Every winter, baseball teams wheel and deal as they attempt to improve their team for the upcoming season. The two most common strategies clubs employ are trading with one another and signing free-agents to play for them. Sometimes, it works out great, like when the Nationals signed Daniel Murphy and he became their best player this season. Other times, it fails miserably and fans want to rip their hair out as they watch a recently acquired player battle to stay above the replacement level status. This column is an ode to those players that face-planted in their first year with a new team, either from trade or free agency.
First things first, this list will account for the expectations of the player heading into the season. A below average inning eating sponge signed by on non-contending team isn’t as big of a flop as a highly regarded player that stinks up the joint for a team trying to make a run at the playoffs, even if the sponge has worse stats. The value that was given up also matters, so someone struggling after signing a mega contract is inherently more disappointing than a player signed for one year for $3 million, even if mega contract players' numbers are better.
Finally, this article is being written in mid-August, after each team has played roughly 120 games. There is still about a fifth of the season left, so if one of these players catches fire and leads their squad on a deep postseason run, no one will view their debut as a flop, regardless of how poorly they had played up until this point. Still, we have a decent sample size to make assessments of how well the club’s decision to acquire them worked out, even if there is some time left to flip the script.
Without further ado, here are the 15 players who have flopped with their new team.
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15 Alfredo Simon - Cincinnati Reds
Remember that comment about below average inning sponges for a non-contending teams? Meet THE underwhelming sponge. Alfredo Simon signed with the Reds on a one-year, $2 million contract. It was a quiet signing by a team that wasn’t going to be very good this year. Sadly, it’s hard to imagine a pitcher playing worse than Simon did this year. His current ERA sits at a jaw-dropping 9.45 and he is sporting a WHIP over two. Those two stats are the worst in the league from any pitcher that has thrown more than 50 innings by a good margin.
Before heading to the disabled list, Simon had a strong case as the worst pitcher in baseball. The Reds probably didn’t sign him expecting a good season, but what they got was someone that didn’t deserve to pitch in the major leagues. Expectations or not, pitching that poorly has to be considered a flop.
14 Alexei Ramirez - San Diego Padres
This is the position player version of Simon, a bad veteran signed to fill out a roster that somehow turned out worse than the front office imagined. Ramirez has been horrendous this year, batting a lackluster .241./.276/.334 and having a poor glove at one of the game's premiere positions. According to Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement stat, Ramirez has been worth -1.9 wins. That is the worst in the major leagues. Essentially, Ramirez is the worst everyday player in baseball.
The Padres weren’t going to be good this year, so signing Ramirez isn’t a big deal because he isn’t the reason for their struggles. Him being bad on a cheap one-year contract also isn’t a big deal. But if you’re as bad as he’s been, you deserve to be mentioned in a column about players that have struggled in their first season with their new team.
13 Joaquin Benoit - Seattle Mariners
After a flurry of offseason moves, Jerry Dipoto had remade the Mariners roster. This included overhauling the bullpen by trading for Joaquin Benoit, a veteran reliever who sported a sparkling 2.34 in 65 innings with the Padres in 2014. He slotted in as a solid veteran presence and a reliable 8th inning guy. Sadly for the Mariners, what they got was an injured and ineffective 39-year-old reliever.
In half the innings, Benoit’s ERA ballooned by more than a run and a half to 3.94 and he walked nearly 14 percent of all batters he faced. He nearly reached his total free passes issued from 2014 (23) in half of the innings in 2015 (20). He was traded from the Mariners around the trade deadline in a classic "my trash for your trash" swap with Toronto, ending a rather disappointing stint in Seattle. Benoit had to have been a pretty big disappointment for Mariners' fans.
12 Jeff Samardzija - San Francisco Giants
Heralded as one of the prime bounce-back candidates, Jeff Samardzija has been nearly as bad as he was last year. This year, he’s posted a lackluster 4.24 ERA over more than 150 innings. He had has been particularly bad lately, with a 5.35 ERA in the second half. His horrible play has been directly tied to the collapse of the Giants, who have seen a six-game lead over the Dodgers turn into a one and a half game deficit as of this writing.
This first year is even more concerning, seeing that the Giants signed Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million contract this year. It seemed clear that the Giants were hoping that his terrible year in Chicago was just a blip, but it’s already looking like that year is the new Samardzija. Even more concerning is that he is putting up these disappointing numbers while playing behind one of the best defensive infields and in one of the ideal pitching parks in baseball.
