10 Worst Free Agent Signings Of The Offseason

A few weeks ago we presented MLBTR's 10 Best Free Agent Signings Of The Offseason.  It's only fitting that we also name our ten worst before the season begins.  Only Major League deals are included, and the players are listed in order of contract amount.  Keep in mind that a good player can have a bad contract.

  • Matt Holliday, Cardinals: seven years, $120MM.  In terms of production, Holliday was the best available free agent.  The problem with the contract is that there was not another serious bidder, and Holliday's best alternatives at the time of the signing were in the one-year, $18MM range.  At the very least, hardball tactics with Scott Boras might've eliminated the seventh guaranteed year.  Cardinals fans might not care now, but will in 2016.  The Mets' four-year, $66MM deal with Jason Bay gets an honorable mention in the category of teams bidding against themselves.
  • Placido Polanco, Phillies: three years, $18MM.  I'd have no beef with a one-year deal in the $5-6MM range, as that'd fit with contracts signed by comparable free agent infielders.  The Phillies tacked on two more years for the 34-year-old Polanco, with plan to make him a regular third baseman for the first time since 2002.
  • Brandon Lyon, Astros: three years, $15MM.  Assuming his shoulder injury is a non-issue, most clubs would be happy to have Lyon working the seventh and eighth innings.  But similar to the Phillies and Polanco, the Astros had to have this reliever above all others.  The result: the only three-year contract given to a reliever this offseason.
  • Jason Marquis, Nationals: two years, $15MM.  Marquis takes the ball every fifth day and typically pitches like a #4-5 starter should.  I don't see what he offers the 2010 Nationals that Doug Davis and Braden Looper didn't, and those pitchers would take one-year deals at a lower salary.  I don't buy the argument that the Nationals needed to overpay to import Marquis.  Other pitchers could've provided a similar benefit for much less. 
  • Mark DeRosa, Giants: two years, $12MM.  DeRosa's last contract was a pleasant surprise, but now he's 35 and coming off wrist surgery.  He's still useful, but the Giants needed to find an impact bat with their free agent budget.
  • Fernando Rodney, Angels: two years, $11MM.  Without the 37 saves, Rodney wouldn't have gotten anything near this contract.  He's useful, but has lousy control and dealt with shoulder problems the previous two seasons.
  • John Grabow, Cubs: two years, $7.5MM.  As if Carlos Marmol's control problems weren't bad enough, the Cubs locked up Grabow and his 5.0 BB/9 for two years.  Grabow strikes out lefties at a solid clip, but doesn't offer much beyond that.
  • Jason Kendall, Royals: two years, $6MM.  The main blemish on Dayton Moore's offseason, Kendall received an extra year for no apparent reason.  The Nationals did the same with Ivan Rodriguez.
  • Coco Crisp, Athletics: one year, $5.25MM.  Crisp played just 49 games last year, and eventually needed surgery on both shoulders.  Does his projected center field defense justify this kind of guarantee?  The A's were in a risky mood this winter, also guaranteeing $10MM to Ben Sheets.
  • Alex Cora, Mets: one year, $2MM.  Scott Boras makes his third appearance on this list.  Despite a lousy season, Cora avoided a pay cut.  Instead of signing Cora in November, the Mets could've displayed patience and saved a million bucks. 


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77 Comments on "10 Worst Free Agent Signings Of The Offseason"


foxtown
5 years 5 months ago

As much as we’ve heard about how bad the Alex Cora deal is, I don’t think a one year, $2 million salary should be in a “Top Ten Worst Signings” list.

i miss brendan ryan's mustache
5 years 5 months ago

Agreed, I think Jamey Carroll 2yr/3.85 is much worse than Cora

5 years 5 months ago

Cora’s bad because it kind of represents the Mets’ awful philosophy as a whole. They have 0 depth. Last year they ravaged their AAA team when everyone got injured because they’re too dumb to get depth and have a bunch of NRIs. Alex Cora is a guy who sucks and is injury prone and should be an NRI/making league minimum. The Mets gave him $2M.

