At the end of the MLB season, fans get a moment to go back and reflect on the season that was. They think about how smart their team's trades were, or what fools they were to not go out and pick up that closer in the offseason. General Managers get second guessed by people sitting in armchairs who feel they have a better understanding of how third basemen are meant to play.
It's also a time for people to cry and scream about the free agent signings they hoped their teams wouldn't give out: "How dare they give $100 million to a pitcher with less than 100 strikeouts," or "Why did a guy with a below average glove make $50 million to play first base?" These are the kinds of questions posed by fans of all degrees.
Like all years, there are free agent hits and misses. Here are the 15 worst free agent signings of the 2016 season.
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11 Byung Ho Park - Minnesota Twins
Korean first baseman Byung Ho Park came to the Minnesota Twins with a good deal of fan fare. He was one of the biggest names in the free agent pool and chose the Twins despite rumors that he was being targeted by the Orioles, Mariners, and Pirates (among others). He put up huge numbers while playing in Korea, but couldn't replicate it in the MLB.
After hitting 53 homers and posting a .343/.436/.714 slash line in 2015, he came into 2016 with high expectations. He ended the year with a .191 average and twelve homers. You read that correctly, the man went from 53 home runs, to twelve. He was sent down to AAA for 31 games and couldn't even find his swing there. When a team brings a guy in to be a designated hitter, and he hits less home runs than a weak hitting shortstop, then that guy deserves a spot on this list.
10 Ryan Vogelsong - Pittsburgh Pirates
Ryan Vogelsong was a 12 year veteran in the MLB though he has been in the majors since 2000. He had his best season in 2011 following a four season hiatus from the MLB and spent the previous five seasons with the Giants. 2015 was not his best season, going 9-11 with a 4.67 ERA and was moved to the bullpen late in the season. Despite the poor showing, the Pirates gave Vogelsong a deal worth up to $5 million. It was a one year deal, so it wasn't much of a risk for the Pirates, but he was worse than they could have expected.
In 2016, Vogelsong went 3-7 with an ERA just south of 5. During his time as a starter he was such a liability that the Pirates (who were incredibly thin in their rotation) moved him into the bullpen just to sit and rot. He only came into 10 games in relief, and wasn't particularly effective in those outings. The long time veteran will likely be unemployed next season and it's a shame to see a player go out on such a low note.
9 Wei-Yin Chen - Miami Marlins
When he was starting for the Baltimore Orioles, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen didn't have a single season where he didn't have a .500 or better record. It seemed like he was getting better with each passing season as his ERA dipped below 4 in 2014, and below 3.5 in 2015. It seemed like a great time for the Miami Marlins to sign Chen, and they gave him a 5-year $80 million contract to lock up the veteran from Taiwan. Boy did that backfire.
In 2016, Chen only had 3 games where he was able to go more than 6 innings. He never was able to go more than 7. He missed all of August and most of September due to injury, which explains why his ERA balooned to a career worst 4.96, but going 5-5 in 22 starts cannot be written off as a fluke. In 123 innings, he gave up 22 homers. To put that stat in perspective, he only gave up 28 last year in 191 innings. The Marlins hope that his below average stats are all due to injuries because they have him locked in for four more years.
8 Colby Lewis - Texas Rangers
Colby Lewis has been a work horse for the Texas Rangers since they brought him back to the MLB after his stint in Japan. He has been synonymous with the Rangers rise to prominence in the 2010s after they were basement dwellers for so long. He was a strong asset in their back-to-back World Series runs, and an even more important piece in the regular season. Following his 17-win 2015 season the Rangers signed Lewis to a $6 million deal expecting 200 innings in 2016. Instead he only managed 116.
Colby went on the DL in June (when he had a 6-1 record) along with most of the Rangers' starting rotation. When he came back in September, fans expected the solid pitcher they were accustomed to. Instead he went 0-4 with a 6.38 ERA. He got shelled in his one playoff start against the Blue Jays, only managing 2 innings, giving up 5 runs. He was a factor in why the Rangers got swept, and it looks like his career might be coming to an end.
7 Jeremy Guthrie - Texas Rangers/Miami Marlins
Last season, Jeremy Guthrie was asset to get the eventual World Series winner into the playoffs. He wasn't the best pitcher on the Kansas City Royals, and he didn't even start once they got to the playoffs, but he was serviceable and proved that he had some worth for a contender the MLB. Despite that, he didn't have his pick of contracts and had to settle for a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers. After the Rangers released him, the Marlins gave him a shot. Guthrie played no games in 2016.
