Every off-season, teams sling piles of cash at "elite" players with dreams of banners swirling in their heads. For fans, the sticker shock is immediately overwhelmed by the fact that a celebrity is coming to town.
The 100 million dollar man is usually a "star" who receives lots of media attention in the run up to free agency. Excitement fills the air and the organization pats itself on the back for establishing a future of "playing with the big boys," all the while congratulating the fan base who helped make it happen.
All is well.
However, most of the time, these players don't live up to the hype, and fans have a hard time endearing themselves to the new kingpin in town. They would rather cuddle up to a hot new prospect. These things usually follow a cycle:
1) Team throws ridiculous money at "star" player.
2) Fans rejoice over team's commitment to winning.
3) Player starts new season with unbearable expectations
4) Player fails to meet expectations, or gets old, or gets hurt
5) Fans bemoan the stupidity of bringing in such an over-rated, over-paid guy with bad knees.
Right now, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are in stage one and that's OK. But last year's big free agency hitters, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, may already be pushing stage five. The simple truth is: these deals often don’t work out.
26 players have been given contracts worth over $100 million. Only 8 of those players have gone on to win a championship with that team. That may not sound like bad odds, until you consider the specific cases:
OK, so while one big free agent may not guarantee anything, it's hard to argue with four. CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez played 2009 with gargantuan contracts in the Evil Empire. It's arguable whether any of these guys were worth the money. Jeter and Sabathia probably have a case.
The lesson here? The best way to overcome free agent fools gold is to stack the lineup with as many as possible. I can't figure out why more teams don’t try this.
In 2007, the Giants threw crazy money at No. 75. Four seasons later, the Giants were World Champions. Like clockwork, right?
Zito wasn't even on the post-season roster in 2010. He should be selling his ring on eBay to help pay for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
Manny arguably paid the right dividends. Ramirez was the premier slugger on a Red Sox team that broke baseball's most famous curse with two World Titles last decade. This is what a behemoth free agent is supposed to do. This was the rare big signing that worked out.
Holliday is less impressive, though still early in this deal. In the first year of his big deal in 2011, Holliday was on and off the DL all season. He also was atrocious in the World Series before suffering a wrist injury and having to miss Game 7. However, the Holliday signing looks better now that he will have to carry the load in the post-Pujols era.
Before the Cardinals refused to destroy their payroll by giving an aging Pujols 10 years for $250 million, they gave in-his-prime Pujols $100 million over seven years. Pujols gave the Cardinals his best years and two world championships for half the annual price the Angels will be paying when he is 40.
It may work out for them. But the odds are not good.