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MLB'S 10 Worst 'Sure Bet' Free-Agent Acquisitions That Didn't Pan Out

Timothy HowellCorrespondent IIJanuary 13, 2012

MLB'S 10 Worst 'Sure Bet' Free-Agent Acquisitions That Didn't Pan Out

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    In the wonderful world of Major League Baseball, earning the title "sure bet" is both a blessing and a curse.

    The term itself holds a polarizing duality, making it one that is easier to define when failure ensues rather than success—the power hitting acquisition, fresh off of his third straight 40-HR season, who manages only 10 homers with his new team.  

    "Well, he sure seemed like a sure bet."

    But for the player who is labeled as such, it means that the only thing stacked higher than his contract's dollars are his team's expectations.

    In many instances, it's the size of the contract that seemingly sets the player up for failure—months before he even dawns the duds of his new team.

    But who can blame a ballplayer (or anyone for that matter) for taking the largest possible contract offer available?

    I certainly can't.

    But what I can do is break down 10 free-agent signings that were dubbed a "sure bet" the moment the contract was signed—featuring a few that became a bona fide bust before the ink had even dried.

    Enjoy.

No. 10 Daisuke Matsuzaka

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    Year/Team Signed With: 2007, Boston Red Sox

    Terms of Salary: 6 years, $52 million plus $51.1 million posting fee paid to the Seibu Lions)

    Breakdown:

    Daisuke Matsuzaka was considered a sure bet by the Red Sox when they put in a then record bid of $50.7 million just to negotiate a contract.

    Initially, "Dice-K" did just fine.  He was 15-12 in his first year with Boston and was important down the stretch, as the Red Sox won their second World Series in three seasons.

    For Dice-K, 2008 was even better. 

    He went 18-3 with an impressively low 2.90 ERA.  But then, the wheels came off.

    Since that '08 season, Dice-K hasn't had an ERA lower than 4.69 and had to undergo Tommy John surgery following last season. 

    Naturally, Dice-K's worst season (2011) is the one that hurts the Red Sox's hip pocket the most, as he earned $10.33 million dollars, the highest per year sum of his six-year deal.

No. 9: Chone Figgins

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    Year/Team Signed With: 2010, Seattle Mariners

    Terms of Salary: 4 years, $36 million

    Breakdown:

    Signing the versatile Chone Figgins certainly seemed like a great idea.  A prudent investment, because it robbed a divisional opponent (LAA) of his "talents" and provided the M's a player that could play multiple positions as well as fill-in in different spots of the batting order.

    Or, his talent and production could hit the wall face-first—contributing little more than 42 stolen bases in 2010 before having an unbelievably atrocious 2011 season.

    In 2011, Figgins put up a slash line of .188/.241/.243.  He was basically Adam Dunn without the pop; Andruw Jones without the tattoos.  

    You can't blame the Mariners. 

    These things happen.  And Figgins was a bargain-bin bust compared to some of the next few contestants.

No. 8: A.J. Burnett

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    Year/Team Signed With: 2009, New York Yankees

    Terms of Salary: 5 years, $82.5 million

    Breakdown:

    Truth be told, when it comes to starting pitchers, a "sure bet" is essentially a myth.   

    However, Burnett—to this day—has absolutely filthy stuff, and on top of that, when the Yankees signed him, he was coming off the best year of his career. In 2008 with the Blue Jays, he went 18-10 and posted a 4.07 ERA with a whopping 231 strikeouts.

    If other teams had the seemingly endless supply of cash the Yankees possess, they'd have made a run at Burnett too.

    The Yankees did win a World Series in Burnett's first year (2009). 

    But man, that contract. It's big enough that even the Yankees want a little bit more of a return on their sizable investment...more than a postseason spot-starter with an ERA that reads more like a slow-pitch softball starter than a major leaguer.

No. 7: Albert Belle

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    Year/Team Signed With: 1999, Baltimore Orioles

    Terms of Salary: 5 years, $65 million

    Breakdown:

    Albert Belle was one of the preeminent sluggers (among other things) in the 1990s.  And Baltimore was sitting pretty with both Belle and his mega-deal for seasons one and two.

    In 1999 and 2000, Belle averaged 30 home runs and 110 RBI. 

    But then, severe osteoarthritis in his hip forced him to retire abruptly after the 2000 season.  Hey, if it had been a two-year deal, no biggie, right?

    Well, it was a five-year contract. So the Orioles paid Belle around $38 million for the last three years of his contract—for absolutely nothing.  Well, nothing baseball related at least.

    He's not the type of dude you give an office to at the stadium and let him do PR work.

No. 6: Mike Hampton

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    Year/Team Signed With: 2001, Colorado Rockies

    Terms of Salary: 8 years, $121 million

    Breakdown:

    They say Colorado is a tough place to pitch.  In his two years with the Rockies, Mike Hampton did little to hinder that reputation. 

