MLB's 10 Worst 2009 Free Agent Signings

Dmitriy IoselevichSenior Analyst IIISeptember 17, 2010

MLB's 10 Worst 2009 Free Agent Signings

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    Jason BayJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Baseball general managers throw their millions around as if they were candy.

    Sometimes the money is well spent and a team's front office is handsomely rewarded by a great season at a low cost.

    More often, though, general managers quickly realize how much they overpaid for declining stars or uninspiring role players just to keep them away from rivals.

    Then they try to compensate for their mistake by spending millions on reclamation projects.

    Sometimes they even admit their mistake and agree to swallow a bad contract in return for cutting ties with an underachieving player.

    It's an iffy business that is full of rash, under-researched, and financially inexplicable decisions. The 2009 free agent period was no exception, so let's take a look at the 10 worst signings from last season.

    This is the second part in a series about the 2009 free agent class. To check out the first part, click here.

Jason Bay

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    Bay walked away from the plate disappointed several times this season.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Bay had a fantastic season and a half with the Boston Red Sox, helping to ease the loss of slugger Manny Ramirez. In 200 games with Boston, Bay hit 45 homers and batted .274 with a .915 OPS. 

    Bay thought those numbers were good enough to earn him a five-year contract. But the Red Sox were only willing to give him four, not wanting to pay millions for a streaky, one-dimensional hitter who can't field.

    The Boston front office also had concerns over Bay's knees and downgraded their offer to only two years late in negotiations.

    Offended by the notion that he should have surgery even when he wasn't injured, Bay rejected the Boston offer and signed a four-year deal with the New York Mets for $66 million, with a $17 million vesting option in 2014.

    Bay has stayed more or less healthy this season (aside from a concussion in mid-July that likely ended his season), but he still proved the Red Sox right by having the worst offensive season of his career.

    In 95 games and just over 400 plate appearances, Bay has hit only .259 with a .402 slugging percentage and six homers. His .749 OPS is the second lowest in his career, behind only 2007 (.746), when he at least managed to hit 21 homers.

    The Mets were counting on Bay to anchor their lineup as they waited for the return of Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes. Instead, Bay flopped and became one of the biggest free agent busts in recent memory.

    He's still only 31 years old and is known as a streaky hitter, so it's possible 2010 was just an extra-long slump and that he could return to his slugging ways. But at $16 million a year through 2013, it's difficult to imagine he'll ever earn his salary.

John Lackey

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    Lackey couldn't get off the mound fast enough this season.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Raise your hand if you knew that John Lackey was the highest paid player on the Red Sox.

    Anyone? What do you mean he's only Boston's fourth best starter? Isn't this the same guy who finished third in Cy Young voting in 2007 (behind CC Sabathia and a certain Texan teammate)? 

    All jokes aside, Lackey has been a colossal disappointment.

    After spending the first eight seasons of his promising career with the Angels, Lackey signed a five-year deal with the Red Sox in the offseason for $82.5 million. In 2010 he will collect $18.7 million of that salary.

    The next highest paid player on the roster? J.D. Drew, at $14 million—a bargain in comparison.

    Boston made a surprise move when they signed Lackey, especially considering they needed hitters far more than they needed pitchers. But nobody could argue against the prospect of more pitching, and the idea of having a three-studded monster at the front of the rotation (with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester) certainly appealed to Red Sox fans.

    That monster never materialized though, as Lackey struggled to pitch consistently.

    In 29 stars Lackey is only 12-10 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.458 WHIP. Even more distressing are his strikeout numbers, which have dropped to 6.3/9 IP (the lowest mark of his career).

    Lackey wasn't downright bad. He made several very good starts, including an eight-inning performance against the Seattle Mariners last month when he struck out 10 and only gave up two earned runs. But rather than continue his stellar pitching, Lackey crapped the bed and gave up five runs in 6.1 innings in his next start against the Tampa Bay Rays.

    For comparison, in 2009 Lackey had a 3.83 ERA and struck out batters at a rate of 7.1/9 IP. He made $10 million that year.