Jamey Carroll is underrated anyway.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Jason Bay, Garrett Atkins, Ben Sheets, Bengie Molina or Danys Baez I’d say

cbcbcb
5 years 5 months ago

I don’t have a problem with the Polanco signing. Sure, they overpaid a little, but most people who have been around the game for a long time praise the move. Polanco will significantly improve the Phillies offense.

bjsguess
5 years 5 months ago

Really? People outside of Philly?

Everybody that I have read panned this move. Too much annually for too many years. It’s not a horrible move – just wasn’t a smart one.

mbatt
5 years 5 months ago

I agree. I don’t know why this site consistently criticizes this move. The Polanco sign was a good signing. And I don’t think $6 million a year for your # 2 hitter who provides gold glove defense (yes, I know it was 2nd base and he is moving to third) is overpaying at all!

adropofvenom
5 years 5 months ago

….because a similar, if not better, player with the same positional flexibility signed for under 2 million dollars in Felipe Lopez?

It’s not that Polanco is a bad player (At least not right now, we’ll see what he’s like come Year 3), it’s just that they simply misread the market and gave him a contract that is completely out of line with what comparable players ended up receiving.

rockiesfan_303
5 years 5 months ago

Good list. I would have to say Lyon and Cora are the most puzzling.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

So if and when the Cardinals aren’t able to keep Albert Pujols I think you’ll change your mind.

rayking
5 years 5 months ago

The Cardinals would not have given Holliday that contract if there was any chance that it would prevent them from extending Pujols. No way that they would be that short-sighted with the best player in team history (or maybe 2nd to Musial).

If anything, having another big hitter gives them a better chance to keep Pujols; if Albert continued to get walked every AB for the next two years, I could see him looking to greener pastures. Signing Holliday was meant to prevent that.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

First of all Ray King you are my hero.

Second of all, I think the Cardinals could keep Albert, but if they do I don’t think they will be able to maintain a team.

rayking
5 years 5 months ago

This is a good point – the issue of whether they can keep Albert while overpaying Holliday is different than the issue of how good such a team would be due to the need to have very cheap players at other positions.

StL will need to effectively develop youngsters, and we have a spotty track record with that recently. In the process, they may need to begrudgingly trade Molina if he gets too expensive and let Bryan Anderson take over (which would suck, I love Yadi), and maybe do the same with Ludwick, replacing him with John Jay or Allen Craig. If they develop youngsters, they can pull it off, or at least I would like to think so.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Well I was talking to a MLBTR about that same thing and I don’t think they can sign Pujols and rely on youngsters who are not proven to take over and play well. Right now I don’t think its fair to think that Lynn, Miller, Garcia, Craig, Jay, Jones, and McClellan will be stars.

Triteon
5 years 5 months ago

I’ll agree with most of what you said, except one point: Pujols is not “maybe 2nd to Musial”, he is at least second to Musial as a hitter and overall I’d also put him behind Gibson.

jwsox
5 years 5 months ago

lets not forget that a good amount of the holliday money is defered allowing them some flexibility with money in the next few years, not a lot of flexibility but more than they would have if the money were not defered

alphabet_soup5
5 years 5 months ago

So if Albert can go to a team where he also won’t get walked every AB for much more money than St. Louis can offer him he won’t go to it?

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

There should be the list of the “worst”. And that would be the Matt Holliday signing which will absolutley backfire.

i miss brendan ryan's mustache
5 years 5 months ago

“Absolutely” backfire??
How can you be so certain span?
The Cards had to show Albert they were serious about putting a team around him.. I think year 6 and 7 will be tough for them to swallow, but that doesn’t mean it will backfire.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

First of all, maybe backfire wasn’t the right word. But the reason I said that is not because of the future payroll, but I don’t think they will be able to keep Pujols under his future long term deal and maintain a team at the same time.
There are other ways to show Albert a commitment to winning and they also could have waited out the market for Holliday which they didn’t.

jdub220
5 years 5 months ago

Come on Span, you’re smarter than this. The only way Pujols leaves St. Louis is if Pujols himself wants to leave. The Cards will throw everything at Pujols. There’s no way Holliday’s contract will come between the Cards and a once in a lifetime talent. I’d be willing to bet they’d start Marlin-ing it if they had to to keep Albert.