    Before being dealt to the Braves after the 2002 season, Hampton had gone 21-28 with an ERA just south of 6.00.

    But hey, he did bat .291 with seven HR for the Rockies in 2001. 

No. 5: Adam Dunn

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    Year/Team Signed With: 2011, Chicago White Sox

    Terms of Salary: 4 years, $56 million

    Breakdown:

    Adam "Done"—oh, excuse me—Dunn would be much higher on this list had it not been for the fact that he has plenty of time to prove that 2011 was a fluke (four years and counting). 

    Before coming over to the American League, Dunn was one of the most consistent power hitters in the game.  From 2004-2008, he never hit fewer than 40 round-trippers. 

    Sure, the dude racks up more strikeouts that Justin Verlander would in the Japanese League, but as long as he produces that pop and knocks in those runs, you get what you're paying for.

    Yeah, about that.

    Dunn's 2011 slash line reads more like the projections of Eddie Gaedel over a full season (minus the stellar OBP): .159/.292/.277, with just 11 HRs. 

    Sure, I realize that a batting average is overrated, but, c'mon .159?

    Girl at a bar: "So, what do you do, Adam?" 

    Dunn: "Oh, for a living, I've got a sweet gig. All I do is I don't get a hit 84 percent of the time...it's a great job if you can get it."

    A .159 average is low enough to make Mario Mendoza blush—or laugh his ass off. 

No. 4: Mark Mulder

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    Year/Team Signed With: 2007, St. Louis Cardinals (originally came over via a trade)

    Terms of Salary: 2 years, $11.5 million

    Breakdown:

    Of the Oakland A's famed troika of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, some considered Mulder to be the best. 

    After all, he did win 52 games with Oakland from 2001-2004.  Mulder did just fine in his first year with the Cardinals in 2005, after he was traded there for Dan Haren (I'm sure they'd love him back), Daric Barton and Kiko Calero.  

    Mulder went 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA.

    But then injuries began to take their toll, and his shoulder would never quite be the same. 

    It was a classy move by the Cardinals to re-sign him after his arm woes, but for the pitcher who was once a shoo-in for dominance, it just wasn't meant to be.

No. 3: Chan Ho Park

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    Year/Team Signed With: 2002, Texas Rangers

    Terms of Salary: 5 years, $65 million

    Breakdown:

    I was pumped when I first found out that the Texas Rangers had signed Chan Ho Park.  At the time, it looked like we had finally acquired an ace, a true front-of-the-rotation starter.

    After all, when it came to the Rangers in the late '90s and early '00s, you were more likely to share a beer with Bigfoot or go snow skiing in Laredo than to watch an honest-to-goodness ace pitch in Arlington.

    Sure, Chan walked a lot of guys, but he was coming off of back-to-back years in LA where he struck out at least 217 batters each season.

    In the summer of 2002, I got to watch Ho get punched around by big leaguers to the tune of a 5.75 ERA (bad even by the Rangers' standards then).

    Fast-forward to the summer of 2003, and I got to watch Park get hammered by Double-A hitters...but at least the beers and tickets were cheaper...

    2004: More of the same. 

    I was so ecstatic to see him get traded in '05 that I even convinced myself that Phil Nevin might actually still be able to hit.

No. 2: Andruw Jones/Manny Ramirez

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    Year/Team Signed With: Andruw Jones—2007, Los Angeles Dodgers; Manny Ramirez—2011, Tampa Bay Rays

    Terms of Salary: Ramirez: 1 year, $2.02 million; Jones: 2 years, $36.2 million (after his release, much of it was deferred)

    Breakdown:

    Hey, it's almost a mirror-match of futility!

    Before the Dodgers signed Andruw Jones, everyone knew that his defensive prowess was in decline—in direct proportion to his expanding waistline.

    But he was 30 years old and still managed 26 HRs with 94 RBI in 2007 with Atlanta, so why not take a shot? 

    And then Jones went .158/.256/.249, with three HRs. He was released after the season. 

    And as for Ramirez, he played decent enough with the Dodgers to get a pass during that tour of duty, but with the Rays last year, he was the "Manny who wasn't there."

    He only played five games, was popped for PEDs—fertility drugs, I believe it was—and then retired. 

    What an unbelievable rip-off for the Rays—even for the relatively low price of $2 million. 

No. 1: Barry Zito

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    Year/Team Signed With: 2007, San Francisco Giants

    Terms of Salary: 7 years, $126 million

    Breakdown:

    You know things are pretty rough when you're paid enough money to supply aces to half of the teams in the league—and you're left off of your postseason roster while your team wins the World Series.

    Perhaps the Giants staff's secret of success is the "Z-man." After all, they can just watch him and quickly deduce what not to do. 

    Barry Zito once led the American League in wins in 2002, with 23.  Since he's been with the Giants, he's managed to lead the National League in losses in 2008, with 17. 

    That pretty much sums up his time with the Giants.

    But hey, they did win a World Series championship while toting his note, and that's pretty cool.

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