The clock is ticking on the Masahiro Tanaka derby, meaning we're likely near another wave of big free-agent signings just in time for pitchers and catchers to report for spring training. Hard to imagine, but in about a month, the familiar sounds of rawhide smacking the leather in the bullpen will return to Arizona and Florida.
It's clear that baseball contracts are rising after a year when the league pulled in a record $8 billion in revenue in 2013, according to Maury Brown of Forbes. New national and local TV deals are also kicking in around the league, meaning players are reaping the benefits at the negotiating table.
With such big contracts come big risks, and there certainly have been some moves made this offseason that look poised for failure. Here's a look at 15 signings and/or trades executed this winter that are most likely to backfire on their respective clubs.
Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has a track record of making high-priced commitments to veteran players, but the three-year, $26 million deal he negotiated with Carlos Ruiz makes little sense.
Ruiz is going to turn 35 on Jan. 22, and other than his career year in 2012 (.325/.394/.540 with 16 HR and 68 RBI), he hasn't shown much at the plate to warrant such a large contract.
A few weeks after the 2012 season ended, it was announced that Ruiz would be suspended 25 games for testing positive for an amphetamine, casting doubt on the merits of his banner year.
Ruiz's rapport with the pitching staff and defense are well-regarded, but not nearly enough to justify this contract. In an offseason where Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed for three years and $21 million, Ruiz is a glaring overpay.
Jacoby Ellsbury's injury history makes his seven-year, $153 million contract with the New York Yankees a big-time gamble.
When healthy, Ellsbury is a dynamite leadoff hitter and Gold Glove-caliber defender. Still, does that make him worth more than $21 million annually? In order to make it a conversation, he would have to stay healthy and produce at an elite level until 2020, which seems virtually impossible.
He's averaged just 96 games per season the past four years, highlighted by his 2011 when he batted .321/.376/.552 with 32 homers, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases. But Ellsbury should be expected to put up numbers closer to his 2013 figures (.298/.355/.426, nine HR, 53 RBI, 52 SB), and that's not worth the paycheck he'll be receiving once the 2014 season starts.
Like many of the other big contracts signed this winter, Robinson Cano's 10-year, $240 million pact with the Seattle Mariners likely won't hold up over time. Sure, he might be one of baseball's premier players during the next few seasons, but chances are slim that he'll still be worth $24 million annually near the end of the deal.
Cano is everything you look for in a player right now. He's durable, hits for power and average, and has two Gold Gloves at second base in the past four seasons. But he's 31 years old, and it's unreasonable to think he'll maintain this pace until he's 40.
The Mariners went all-in on Cano and got their man, but they haven't been able to reel in any other big pieces since. Adding other players like Corey Hart and Logan Morrison while losing Raul Ibanez doesn't put the Mariners in a position to improve much after last year's 71-91 output—especially in the tough AL West.
Cano's massive contract has also handicapped the team's spending, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, meaning Masahiro Tanaka and other front-line free-agent starters will be harder to sign. Ditto for slugging outfielder Nelson Cruz, leaving a reunion with Kendrys Morales as the most likely impact move Seattle can make before Opening Day.
The Detroit Tigers might have been better-served keeping Doug Fister around in 2014 instead of trading him to the Washington Nationals for lefty reliever Ian Krol, utility man Steve Lombardozzi and minor league southpaw Robbie Ray.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com projected that Fister will make $6.9 million in arbitration this winter, which is a steal for a starter like him. Over the past three seasons, Fister has averaged 30 starts a year, posting a 35-32 record, 3.30 ERA, 124 ERA+, 1.19 WHIP and 6.8 K/9 ratio.
By dealing him away, Detroit's chances at winning the World Series in 2014 took a big hit. The team has a rare window of opportunity with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, but Scherzer is scheduled to be a free agent following this season. Scherzer has indicated a preference to stay in the Motor City, but with Scott Boras as his agent, expect a major bidding war to unfold if he reaches free agency.
