Baseball Free Agent Signings: A Confederacy of Dunces?
by Scott Long
What looked to be an interesting off-season for free agent signings has been a wet dream for agents, with available players being coveted like fat blonde chicks at closing time. Why would anyone show any pretext of feeling sorry for owners and their bottom line struggles, after what has transpired so far on the free agency scene. The pursuit of starting pitching the last 2 months has reminded me of being in a fantasy baseball draft where there's a run on one position, you know, when all sanity leaves and you are running around more desperate than Donald Trump's hair on a really windy day.
What a market it was for damaged goods pitchers like Carl Pavano, Eric Milton, Pedro Martinez, David Wells, Jaret Wright, and Kris Benson. This list looks like a best of roster from Under the Knife. (UTK is an injury column written by an obscure and obtuse writer named William.) Add Russ Ortiz and Matt Clement to this list and you have a bunch of pitchers who are No. 2 starters (at best), all making over 7 million a year.
(Pedro might be the exception to this statement, but I don't see him as a No. 1 past year 2 of his 4 year contract.)
At least potential IR guys like Wilson Alvarez, Orlando Hernandez, Woody Williams, Matt Morris, Glendon Rusch, and Paul Wilson signed contracts for half the dough (or less) than the above list of suspects, so I think you could argue these 6 are reasonable risks.
I would put the Phillies signings of Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle in the same category of decent moves in a crazy market. (I wouldn't be surprised if Lieber pitches better than all of the Yankees new starters, except for the Big Unit.) The best signing was Brad Radke, who is a quality starter, who signed a friendly deal because he wanted to stay in Minnesota. You could argue the two best pitching deals by MLB clubs in 2004 were Radke's and Freddy Garcia's in Chicago.
Another crazy place for money was at shortstop, as Orlando Cabrera (8 mil) and Christian Guzman (4 mil) were grossly overpaid. With the Cabrera signing, combined with the deal for 39-year old Steve Finley (18 mil over 2 years), the Angels continue to be killing any fiscal sanity on the market. Something must be going on in the AL West, as Seattle matched the Angels on the crazy front, giving enormous contracts to Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. I vote the worst signing, though, to the Giants paying 7 million to Mike Matheny over the next 2 years. Yeah, 34 year old catchers who hit like, uh, what's the best example, oh yeah, Mike Matheny, are not worth 20% of that contract.
The two best signings so far have been Richard Hidalgo (Rangers) and Todd Walker (Cubs). Actually, I like the Cubs deal with Nomar Garciaparra, also, so it has been a decent off-season for the Cubs, which adding Carlos Beltran would make for an A grade. Let me finish by mentioning that in a world where Jason Varitek makes 10 mil yearly and Damian Miller 8.5 mil for 3 seasons, A.J. Pierzynski sitting out there with a scarlet letter around his neck makes me think he might be baseball's best buy.