Holliday was used to show him a commitment to win. WITHOUT Holliday, Pujols leaves.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Well I just think there could have been cheaper ways to show their commitment to winning.

Guest
5 years 5 months ago

yea, they could of just not paid Holliday the money…
Signing Holliday for 5 Years/80 Million would have been enough to keep Pujols

jdub220
5 years 5 months ago

Like how? What could the Cards have done THIS offseason to make Albert happy? They don’t have much of a farm system, so a trade is pretty much out of the question. Pretty much the only thing they could do was go out and spend money. They could’ve gotten Bay for much less, but I think Bay’s contract will be just as bad as Holliday’s.

IMO, the Holliday signing is great if Pujols stays, but horrid if he goes anyways.

Triteon
5 years 5 months ago

SPAN likes to speak in “absolute” terms regarding Pujols, while forgetting to mention that his Twins project to have 70% of their $100MM payroll tied up in only 8 players in 2011.

icedrake523
5 years 5 months ago

I’d put Johnny Damon on the list and drop Alex Cora. Damon’s numbers were inflated from New Yankee Stadium.

Oliver86
5 years 5 months ago

Word. How is Damon’s deal with Detroit not on here?

bjsguess
5 years 5 months ago

Damon had an OPS of 800 last year on the road. Year before it was 825.

Giving him credit for playing in a more neutral home park, I’d guess that an overall OPS of 815 to 825 seems reasonable. If he can get you 25+ SB’s on top of that then the one year deal will be just fine.

icedrake523
5 years 5 months ago

He still got a LOT more than he deserved. If Holliday and Bay are on there because teams bid against themselves, how is Damon not?

strikethree
5 years 5 months ago

You forgot to add his atrocious defense. (Or maybe you purposely left that out)

I think it is a fair deal given his performance (if it were a “normal” market) but given the market demand, Detroit could have saved a lot more. We’re still in a recession and Detroit is one of the worst hit cities. They, according to their front office and this offseason trades history, don’t have a lot of budget room left. Yet, they were a top 5 payroll team that couldn’t even win a very winnable division. Obviously, luck played a factor but these guys have to start spending more wisely.

jhd5787
5 years 5 months ago

The defense is beyond terrible. but i think Damon’s offensive numbers are a product of the yankee lineup. in 09 he batted behind jeter and in front of tex and a-rod. So he definately got some pitches to hit. He will be hitting behind jackson, and in front of ordonez and cabrera. Not quite as good as the yankee line-up but it will be interesting to see how it effects his numbers.

Triteon
5 years 5 months ago

I’ll second that.

rayking
5 years 5 months ago

Perhaps I will be mad in the later years of the Holliday contract – but not if the Cardinals are winning the division every year until then. He may break down, and StL may be way overpaying him in 2015 or 2016, which I admit is incredibly likely. But I’m fine with that if he produces for the first three or four years of the deal.

Maybe his best alternatives at the time of the signing were indeed in the one year, $18 mil range. However, better offers from other teams could have been made later in the offseason. Yes, the Cards could have played chicken with Boras and possibly shaved some money and/or some years off the contract… or the prolonged negotiations could have dragged on until some other team swooped in and signed him. Maybe a team makes a trade to create an OF opening and/or free up cash, and then grabs Holliday while the Cardinals are haggling with Boras; for example, the Red Sox might have traded Ellsbury to get AGonz and then signed Holliday.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a bad contract. But I don’t think the Cardinals are as dumb as they are being portrayed by some people.

Triteon
5 years 5 months ago

I’ve said it before: in four or five years when Holliday is still making $18MM (raw dollars, not including the deferral) and Crawford, Braun, Lind, Kemp, Markakis, etc. have signed $20MM+ contracts, Holliday will look like a deal. One of these younger guys (Crawford) could get the big extension with that type of number as soon as next off-season.