Fister is under club control for two seasons, meaning the Tigers could have waited until next offseason and seen how the Scherzer situation played out. Drew Smyly has promise and is cheaper, but Fister would have been a proven insurance policy for the team if it can't retain Scherzer.
Shin-Soo Choo has the chance to help the Texas Rangers create some major damage at the top of their new-look lineup after signing a seven-year, $130 million contract this winter.
He was an effective table-setter for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013, batting .285/.423/.462 with 22 home runs, 54 RBI and 112 walks. Choo and Elvis Andrus will give manager Ron Washington two solid options to choose from for the No. 1 hole, in front of sluggers like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre.
Choo should be a very solid player for the Rangers the next couple of seasons, but his defense is suspect, and he might be relegated to designated-hitter duties by the end of this deal, making his back-loaded contract seem like a tough one to live up to.
Choo will make $14 million in each of the next two seasons, but his salary jumps to $20 million for the 2016-18 seasons before rising to $21 million in each of the final two years of the deal. It's going to be tough for him to prove that his contract isn't a burden for the team down the road.
Technically, this move was made before the offseason was started, as the San Francisco Giants retained Tim Lincecum by signing him to a two-year, $35 million deal before the World Series ended in October.
The short-term, big-money contract made a lot of people scratch their heads, as Lincecum has been inconsistent the past two years since having a remarkable start to his career that included two Cy Young Awards. Since the start of 2012, he has a 20-29 record, 4.76 ERA, 72 ERA+, 1.39 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 ratio. While his strikeout rate suggests he can still be powerful, he has been too easy to hit for the past couple of years.
There are only a handful of pitchers who are worth $17.5 million annually, and Lincecum's recent production doesn't put him in that category. It would take a full return to his past form for this deal to make sense from the club's perspective, and that's a big risk.
Mark Trumbo is a quality power hitter, but he's essentially a one-dimensional player who wasn't worth two talented young players in return. During the MLB winter meetings in December, the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Trumbo in a three-team deal that also sent southpaw Tyler Skaggs to the Los Angeles Angels and outfielder Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox.
Trumbo might provide a nice home run threat and run producer behind first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup, but that's about it. His defense and ability to get on base are questionable, as he batted .234/.294/.453 with 34 homers, 100 RBI, 54 walks and 184 strikeouts in 2013.
Ultimately, Trumbo might not provide the type of impact that the Diamondbacks need to compete in the NL West, while the price tag of Skaggs and Eaton may prove to be too high in the long run.
The Kansas City Royals deserve credit for finding a reliable innings-eater now that Ervin Santana is still seeking a big deal in free agency. But at four years and $30 million, the team might have made too big of a commitment to Jason Vargas.
The $8 million average annual value of the deal is on par with today's rising market for starting pitching, but four years is a lot for Vargas, who is set to turn 31 on Feb. 2.
Vargas has been relatively healthy the past few years, barring a one-off blood clot injury in 2013, but he only has one season in his career where he's posted an ERA+ higher than 100 (104 in 2010). Since the Royals have plenty of young arms coming up through the system, Vargas could be an expensive back-of-the-rotation pitcher for the Royals sooner rather than later.
Juan Uribe picked the right time to have a solid year at the plate in 2013, batting .278/.331/.438 with 12 homers and 50 RBI. It vaulted him to the top of a thin third-base market in free agency, and it helped him secure two years and $15 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
At the age of 34, I expect Uribe to regress in the next two seasons and struggle to match his production from 2013. He combined to play just 143 games in 2011 and 2012, batting .199/.262/.289 in the process, which makes it surprising that he was able to lock up a multi-year deal with such a high average annual value.
Ultimately, this contract won't be the one to break the deep-pocketed Dodgers' bank, but Uribe will be hard-pressed to make this seem like a good value signing.
The Minnesota Twins were aggressive in trying to shore up their dismal rotation from 2013, one that didn't feature a true ace or a 10-game winner.
