Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bucs' 10 Worst Free Agent Signings Since 2000

Andrew KaufmanSenior Analyst IApril 15, 2013

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bucs' 10 Worst Free Agent Signings Since 2000

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates received a fair amount of attention this offseason when they signed catcher Russell Martin to a two year, $17 million contract that represented the franchise's most expensive free-agent acquisition ever.

    The Martin contract cast a bit of a focus on the Pirates' historical performance in free agency, especially as the catcher is off to a slow start this season. It doesn't take a particularly keen eye to note that the Bucs' free agent track record is less than strong.

    When compared with other recent free-agent signings, the Martin contract looks like a pretty sound decision almost regardless of his performance. The Pirates' past is littered with free-agent acquisitions that represented misguided approaches and were difficult to even justify at the time, which cannot be said for Martin regardless of the differing opinions about his worth.

    Most of these deals were for relatively minimal dollar amounts and/or contract lengths, so their effect on the Pirates' long-term outlook was not too profound. It's still a rather amusing list, though.

    (Note: This slideshow would have been nearly impossible to put together without this excellent summary of the Pirates' historical offseason moves.)

10. Raul Mondesi

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    As amusing cases go, it will be difficult to top the Raul Mondesi saga.

    The outfielder was a solid player throughout most of his major league career (though the same can be said for a few of the players on this list), and he posted respectable numbers during his 110 plate appearances with the Pirates in 2004.

    But Mondesi returned to his native Dominican Republic to deal with personal problems a month into his contract, leading to its eventual termination. The episode served as a huge distraction for the team.

    The Pirates had cause to release Mondesi and did not have to pay out his salary, so the economic damage was very minimal, but the ugly scene certainly has not been forgotten by Bucs' fans. 

9. Erik Bedard

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    Erik Bedard was actually the Pirates' Opening Day starter in 2012, and by some metrics his performance actually merited the $4.5 million contract he was given.

    Bedard was rather unlucky during his time in Pittsburgh, but a pitcher who walks four batters per nine innings and loses his job before the end of the season doesn't exactly hold a tremendous amount of value.

    Despite a solid start to the year, Pirate fans were more than happy to see Bedard and his five-hour games go by the end of 2012.

8. Lyle Overbay

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    With Lyle Overbay, we have now officially entered the "veteran presence" portion of our program.

    When the Pirates signed Overbay in 2011, they thought they were acquiring another average offensive season from a first baseman who had posted three such seasons in a row for the Toronto Blue Jays. Instead, they found a $5 million dollar acquisition whose career was ready to decline precipitously.

    Overbay's age (he turned 34 in 2011) could have clued Pirates' management into the fact that a decline was coming, though his fall-off was still probably steeper than most expected. Indeed, Overbay's .349 slugging average held back the Bucs' offense for much of the season before he was dealt at the trade deadline.

7. Matt Diaz

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    While Overbay was terrible in Pittsburgh, at least the Pirates gave starter money to a starter. Matt Diaz was never expected to see a lot of at bats in Pittsburgh, yet the Bucs gave $4.5 million to a player they could easily have found in the minors anyway.

    Diaz, the kind of gritty contact hitter who hits for minimal power, doesn't take a lot of walks and plays a corner outfield position, contributed an on-base average that barely cleared .300 in 2011. 

    Like Overbay, Diaz was another player that the Pirates signed as a free agent and then traded away during the same season. This usually isn't a good sign. 

6. Ramon Vasquez

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    The Pirates have long struggled to fill middle infield positions in free agency, and the Vazquez signing was certainly an example of that.

    As is the case with several of the players on this list, the Bucs signed Vazquez after the best season of his career in 2008, paying the former Texas Ranger $4 million to play shortstop and serve as a utility infielder.

    Vazquez could always take a walk, but you have to take a lot of walks to overcome a .279 slugging average. As Vazquez was never a particularly effective fielder at shortstop, he proved a liability throughout the year.

5. Scott Olsen

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    Perhaps the standard should be lowered, as the No. 5 player on this list never actually played for the Pirates. 

    Olsen's injury history didn't stop the Pirates from offering him a $4 million contract in 2011, though the Bucs may be lucky that they never got to experience the left-hander's career 4.89 FIP.

    The Olsen contract was not fully guaranteed, so the Bucs did not lose nearly as much as $4 million on the deal. It's still hard to understand what they were expecting to get out of this one, though.

4. Rod Barajas

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    Of all the veterans the Pirates have brought in as stopgaps recently, Rod Barajas was by far the worst. As in, you would pay him a substantial amount of money not to play for your team worst.

    In 2012, as the Bucs' primary catcher, playing in front of Michael McKenry in the midst of his own breakout season, Barajas recorded an on-base average of .283 while playing significantly below average defense.

    These numbers are hard to top, and Russell Martin will surely look substantially better. It's hard not to.

3. Joe Randa

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    While a player like Barajas performed much worse during his time in Pittsburgh than Randa, it is at least easy to explain what the Pirates were doing when they brought Barajas in.

    In 2012, the Pirates were a team that was moving towards contention and had no obvious answer at catcher, so they took a flier in a thin market. When the Pirates signed Joe Randa in 2006, people thought it was crazy at the time.

    An OPS slightly below .700 is one thing. Paying a 35 year-old Joe Randa, on his way out of baseball, $4 million for that production, and to block Freddy Sanchez on a losing team in the process? Just another step on Dave Littlefield's path out of baseball.

2. Jeromy Burnitz

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    Jeromy Burnitz likely represented an even larger step on Dave Littlefield's path out of baseball when he signed with the Pirates in that same 2005-06 offseason.

    Burnitz, who has "resuscitated" his career with a solid performance in Colorado (warning sign!) following a few previous off years, signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Pirates. He was neither the first nor the last name on this list to fail to see his contract to completion.

    Burnitz did still have a little pop in his bat, but an on-base average below .300 and terrible defense led to well-below replacement level performance, once again, from an old player on a rebuilding team.

1. Derek Bell

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    There's bad baseball, and then there's Operation Shutdown.

    Derek Bell, once a very good outfielder for the Houston Astros was terrible in 183 plate appearances for the Pirates in 2001. Like Pedro Alvarez in April terrible.

    But this isn't about rates, or stats, or about "analysis at all" really. This is about the fact that, after losing his starting job as the result of posting a .576 OPS in the prior season, Derek Bell quit on his own team.

    And the Pirates payed him $9.75 million for the privilege. There have certainly been worse times in the Steel City.