We simply won’t know if the Holliday signing is a bad one until the results unfold. There is an opportunity cost to factor in if we had waited until next year to cut this deal.

5 years 5 months ago

List looks about right, but Pudge deserved more than an Honorable Mention. He and Kendall shoulda had slashes next to their names.

I am a little confused by some of the comments though.

The Polanco deal is only bad because of the extra years tacked on as the post mentioned. His bat also does not play at 3B very well, fortunately for the Phils they have a monster at 2B.

Cora — Omar had a SS (albeit an amazing one) coming off a season in which he played 36 games. He also has a 2B that is 35, can’t cover ANY ground and has Patrick Ewing knees. Giving Cora 2 million with a vesting option when his 2B is injury prone and his SS is coming off a major injury was pretty stupid. Also, the mets spent the least amount in the draft last year, and didn’t sign certain guys (piniero, lopez) because of the money. That 2-4 million to Cora could have been spent on this years draft or put towards one of those two players, especially when one factors in the money they were willing to spend on Bengie freaking Molina.

Lyon — Pretty good reliever, but I can’t really see WHY the Astros would do this. Are they a middle reliever away from the playoffs? I don’t think so, which is why this deal was pointless IMO.

Brandon Woodworth
5 years 5 months ago

I agree with all. But for some of them, you can’t just say “they should have waited.” If the Mets wouldn’t have given $2 million up front to Cora, someone else would have. Even though I hate the Phillies, being a Braves fan, the Phillies did good with Polanco, but could have done 2/$12 with an option for 2012 at somewhere around $5 million and a $1 million buyout. Overall, Polanco is better than Feliz, leaving the only offensive flaw to the Phillies being catcher, and Ruiz hit’s decent enough to earn the 8 hole. Derosa I fell the same, maybe not being as defensivley gifted as Polanco, but way more versatile, and they hit about the same.

Yankees420
5 years 5 months ago

What other team would’ve given Cora 2 million dollars?

mariov44
5 years 5 months ago

Derosa is a fine signing. It’s better than giving Placido Polanco for the same amount per year (6 million). He hits for way more pop and can play LF, RF, 3B, 2B, 1B.

mariov44
5 years 5 months ago

Derosa is fine. It’s better than paying Polanco the same (6million). Derosa hits for pop and plays LF, RF, 3B, SS, 2B, and 1B all with solid defense. And he’s had a nice spring.

TwinsVet
5 years 5 months ago

Either this post has already been done before, or I’ve read so many of Tim’s that I’m recalling each of these critiques in their various other postings…

Major Deja Vu…

EDIT: http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2009/12/best-and-worst-signings-so-far.html This is what I’m recalling!

Cards_Fanboy
5 years 5 months ago

I know that non-Cardinal fans love to bash the Holliday deal, but speaking for myself as a Cardinal fan, locking up Holliday for 7 years is a good thing. I want 7 more years of Pujols/Holliday in the lineup. If the Cards would have signed a short deal and attempted to resign later, they may have had to compete more with other teams then and pay 20+ million, or have had to find someone else to sign that isn’t as good. Holliday is worth 18 mill per year to me, and if part of that is deferred pay and we don’t have to worry about signing another player to fill that gap behind Pujols for the next 7 years then that makes the deal all the better. I think it was one of the best signings of the year, not the worst. And hopefully the Redbirds will justify this comment by winning a few more WS rings this decade.

5 years 5 months ago

Seems fitting that the list is littered with what most consider some of the worst GM’s in the game today. Minaya, Moore, Hendry, Wade, Sabean. This is also the second year in a row that Amaro has signed an aging player to a three year contract at top value (Ibanez). Tony Reagins made a mistake giving Rodney that contract of course but I think the Karma cancels out because he was able to deal GMJ. Of course it took one of the bad GM’s to make that deal so at least Reagins knows how to take advantage of some of his inferior counterparts. Mozeliak, Reagins, Amaro and Rizzo get a pass but they should be careful making the type of deals that landed them on this list. Dayton Moore had a good reputation when he took over the Royals and it didn’t take him long to ruin it.