The Rangers, who ended up with the best record in the AL, had significant injuries to their starting pitching rotation. Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, AJ Griffin, and Colby Lewis all missed a significant time, and still Guthrie couldn't find a role with the team. The Rangers didn't spend much money on him, but the fact that the veteran couldn't help that team shows that Guthrie's career is pretty much over.
6 Alex Gordon - Kansas City Royals
2016 was the worst year in Alex Gordon's career. After being an important piece in the Kansas City Royals back-to-back World Series runs, and acting as the face of the franchise for nearly a decade, it was obvious that the Royals were going to give Gordon every dollar that he asked for. And thats's what they did. Gordon got a $72 million 4-year contract to continue playing at a high level for the Royals. But he didn't do that.
In 128 games, Gordon hit .220 with 17 home runs and 40 RBIs. He also struck out a career high 148 times. It was the first time since 2010 that he had more strikeouts than hits. He had a career worst season in which he played 100 or more games. After three straight All-Star appearances, Gordon was left off the team. Gordon's year long slump was a major factor in the Royals missing the playoffs. He is a prime candidate for a bounce back season in 2017, but it may be hard to get over what he did this season.
5 Scott Kazmir - Los Angeles Dodgers
Scott Kazmir has made a career out of going from team-to-team and playing very average baseball. Kazmir, a three time All-Star, signed a 3-year, $48 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was expected to be a solid veteran presence on a team that needed starting pitching to replace Zack Grienke. In 2015 Kazmir started a playoff games for the Houston Astros, and the Dodgers needed his experience. Instead they got a guy who wasn't even able to make the post season roster.
Despite winning 10 games, Kazmir had a 4.56 ERA. He was a liability every time he started and really only held his spot in the rotation because of the Clayton Kershaw injury. The team brought in Kazmir purely because of his playoff experience, but were forced to trade for Rich Hill at the deadline because of his ineffectiveness. the Dodgers went into the playoffs with a 4 man rotation and didn't even put their $48 million-man into the bullpen. Too much money for too little production.
4 Yovani Gallardo - Baltimore Orioles
For a time, Yovani Gallardo was talked about as one of the better starting pitchers in the MLB. Year-after-year he won 12 or more games, despite having an ERA north of 3. He may not have been a CY Young candidate every year, but he was one of the most consistent pitchers. It wasn't shocking when he got a two-year $22 million deal from the Orioles, in fact many people thought he could have gotten more money.
In 2016, Gallardo went 6-8 with a ERA of 5.42. It was his least amount of wins and his highest ERA. He also had a career low of 85 strikeouts, the first time he didn't cross the 100 strikeout mark since 2008. He was injured for much of 2016, but he still played in 23 games and only missed significant time in early in the season. He never found his footing in Baltimore, and will have to have a huge 2017 season if he hopes for a substantial contract in 2018.
7. Austin Jackson - Chicago White Sox
Austin Jackson came into the MLB with very high expectations. He was one of the top prospects for the Yankees and was the key piece in the Yankees trading for Curtis Granderson. He has never truly lived up to those expectations and has spent the past few years bouncing around the MLB. After spending the end of 2015 with the Chicago Cubs, the cross town White Sox gave the center fielder a $5 million, prove-it contract. He didn't prove anything in 2016.
Jackson was only able to play in 54 games due to injuries and wasn't particularly effective when he was actually on the field. He only was able to drive in 18 RBIs and had no homers for the first time in his career. Even his fielding stats seemed to take a dive as he failed to secure a spot in the starting lineup. Jackson will get another deal somewhere in 2017, but it will most likely be a minor league deal. We may have seen the end of Austin Jackson playing a starting role on any team.
3 Mike Leake - St. Louis Cardinals
After being signed to a five-year, $80 million contract, Mike Leake turned in the worst season of his career. Leake is a pitcher who teams seem to think very highly of, despite having very average numbers and little playoff experience. Despite having a career ERA of 3.88 and a win loss record of 64-52, the pitcher needy St. Louis Cardinals gave him big money. At age 28, there is room for Leake to grow, but things are not looking great for the starter.
In 2015 Mike Leake was traded to the San Francisco Giants in an attempt to bolster their rotation. He was terrible for the Giants, going 2-5 with an ERA of 4.07 and being a factor in the Giants missing the playoffs. So obviously he became one of the most sought free agent in the off season. For the Cardinals, Leake had a career high ERA of 4.69 and career low win loss percentage of .429 (9-12 record). The Cardinals tried to shop him at the trade deadline, but the hefty contracts was too much for any team to buy in. Now Cardinal fans will have to hope that Leake can bounce back in 2017.
