Major League Baseball's Spring Training is only a couple of weeks away. It's been a long winter since the Kansas City Royals won the World Series, but February 17th is finally within sight and soon the boys of summer will be back, preparing for another 162 game grind, some of those players fresh off of signing multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts.
It seems like every winter we go through the same thing. Several big name players hit free agency and teams line up to throw money at them on the open market, regardless of whether or not it will ultimately prove to be a mistake. Often times teams do end up regretting their free agent signings, but in a sport that's flush with money, largely because of massive television deals, teams continue to be willing to repeat the same mistakes, especially if they think it will help them win a championship. We only have to look at the Boston Red Sox to see the perfect example of this. Last winter, they signed Hanley Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million deal and Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, $100 million contract. Both players had disastrous 2015 seasons and the Red Sox tried with no luck to shop Ramirez this offseason, while simultaneously preparing to hand out more big money deals.
It's a practice that isn't likely to end anytime soon and one that most teams need to engage in if they want to remain successful. With no restrictions on player salaries and a luxury tax that doesn't really frighten teams away as the only means of punishment for massive payrolls, salaries will continue to escalate and teams will continue handing out huge contracts in an effort to improve their roster. You can easily look back at any offseason and pinpoint the worst signings. Here are the ones from this offseason:
15 Joakim Soria - Three Years, $25 million
The Kansas City Royals proved in 2015 that you can build a championship caliber bullpen on the cheap, but then they went out and signed former Royal Joakim Soria to a three year, $25 million deal that includes a mutual $10 million option for a fourth year. The 31-year-old, right handed reliever split 2015 between the Tigers and Pirates, saving 23 of 26 games in Detroit before becoming the set-up man in Pittsburgh.
14 Ryan Madson - Three Years, $22 million
13 J.A. Happ - Three Years, $36 million
Faced with the loss of David Price in free agency, the Toronto Blue Jays were looking for some pitching help and turned to a familiar face, inking J.A. Happ to a three year, $36 million contract. The signing drew a mixed reaction from the Toronto faithful. After all, Happ was nothing special during his first stint with the Blue Jays. During parts of three seasons he posted a 4.39 ERA and found himself moving between the starting rotation, the bullpen, and Triple A. Happ's 2015 season didn't begin much better with the Seattle Mariners, but after a midseason trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates, he caught fire, posting a 1.85 ERA and striking out 69 batters across 63 1/3 innings over eleven starts.
12 Ben Zobrist - Four years, $56 million
11 Jordan Zimmermann - Five years, $110 million
10 Zack Greinke - Six years, $206.5 million
9 Jason Heyward - Eight years, $184 million
Jason Heyward has typically been a player who does most things well, but no one thing great. As far as we can measure, Heyward is a very good defensive player. He's also shown an ability to hit for power, hitting 18 home runs as a rookie in 2010 and 27 long balls in 2012, but he also hasn't hit more than 14 home runs in any of his other four seasons. He can steal some bases if he needs to, swiping 23 bags in 2015. He was never great at hitting for average, - his .293 season in 2015 was a career high by 22 points - but he's shown an ability to get on base and has lowered his strikeout totals.
8 Chris Davis - Seven Years, $161 million
Chris Davis was clearly the top power hitter available on the market this winter, having hit 47 home runs in 2015 and 53 long balls in 2013. It took longer than many expected for him to sign and ultimately he re-upped with the Baltimore Orioles on a seven year, $161 million deal. The deal will pay Davis an annual salary of $17 million followed by deferred payments of $3.5 million per year from 2023-2032 and $1.4 million per year from 2033-2037.
7 Yoenis Cespedes - Three years, $75 million
After bouncing around between Oakland, Boston, and Detroit the last two seasons, Yoenis Cespedes made his way to the New York Mets in a midseason trade. He caught fire in New York, hitting 17 home runs with 44 RBI and 39 runs scored in 57 games and turned around the Mets offense to lead them to a postseason birth. However, Cespedes play in the postseason was a disappointment. He batted just .150 with a .143 on base percentage in the World Series.
6 Ian Kennedy - Five Years, $70 million
The San Diego Padres' decision to extend a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Ian Kennedy and his decision to turn it down were both equally surprising. After all, it didn't seem like many teams were going to jump at the opportunity to surrender a draft pick and give a multi-year deal to a pitcher coming off a season in which he carried a 4.28 ERA and gave up 31 home runs. However, one should never discount Scott Boras' ability to make his clients a lot of money.
5 Daniel Murphy - Three Years, $37.5 million
If the Boston signing of Pablo Sandoval taught us anything, it's that handing out big money contracts based on postseason play is not a great idea. Apparently, the Washington Nationals never got that memo. Daniel Murphy set a Major League record when he homered in six consecutive postseason games for the New York Mets last fall, picking up MVP honours in the NLCS and leading the Mets to an appearance in the World Series. He then parlayed his strong play into a three year, $37.5 million deal with the Nationals. The deal pays Murphy just $8 million in 2016, but his salary jumps to $12 million in 2017 and then to $17.5 million in 2018.
4 Kenta Maeda - Eight Years, $25 Million Guaranteed, as much as $90.2 million
After posting a 2.14 ERA across 206 1/3 innings for the Japanese Central League's Hiroshima Carp in 2015, Kenta Maeda was posted and signed with Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers paid the $20 million posting fee and then gave Maeda an eight year, $25 million contract that could pay him as much as $90.2 million with incentives. He'll join a Dodgers rotation that lost starter Zack Grienke to free agency and battled through season ending injuries to both Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy last year.
3 Johnny Cueto - Six Years, $130 million
Over parts of eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Cueto was able to develop into a front of the rotation starter. However, after a midseason trade to the Kansas City Royals in 2015, Cueto's play dropped off a cliff. He posted a 4.76 ERA with just 56 strikeouts across 81 1/3 innings through 13 starts with the Royals. Cueto's pitching in the postseason wasn't exactly pretty either and left a lot of people wondering how much his stock would suffer in free agency. He did, however, manage to pitch a gem in the World Series, throwing a complete two-hitter in Game 2 against the New York Mets and helping the Royals to a World Series victory.
2 David Price - Seven Years, $217 million
Along with Grienke, David Price was the highest profile starting pitcher available this winter. The pair were a step above any other pitcher available on the open market and it was obvious they were both going to get paid huge dollars. When Price finally decided on his destination, he joined the Boston Red Sox on a seven-year, $217 million contract with opt out clause after three years.
1 Jeff Samardzija - Five years, $90 million
Jeff Samardzija's pitching was a disaster in 2015. He posted a 4.96 ERA and gave up 29 long balls. However, that didn't stop the San Francisco Giants from rewarding him with a five-year, $90 million contract. Despite being a workhorse capable of racking up 200 or more innings, Samardzija has struggled with consistency throughout his career and hasn't yet been able to establish himself as a reliable starter. Advocates of the 6'5" right hander often cite his strong underlying numbers as proof that he's a strong pitcher, but sooner or later he's going to need to find some real long-term, sustainable success. At 31 years of age, that has yet to happen, making it hard to justify paying him $18 million per year. Between Cueto and Samardzija, the Giants could soon find themselves in a world of hurt financially.
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