Largebill
5 years 5 months ago

I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Russell Branyon?

chuckiehacks
5 years 5 months ago

I know it is smaller, but I put Lyon #1. Valverde signed for about the same amount of money in Detroit. Who would you rather have? Pretty simple question.

5 years 5 months ago

No Jason Bay? Are you nuts? That has to be the #1 worst contract in the entire off-season.

Brandon Woodworth
5 years 5 months ago

No, it was a decent signing. A legitimate bat only slightly overpaid for 4 years is better than a legitimate bat overpaid for 7 years. I believe all deals should be at most 3 years, with performance based vesting options for each following year, dependent on the players numbers from the previous year.

foxtown
5 years 5 months ago

You can believe in the “3 years max” philosophy all you want, but you will miss out on top free agents and you will not retain top talent who want guaranteed years and dollars.

Brandon Woodworth
5 years 5 months ago

I mean’ like it should become a standard. No team can guarantee more than 3 years to a player. This will help any team from avoiding a Mike Hampton type situation, and push demands from free agents down to earth a bit more.

foxtown
5 years 5 months ago

He got an “honorable mention” in Holliday’s section but I agree, that contract is worse than some of the one and two year deals on the list.

Steve_in_MA
5 years 5 months ago

It wasn’t the worst signing, because that was Sheets, but Bay was a bad signing from the standpoint of length of the contract. Bay’s offense, right now, somewhat equalizes or offsets his horrible defense. In 2-3 years, Bay will be reduced to a DH/1B platoon guy, his knees completely giving out. What will the Mets do then? Oh, and just to be fair, Tim did give the Bay signing an honorable mention as among the worst of the offseason. See the last part of the Matt Holliday section: “The Mets’ four-year, $66MM deal with Jason Bay gets an honorable mention in the category of teams bidding against themselves.”

realitychuck
5 years 5 months ago

I’m tired of the myth of a “team bidding against itself.” It never happens — the team is merely making a preemptive bid to scare off competition. There is basis for the assumption that they could have gotten the player for less, since if they bid lower, someone else might have jumped in. This phrase is just the cliche of those who don’t have any real idea about how negotiations work.

jhd5787
5 years 5 months ago

Why not make a low bid and then work your way up to the “preemptive bid” number? In the end worst case you spend the preemptive bid and best case you get the guy for less.

chuckiehacks
5 years 5 months ago

Sheets deal sounds like a smart move. If he is good, he either 1. helps A’s make the playoffs 2. Gives the A’s great trade bait, or 3. signs long-term deal as A FA and the A’s get additional draft picks. If he sucks, he only is on your payroll for one season and likely helped you convince your fans you were serious and helped sell some tickets in the process.

5 years 5 months ago

Is convincing the fans that you’re serious about winning worth $10 million dollars? Especially since it’s going to one of the most injury ridden players in the game? It seems like a reasonable bet to expect Sheets t miss significant time this year just by looking at his history. Maybe the year off helped and hopefully the A’s did their due diligence when they looked at his medicals, but it’s still a pretty obvious risk. There two best options are to compete for the playoffs with Sheets or trade him for something descent if they’re out of it. The thing is, Sheets has to be healthy and productive for either of those things to take place, which may not happen. I could see a large market team doing this but for smaller payroll teams like the A’s this is a pretty big gamble.

chuckiehacks
5 years 5 months ago

As a Brewer fan, maybe I have just too much insight in Sheet’s history. Ben will likely be a top 10 AL pitcher for the first 1/2 of the season and either fall off a cliff, or more likely, have another mystery injury this summer. In this case, the A’s get production for 1/2 the season, only pay 1/2 his salary and will get something in return. He will be easier to trade without a longterm contract attached to him. As a small market fan, I fear the long-term deals, not the short ones. This year we are paying 12.5 M to Jeff Suppan and about $9 M to Bill Hall. If the brewers had an extra $20+M to spend this year, it might be the difference between making the playoffs, or not.

bjsguess
5 years 5 months ago

The challenge to coming up a list like this is the criteria used. Here are a couple different ways to evaluate a FA signing:

1. Wins vs Salary – For example, a guy like Holliday may very well exceed $90m in value over the course of his career. Yet, that puts him $30m short of his contract value. BAD SIGNING in this scenario. Likewise, Holliday could produce $140m worth of value over his contract. Using this method Holliday is a GREAT SIGNING.