2 David Price - Boston Red Sox
It may be shocking to see a player who won 17 games in 2016 on this list, but as Felix Hernandez has been proving for the past decade, wins aren't everything. David Price, while having a serviceable season, was far from the Ace that the Red Sox were hoping for when they signed him to his $217 million deal. The 2012 Cy Young winner had a career year split between the Blue Jays and Tigers in 2015, and many expected him to keep that momentum going into 2016.
Price just could not get players out for most of the season. He had a 3.99 ERA and gave up 227 hits, his most since 2014. The only thing that seemed to be working for Price was his ability to strikeout batters, as he crossed 200 strikeouts for the fourth time in his career. However, the run support supplied by the Red Sox was the only reason he hit double digit wins this year. He continued his lack of success in the playoffs, losing his lone start against the Indians after giving up 5 runs in 3 and a third innings. The Red Sox paid Price to be one of the top pitchers in the MLB, and he did not produce like one.
4. Jeff Samardzija - San Francisco Giants
There was a time when Jeff Samardzija was thought of as the best pitcher in the National League. In 2014 he started the All-Star game while a member of the Chicago Cubs, but was traded to the Oakland Athletics to help bolster their rotation. He never did. The rest of his career, Samardzija has been moved all around the MLB, being sent to the White Sox after his poor outing for the Athletics.
During the off season, the Giants make it their goal to rebuild the starting rotation by signing Johnny Cueto and Samardzija to a whopping total of $220 million. Cueto turned into the Ace that the Giants hoped he would, while Samardzija had best average numbers. For a guy making $90 million, Samardzija just did not do enough for the team. In his one playoff appearance for San Francisco, he lasted 2 innings and gave up 4 runs, earning the loss. Outside of his one All-Star season, Samardzija has really not had a great career. His numbers are average and he has a losing win-loss record. The Giants have him locked in for 4 more years.
3. Justin Upton - Detroit Tigers
Justin Upton has demanded premier hitter money, despite the fact that he hasn't had a batting average above .270 since 2012. Following his "All-Star" 2015 season for the San Diego Padres, Upton was one of the biggest names on the market this past off season. A number of teams were interested in picking him up including the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs, but he chose to sign with the Detroit Tigers for a whopping $132.75 million 6-year deal. For that kind of money, the Tigers expected the Justin Upton who was a three-time All-Star with Arizona; that's not what they got.
In 2016, Upton batted .246 (lowest since his rookie season) with 87 RBIs and a career high 179 strikeouts. His power swing was still in tact as he put 31 balls into the bleachers, but that's really all he could help the team with. When the team needed him most in their push to the playoffs, Upton hit a paltry .258, however it was enough to raise his terrible batting average from .230 to it's eventual peak. He had a good September, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to redeem his horrible season.
2. Zack Greinke - Arizona Diamondbacks
2015 was a great year for Zack Greinke. The man earned a starting All-Star spot and posted a 1.66 ERA with 200 strikeouts. He ended second in Cy Young voting and seventh in the MVP vote. After putting together a Cy Young worthy 2015 season, Zack Greinke was one of the most sought after players on the market during the off season. Every team seemed to believe they were in the running for the ace, but when it was all over the Arizona Diamondbacks won him over with a monster 6-year, $206.5 million contract.
The Diamondbacks may have thought they were getting the Zack Greinke who won the Cy Young award in 2009, but they actually got the Zack Greinke who couldn't keep players off the base paths. His 4.37 ERA was his worst since 2005 when he lost 17 games. Through he did have a fair 13-7 record on the season, he was far from the Ace that Arizona expected. In his defense, Greinke was playing for a terrible squad with some of the worst run support in the MLB. However, when you make as much as he is, then you are expected to be better.
1 Jason Heyward - Chicago Cubs
One of the biggest headlines of the off season was when the Cubs were able to poach Jason Heyward from their rival Cardinals. It wasn't hard to understand why Heyward went to Chicago, after all they were the World Series favorite and they offered him $184 million. He thanked them by turning in the worst year of his career.
Heyward came into the league with a lot of fanfare and was expected to quickly turn into one of the premier players in the MLB. While his play was never considered bad, he never lived up to the lofty expectations set on him. In 142 games in 2016, Heyward hit .230 with only 7 homers and 49 RBIs. He also has been a liability in the playoffs, producing only 2 hits at the time this article was written. Heyward is arguably the worst preformer on the Cubs, while being the highest paid. Heyward looks like he may be a long term problem for Chicago who may not be able to lock up their young squad with so much money being devoted to him.
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