11 Ben Revere - Washington Nationals
In an attempt to solidify the top of their lineup, the Nationals traded their former closer Drew Storen for the accomplished lead-off man, Ben Revere. He would start the season on the DL before coming back to be one of the worst regular players in baseball. He’s slashing an embarrassing .211/.258/.297 with only 11 steals. He’s on pace to set career lows in every major category since becoming an everyday player.
The Nationals have been able to weather the storm of Revere’s abysmal season because of the stellar season from Daniel Murphy and the success of Trea Turner, a rookie that has filled the Revere gap at the top of their lineup. It remains unclear what the Nationals will do with Revere this year, but it’s difficult to imagine him re-signing with the team after this disappointing season.
10 Steve Cishek - Seattle Mariners
In one of many buy low moves, the Mariners' new general manager, Jerry Dipoto, inked the fallen Miami closer to a two-year, $10 million contract. Sadly, the move didn’t work out the way fans had hoped, with Cishek blowing six saves, tied for the most in the big leagues as of this writing. He’s currently rehabbing on the DL and has watched a new closer rise to take his role in the form of Edwin Diaz. The electric rookie has struck out a staggering 43 percent of the batters he has faced and is perfect in save chances.
While Cishek’s tenure as a closer was a flop, he may still have a chance to save some face when he is healthy. Righties vs. Cishek sport an abysmal .153/.224/.265 line against him. While teams don’t like to pay specialists that much money, Cishek could still restore some of his value by being a lock down situational guy.
9 Denard Span - San Francisco Giants
The longtime National came over to the west coast after signing a three-year, $31 million contract with the Giants. While the contract was heralded as a steal, Span’s tenure as a Giant has been a mixed bag. In his final season in DC, Span slashed an impressive .301/.365/.431. His numbers in San Francisco have plummeted to a paltry .263/.329/.361. It’s a pretty precipitous drop and something to worry about after locking up a 32-year-old player through his age 35-season.
Span has also been regarded as a pretty poor defender in the field, sporting a -7.6 defensive rating. The eye test also doesn’t do Span many favors either. While Span is certainly still a decent player, and far from the worst player featured in this column, his struggles are probably very disappointing for Giants fans who had hoped he would help push them to their 4th title in six years.
8 Jon Niese - Pittsburgh Pirates/ New York Mets
In an attempt to bolster their rotation for a run at a division title, the Pirates traded with the Mets to acquire Jon Niese. The results were pretty disappointing, with Niese struggling through 110 innings, posting a 4.91 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. His struggles were so pronounced that the Pirates decided to use him in a relief role. Needless to say, the trade was a bust and Niese really disappointed in his stint with the Pirates.
This isn’t even the end of the story, though! Niese would be traded BACK to the Mets for one of the pieces in the original trades. They returned the guy to try and recoup what value they could get from the Mets, which is sad and funny at the same time. Sadly, he hasn’t been much better with the Mets, throwing up a 9.28 ERA in only 10.2 innings. It’s still a small sample size, and maybe Niese being back with his original team will help him get into a rhythm, but right now he is struggling.
7 David Price - Boston Red Sox
One of the largest moves of the offseason was the Red Sox’s decision to try and bolster their rotation with a bona fide ace. They signed Price to a whopping seven-year, $217 million contract. This mega deal gives Price an average annual value of $31 million, which is tied for Miguel Cabrera for the highest in MLB history. Still, if it meant having someone anchor the rotation, the deal would easily be worth it for a World Series caliber team.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far. As of this writing, Price has given up the most hits in the majors at 173. He’s also surrendered more home runs at this point in the season (21) than he did all of last year (17). His ERA has also ballooned by nearly a full run from his career average to rest at 4.19. He has pitched better as of late, and there are numbers that say he is outperforming his peripherals, but it’s disconcerting that he hasn’t been doing well in the start of a seven-year mammoth contract.
6 Yovani Gallardo, Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles have exceeded many pundits' expectations for them, as they currently sit in the thick of the race for the AL East. They have somehow done this with a dumpster fire of a starting rotation. Their starters' ERA sits at 4.81, far and away the worst of any division contender. One of the largest contributors to this fire has been Yovani Gallardo, who came over from Texas in the offseason.
This year, Gallardo has had an ERA of 5.18 and a WHIP of 1.61 in 16 starts. Normally good for an ERA around 3.5, Gallardo clearly was not signed to be an ace, and the Orioles were not expecting this. He was one of the worst pitchers in baseball and a total flop in his first season in Baltimore. He was eventually yanked out of the rotation and hopefully won’t sniff the mound again anytime soon.