2. Impact on team. If the Cards win and continue to win throughout Holliday’s stay then this will likely be viewed as a GREAT SIGNING. Conversely, if the Cards don’t win and are hampered by Holliday’s contract (regardless of how well he does) this will be viewed as a BAD SIGNING.

3. Bargaining. Using Holliday again, let’s say that he delivers $140m worth of value and the Cards win and do well. He could still be viewed as failure in this category because the Cards could have theoretically gotten him for less. Regardless of his personal success AND the success of the team, the deal is bad because he was overpaid by the Cards bidding against themselves.

All 3 areas need to be looked at in reviewing the overall value of the signing. In reviewing the the top 10 here is how I would rank the signings as (using G=Good/N=Neutral/B=Bad):

1. Holliday – Wins vs Salary = N/ Impact on Team = G / Bargaining = B
2. Polanco – Wins vs Salary = N/ Impact on Team = G / Bargaining = B
3. Lyons – Wins vs Salary = B/ Impact on Team = N / Bargaining = B
4. Marquis – Wins vs Salary = N/ Impact on Team = B / Bargaining = B
5. DeRosa – Wins vs Salary = N/ Impact on Team = N / Bargaining = N
6. Rodney – Wins vs Salary = B/ Impact on Team = N / Bargaining = B
7. Grabow – Wins vs Salary = B/ Impact on Team = N / Bargaining = B
8. Kendall – Wins vs Salary = B/ Impact on Team = B / Bargaining = B
9. Crisp – Wins vs Salary = N/ Impact on Team = N / Bargaining = B
10. Cora – Wins vs Salary = N/ Impact on Team = N / Bargaining = B

The common thread on all these players is that most were simply overpaid compared to what they might have received elsewhere. This isn’t to say that they won’t provide appropriate value for their contract – just that the GM wasn’t shrewd in handing out the dollars or years. Also, the list needs to compensate for magnitude. A screw up on Cora carries minimal risk. A screw up on Holliday could be devastating. Along those same lines, understanding the overall club’s finances are key. So a screw up on Kendall wouldn’t hurt the Yankees BUT it could be very damaging to the Royals.

thedave620
5 years 5 months ago

The Cubs gave Soriano $136/8 years ($17 mill/year) when he was older than 30.
The Yankees gave Texeria $180/8 years ($22.5 mill/year) when he was 29 (Holliday is a whoppnig 3 months older than Texeria). I would say the Cardinals have a pretty good track record of signing talent and knowing when to let it go (Suppan, Weaver, etc). Holliday is a former batting champ, MVP Runner up, and consistent All-Star…I would say this signing is better than Soriano’s and on par with Texeria…We are talking about a proven, still young, reliable talent (franchise player) and this is just the kind of contract these people get. MAYBE we were bidding against ourselves, but we had to show Pujols we are willing to build a team around him and raise the payroll (which they will do) so he can sign an extension. Anyone who thinks that a MLB owner with the record Dewitt has would sign Holliday knowing it could have a .01% negative effect on signing Pujols is out of their mind. They will expand payroll and probably raise ticket prices and look for other sources of revenue that will continue to come because they play in St. Louis and their fans will continue to shell out $$$. This deal gives a franchise cornerstone player a contract with less years and less anual $ than those already talked about…seems like a pretty good, at least fair, deal to me. Oh yeah, and it allows them to make an easier sales pitch to extend the greatest player of our generation….Yeah what a horrible signing….??