned in a subpar 4.56 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over 136.1 innings in 2016 and then missed the entire 2017 season with a hip injury. He was shipped to the Atlanta Braves last winter along with Adrian Gonzalez and Brandon McCarthy in a swap of bad contracts for Matt Kemp, and then he was released before Opening Day.“
San Francisco Giants
Contract: Mark Melancon, 2017 (4 years, $62 million)
Impact on team wins: San Francisco went 87-75 in 2016, and 64-98 in 2017. Melancon compiled 2.8 WAR in 2016, but only 0.1 WAR in 2017.
Schoenfield: “You can argue for the Cueto contract, especially given concern about his health even at the time it was signed. He had one big year with 5.5 WAR before the injuries came. Melancon, on the other hand, was worth just 0.8 WAR in a Giants uniform before they finally traded him to Atlanta.“
Other takes: In December 2018, Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter wrote, “After saving 130 games in four seasons with the Pirates, Mark Melancon looked like a slam-dunk addition to the back of a beleaguered bullpen. Instead, he’s converted just 14 saves in 23 chances during his first two years with the team, and he was essentially a $20 million middle reliever in 2018.“
Contract: Yasmany Tomas, 2015 (6 years, $68.5 million)
Impact on team wins: Arizona went 64-98 in 2014, and 79-83 in 2015. Tomas compiled -1.3 WAR in 2015, and -0.4 WAR in 2016.
Schoenfield: “Both the Greinke deal and this one came under the stewardship of the ill-fated Tony La Russa/Dave Stewart regime. At least Greinke was very good. The Tomas signing came during the height of the Cuban mania, which led to some bad signings (see Rusney Castillo), and was met with immediate skepticism, as Tomas had no clear position. He hit 31 home runs in 2016, but he was still below replacement level due to poor defense and a subpar OBP. He has just 186 big league plate appearances over the past three seasons.“
Other takes: In January 2019, Forbes’ Jack Magruder wrote, “Tomas has been nothing close to a net positive on the six-year, 68.5 million deal he signed before the 2015 season. For that, they have gotten one good season and a bunch of medical bills. And because to the way the deal was structured, all Tomas had to do accept the final $32.5 million due for 2019-2020 was to say OK. His representatives at Octagon agency negotiated a player option for the final two years, a win-win for Tomas and lose-lose in Arizona.“
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