    The pay raise in 2010 was unwarranted for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 (he's 31 now). Now, the Red Sox are stuck with him.

Mike Cameron

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    Cameron may want to invest in a whole bat if he wants to hit the ball next time.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    I'll admit—I'm a fan of Cameron's. He's an elite defender with some decent pop and speed. He's not a superstar by any means, but at least you know what you're getting.

    So when the Red Sox first signed him, with Theo Epstein parading the pitching and defense mantra, I was all for it. 

    It's unfair to blame Cameron for the Red Sox collapse this season. But...he definitely didn't help.

    Cameron was on and off the disabled list all season suffering from a torn abdominal muscle, but even when he was in the Red Sox lineup he was ineffective.

    In 48 games Cameron managed to hit only four home runs and batted only .259. He struck out more times (44) than he got a hit (42). He even failed to steal a base for the first time in his career since 1996 (although he was caught once). He also found the time to commit two errors in center field despite his limited action.

    His paycheck for his wonderful contributions?

    $7.25 million—and he's on the hook for another $7.25 million in 2011. Oh, and he's 37 years old.

    In fairness, he did make $10 million in his previous season with the Milwaukee Brewers. But at least in 2009 he hit 24 homers with a .795 OPS, so he earned some of his paycheck.

    He will be back with the Red Sox in 2011 and, as of now, will be the starting center fielder. But don't be surprised if the Red Sox go out and sign a Carl Crawford or a Jayson Werth to revamp their offense, in which case Cameron becomes a very expensive fourth outfielder.

Rich Harden

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    Former flamethrower, Harden, another failed reclamation project.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    How the mighty have fallen.

    Harden was once regarded as one of the elite pitchers in baseball, particularly during his time with the Oakland Athletics. His stuff has always been filthy, but injuries and poor performance have derailed his career.

    The Texas Rangers made Harden into a reclamation project when they signed him to one-year, $6.5 million deal with a 2011 mutual option for $11 million.

    Harden, unfortunately, failed to deliver.

    In 17 starts Harden posted a 5.17 ERA and only struck out 72 batters in 85.1 innings. His rate of 7.5 SO/9 IP is the lowest of his career, and his 6 BB/9 IP is the highest of his career.

    Not a good combination for a pitcher who has now been relegated to the bullpen, where he's been even worse (four ER, two BB in 2.2 innings).

    Harden is still only 28 years old, but his inability to stay on the field (he's been on the 15-day disabled list twice in 2010) has put his baseball career in jeopardy.

    The Rangers will win the AL West, so Harden has one final chance to show potential suitors what he's worth. That is, if he even makes the playoff roster.

Garrett Atkins

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    Swing and a miss, again.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The Baltimore Orioles signed Atkins to a one-year, $4 million deal in the offseason, but even at that price the former Rockie is grossly overpaid.

    Atkins was designed for assignment in late June after proving all of his critics right (he really can't hit).

    In limited action as the Orioles' first baseman and DH, Atkins hit only .214 with one homer in 44 games.

    He slugged an impossibly low .286 and hit into seven double plays. Yuck.

    Atkins was one of the premier hitters on the good Colorado teams from 2007 and 2008. In 2006, he had the best season of his career after he hit 29 home runs and drove in 120 runs, while finishing 15th in MVP voting.

    He hit 25 homers in 2007 and 21 in 2008, but then in 2009 dropped to nine homers after being benched in favor of upstart Ian Stewart.

    He still hasn't recovered, and there's no sign of improvement. Some team will probably take a flyer on Atkins in 2011 as a hitter off the bench, but his days as a middle of the order bat are likely over.

Danys Baez

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    It's not the catcher's fault that you suck.Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Continuing the list of small contract busts, I give you Danys Baez!

    The Phillies signed the former Orioles reliever to a two-year, $5.25 million deal, hoping Baez would help bridge the gap to closer Brad Lidge.

    The Cuban right-hander rewarded the Phillies by pitching like he always has—poorly.