Phil Hughes was one of three starting pitchers to ink deals with the club this winter, signing a three-year, $24 million contract to join fellow free-agent addition Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million) and re-signee Mike Pelfrey (two years, $11 million).
Hughes has never pitched for more than 191.1 innings in any season throughout his career, and he has always proved to be very hittable. Throughout his seven MLB seasons, Hughes has a 56-50 record, 4.54 ERA, 95 ERA+, 1.32 WHIP and 7.5 K/9 ratio. Last year, his ERA (5.19) and ERA+ (78) were very unsightly, and it makes you wonder if he'll even help to improve upon Minnesota's team ERA in 2013 (4.79), which ranked second-to-last in the American League.
In an offseason where situational lefties did quite well for themselves, the Colorado Rockies made Boone Logan the richest of them all. The 29-year-old southpaw was able to secure a three-year, $16.5 million deal from Colorado—more money than others like J.P. Howell (two years, $11.25 million), Javier Lopez (three years, $13 million) and Matt Thornton (two years, $7 million) were able to receive.
While Logan has been a key part to the New York Yankees bullpen the past four years—posting a 3.38 ERA, 126 ERA+, 1.32 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 ratio in that span—those aren't the type of numbers that command top dollar for a setup man, not to mention he's going to Colorado, where pitchers' numbers typically inflate.
Logan's age made him a more attractive free agent than other older options, but the Rockies likely overpaid for his services.
Chris Young's average floated around the Mendoza Line for the entire 2013 season with the Oakland Athletics, so the club exercised a $1.5 million buyout option for 2014.
With some holes to fill in the outfield, the New York Mets signed Young to a one-year, $7.25 million deal that seems like way too much for a struggling hitter. Sure, Young will provide some nice range in the outfield alongside new teammate Curtis Granderson at Citi Field, but he'll be hard-pressed to justify his contract in the batter's box this season.
Young has never been one to hit for average, and his .200/.280/.379 slash line, 12 homers and 40 RBI in 107 games last year make it surprising the Mets were willing to offer so much money. He is a .235/.315/.431 hitter in his career, and his best days of driving in runs and hitting long balls seem behind him.
There can only be one closer for the San Diego Padres, but it appears that the club is paying for two. Joaquin Benoit joined Huston Street in San Diego's bullpen this offseason when he signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract.
Benoit excelled in his first season as a closer for the Detroit Tigers in 2013, converting 24 of 26 save opportunities while posting a 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 ratio. But now, it appears that he's headed back to a setup role, per Bill Center of U-T San Diego, and that's a big chunk of change to spend on an eighth-inning guy.
Benoit, 36, is six years older and more expensive than Street, who's slated to earn $7 million in 2014. While the back end of San Diego's bullpen should be solid, Benoit's contract seems like a head-scratcher, all things considered.
Less than 24 hours after acquiring Corey Hart, an injury risk who plays first base and corner outfield, the Seattle Mariners pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire Logan Morrison, another injury risk who plays first and outfield, from the Miami Marlins.
Morrison had two separate right knee injuries that cut short his 2012 and 2013 seasons, while Hart missed all of last season due to two knee injuries. What's the point in taking the risk on both of these players if you're the Mariners?
Morrison showed a lot of promise during his breakout year in 2011 (.247/.330/.468 with 23 HR, 72 RBI) and he's only 26 years old, but his long history of knee problems makes him a big gamble going forward.
The low-budget Oakland Athletics raised some eyebrows this winter when they signed veteran lefty Scott Kazmir to a two-year, $22 million deal.
Clearly, the club is convinced Kazmir can replicate his success from 2013 after essentially missing the entire 2011 and 2012 campaigns due to injury. Kazmir resurrected his career with the Cleveland Indians last season, going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.32 WHIP and 9.2 K/9 ratio.
Even if Kazmir can post similar numbers over 60 starts the next couple of seasons, you could argue that the A's are still overpaying him at $11 million per year. So, unless he shows some more improvement, he will become a big burden for the penny-pinching A's.