The 10 Most WTF Signings of the 2009-10 MLB Offseason
Winter is not a good time for baseball fans.
With nothing to hold our attention but the inferior sports of basketball and football, we are forced to spend our days waiting for pots to boil on the Hot Stove.
As the rumor mill grinds away, many (if not most) of the major market developments are somewhat predictable.
No one was surprised to see Matt Holliday re-sign with the Cardinals, for example, or to learn that Matt Capps had upped with Washington—his only suitor who promised him an opportunity to close games.
But sometimes life throws us curveballs; players sign in unexpected places, and we fans are left slack-jawed and buggy-eyed.
Here's a look at 10 free agent signings from the last few months that made observers scratch their heads.
Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the contract information.
No. 10: Randy Winn, New York Yankees
The deal: One year, $1.1 million
The rationale: To give New York extra outfield depth in case Brett Gardner's starting job doesn't work out as planned.
The huh?: Winn's contract is barely walking-around money to the Yankees, but investing in one of the best outfielders left in the market seemed a bit extravagant given the club's inevitable re-signing of Johnny Damon...wait, what did you say about the Tigers? Oh...oh, I see...
No. 9: Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
The deal: One year, $1.75 million
The rationale: Presumably because he is an improvement over Brian Anderson, though as FanGraphs' David Golebiewski noted, that's far from a foregone conclusion.
The huh?: As Golebiewski said, this deal is "like driving a Ford Pinto to a car dealership and then buying an AMC Pacer with the same features but a higher payment. You’re still going to get left in the dust. Now, it’s just going to cost more."
No. 8: Russell Branyan, Cleveland Indians
The deal: One year, $2 million
The rationale: He's got great power, he came up through Cleveland's system, and he was really cheap.
The huh?: In order to fit Branyan into the lineup, talented rookie Michael Brantley will likely be held back in the minors, while the sluggish Matt LaPorta will move from first base to left field.
The choice of a marginally better short-term offense over wholeheartedly encouraging the development of the team's future stars doesn't mesh with the notion of rebuilding.
In addition, the Indians already have an oft-injured power hitter to suck up at-bats from the prospects: Travis Hafner.
No. 7: Bengie Molina, San Francisco Giants
The deal: One year, $4.5 million
The rationale: Sad as it may sound, Molina is actually one of the Giants' best hitters.
The huh?: In Buster Posey, San Francisco has one of the best catching prospects in baseball; after mashing 18 homers with a .947 OPS in 115 minor-league games last year, it would seem that he's ready for the big show.
Before the Giants re-signed Molina, Posey figured to be the team's 2010 starting catcher. No one expects that to happen anymore, as the team isn't going to pay $4.5 million to a backup backstop.
No. 6: Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
The deal: Two years, $14 million
The rationale: The Tigers wanted an established closer to replace Fernando Rodney.
The huh?: While Valverde's superficial numbers (2.33 ERA, 25 saves) were the best of his career, those stats are misleading; his success coincided with an increased walk rate and the lowest strikeout rate of his career, disguised by an extremely lucky BABIP (.267) and LOB% (85.7 percent).
His 2009 xFIP of 3.92 is more indicative of his true talent; is that worth $7 million a year to a team that's strapped for cash?
No. 5: Ben Sheets, Oakland Athletics
The deal: One year, $10 million
The rationale: An unquestioned ace when healthy, his eight-digit salary could be a huge bargain if last year's injuries truly are behind him.
The huh?: Ten million dollars is a lot of money for a team that built its reputation on frugality and exploiting market inefficiencies. It's a surprisingly large investment, especially since the A's are likely to finish last in the AL West.
No. 4: John Lackey, Boston Red Sox
The deal: Five years, $82.5 million
The rationale: Red Sox Nation had to be appeased after Boston's unexpected ALDS defeat last October.
The huh?: The biggest contract on Boston's payroll now belongs to its No. 3 starter.
With a plethora of cheaper, high-upside free agent pitchers available and six solid (or at least, serviceable) other candidates for the rotation already on the roster, this deal seems almost Steinbrennerian.
No. 3: Adam LaRoche, San Francisco Giants
The deal: Two years, $17.5 million
The rationale: As mentioned earlier, the Giants' lineup isn't very good. He'd be the team's second-best hitter, even during his traditional first-half slump.
The huh?: All right, this one isn't really a signing. The stupidest part of this story isn't San Francisco's overly generous offer, but the fact that LaRoche actually turned it down.
How he possibly thought he would find a better deal in a depressed market loaded with other good-not-great hitters is beyond me. But after settling for one year at $6 million from the Diamondbacks, he probably regrets his decision.
No. 2: Jason Kendall, Kansas City Royals
The deal: Two years, $6 million
The rationale: The Royals let Miguel Olivo and John Buck walk after the season, fearing that each player's mediocre production would not be worth his asking price, and needed a new catcher.
The huh?: In exchange for Kendall's miserable production, the Royals are forking out $3 million a year—more than Olivo ($2.5 million) or Buck ($2 million) got on the open market.
Dayton Moore, you're winning "The Contest."
No. 1: Johnny Damon, Detroit Tigers
The deal: One year, $8 million
The rationale: The Tigers needed a big bat in the outfield after trading Curtis Granderson.
The huh?: Let's get past the obvious shock of Damon not suiting up in pinstripes and ignore the negative effect this is likely to have on rookie Austin Jackson's playing time.
When Detroit dealt Granderson earlier in the offseason, it was supposedly because the Tigers couldn't afford his $5.5 million salary, even when he provided the team with a great return on its investment.
So imagine my surprise when the Tigers went out and signed the inferior Damon and gave him more money than Granderson would have earned.
If a player who earned 3.4 WAR last year and is in the prime of his career isn't worth $5.5 million, how can anyone justify giving a player who earned just 3.1 WAR and is in his decline $8 million?