5 Jason Heyward - Chicago Cubs
Regarded by many as the best free agent available this offseason, the Cubs threw an eight-year, $184 million contract to lock up Jason Heyward to their extremely talented young core. The 27-year-old joining a stacked Cubs roster was seen by many as the rich getting richer -- the best free agent joining the best team! Well, the Cubs have still been the best team in baseball this year, but it’s been in spite of Heyward, not because of him.
Heyward has slashed a meek .225/.304/.313, all of which are career lows. Heyward has been prone to slumps, but he’s now had more than 450 plate appearances and been pretty terrible. Luckily, he still plays excellent defense and the Cubs offense isn’t lacking, but the start to his career with the Cubs hasn’t been great. Hopefully, he figures it out or else the Cubs will have a massive albatross contract on their roster until 2024.
4 Zack Greinke - Arizona Diamondbacks
Continuing the trend of buyer's remorse, let’s spend some time talking about the recent $200 million man. Over the offseason, the Diamondbacks splurged on Zack Greinke, signing him to a six-year, $206.5 million contract. Not too many people worried about the money because Greinke was amazing the year before. He had a 1.65 ERA in 2015, which is one of the lowest in the history of baseball. He also led the majors in WHIP with an astounding .84. The man deserved a giant contract because he had been great.
The results have not been what the Diamondbacks had hoped. Beyond a series of injuries, which is never a good sign for a 30-year-old starting a giant contract, Greinke simply hasn't been that good. His ERA has skyrocketed to 4.31 and his WHIP now sits at 1.22. Those are seismic jumps and have helped contribute to the terrible season that Arizona is enduring. Who knows if Greinke will bounce back, but the start to his tenure in the desert was about as bad as it can get.
3 Wei-Yin Chen - Miami Marlins
In an attempt to help Jose Fernandez, the Marlins went out and signed Wei-Yin Chen away from the Orioles. They were not expecting to sign an ace, just a quality big leaguer that would help them contend for the playoffs. The Marlins currently find themselves in the thick of a wildcard race, but Chen has been a net negative in getting them there.
He currently sports a 4.99 ERA in 110 innings pitched. He’s currently hurt, which is probably best for the Marlins playoff hopes. One of the most alarming stats regarding Chen’s season is his crazy home-run rate. He is surrendering 1.64 home runs per 9 innings pitched, the 11th worst rate in the league. That is even more alarming when you consider the park in which Chen gets to play nearly half of his games. The Marlins' playoff odds are sitting at about 11 percent, which is kind of amazing when you think about how bad Chen has been.
2 Justin Upton - Detroit Tigers
In one of the most precipitous drop-offs in recent memory, we have the disaster that is Justin Upton. In an attempt to replace the punch lost from trading away Yoenis Cespedes, the Tigers threw a six-year, $132,750 million contract at the slugging outfielder. The results have been absolutely atrocious for the 28-year-old, who is slashing an abysmal .226/.281/.371. Those are easily the worst numbers he has ever had since becoming an everyday player. Upton, like Heyward, has been known to slump, but never like this before. Unlike Heyward, though, Upton doesn’t have the defense with which to save face.
According to Fangraph's Wins Above Replacement stat, Upton has been worth -1.1 wins. That’s the 3rd worst in all of baseball. The Tigers thought they were signing a solid outfielder, but what they got instead is one of the worst players in baseball, and they are stuck with him for another five years.
1 Shelby Miller - Arizona Diamondbacks
In an attempt to build a contending team, the Diamondbacks pushed all their chips into the center of the table and traded for Shelby Miller. They gave up a king's ransom, sending over Dansby Swanson, the first overall pick in 2015, a promising young arm in Aaron Blair, and Ender Inciarte, a young, established major league player. The trade was rightly blasted from all corners of baseball. Most people wouldn’t want to do Swanson for Miller straight up, or Blair and Inciarte for Miller straight up, and yet the Diamondbacks for some reason DID BOTH!
Miller could’ve salvaged some dignity for the Diamondbacks if he came out and pitched well. The opposite happened. He was terrible, posting a 7.14 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. He was one of the worst pitchers in baseball, and was recently sent down to the minors. Remember that 1st overall pick I mentioned earlier? He has raced through the minors and is ALREADY IN THE MAJORS. It’s probably not fair to blame Miller for all of this. He didn’t ask to be involved in one of the worst trades in MLB history, but the success of Swanson and the smoldering crater of the debut Miller left has had to leave fans depressed.
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