    In 46 games for the Phillies, Baez is 3-3 with a 5.02 ERA and a 1.651 WHIP. He's only recorded six holds and has generally fallen out of favor with manager Charlie Manuel.

    It's unfathomable why teams continue to give Baez multimillion-dollar contracts.

    He hasn't had an ERA under 4.00 since 2005, when he was 27 years old and closing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

    Now he's 33 years old and suffers from back spasms. At least he can join the 100 other overpaid middle relievers in baseball.

Chone Figgins

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    Well at least he didn't forget how to catch.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Remember when Chone Figgins was good?

    Yeah, that was last season. In 2009 Figgins hit .298 and swiped 42 bases. He had over 600 at-bats and scored 114 runs. He also played all over the field, appearing in the outfield, second base, and third base for the Angels.

    He even made his first All-Star team, all for only $5.75 million!

    So when the Seattle Mariners signed the speedster to a four-year, $36 million contract, nobody really batted an eyelash (except to wonder why the Mariners thought they could be competitive without a single power hitter in their lineup).

    Figgins became the Mariners' starting second basemen and proceeded to be, well, average.

    Through 145 games Figgins is hitting .258 with a .643 OPS (both career lows). He's stolen 39 bases, so we know he can still run. But he's also committed a career-high 18 errors.

    He's still only 32 years old, so it might be a bit premature to label him as a bust. But at $9 million per year, he better do something more than just steal bases.

Mike Gonzalez

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    Another episode in the show, "Why the Orioles are the Orioles"Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Orioles fans have suffered enough, but there's just no keeping Mike Gonzalez off this list.

    Signed to a two-year, $12 million deal, the Baltimore left-hander has been nothing short of horrific.

    For the season, he is 0-3 with a 5.12 ERA in 23 games. He was placed on the disabled list in mid-April and missed almost three months. It's a good thing too.

    In his three games as the Orioles closer, Gonzalez blew two saves and converted one. His ERA when he went to the DL was 18.00.

    He returned to Baltimore in late July and has been somewhat better as a middle reliever. But you don't pay $6 million for a middle reliever on a crappy team.

    Reason No. 614 why you should never overpay for relievers: Mike Gonzalez.

Jason Marquis

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    Marquis barely made it out onto the mound this season.Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    The Nationals like to give their fans a fleeting sense of hope by signing mediocre major league veterans to fill out their roster.

    Washington just wishes Marquis could have been mediocre. Instead, he was awful.

    In 10 starts, Marquis is 2-8 with a 6.60 ERA, 1.662 WHIP, and only 22 strikeouts versus 21 walks.

    Marquis did have an extended stay on the disabled list from late April to August, but he couldn't have been any worse when he was actually on the mound.

    He lost his first seven starts (that's got to be some sort of record) and featured an embarrassing 20.52 ERA by the time he hit the DL. This included a forgettable performance against the Cincinnati Reds in which Marquis surrendered seven runs but failed to record a single out.

    Marquis is making $7.5 million this year and will make another $7.5 million in 2011.

    The good news for Nationals fans is that Marquis can't possibly be any worse.

    The bad news?

    Stephen Strasburg is still having Tommy John surgery.

Mark DeRosa

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    The versatile DeRosa never found his groove in 2010Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    DeRosa has never been great. But he's also never been this bad.

    His season was cut short in early May by season-ending wrist surgery. But in the 26 games he did play, DeRosa never managed to get above the Mendoza line. He will finish 2010 with a .194 batting average.

    He only hit one home run and even found the time to commit three errors at second base (in four starts).

    He's signed to a two-year, $12 million deal (those seem awfully popular) and will be back with the Giants in 2011.

    His past history suggests that his 93 at-bats in 2010 were just part of a bad slump.

    In 2009 while playing with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals, DeRosa hit a combined 23 home runs and 23 doubles with a respectable .752 OPS.

    DeRosa is one of the few returning Giants hitters next season, along with Aaron Rowand, Freddy Sanchez, and Buster Posey. San Francisco will need him to earn his $6 million salary if they're going to compete in the NL West.