MLB Free Agency: Johnny Damon And 10 Players Who Picked The Wrong Team
If there's one time of the sports year that everyone watches like a hawk, it's MLB free agency. From November until late January (sometimes longer), fans lose sleep over which teams top free agent players will sign with.
Some of these decisions pay great dividends, like C.C. Sabathia when he signed with the New York Yankees. Other times, players regret locking themselves into long-term deals, like when Adrian Beltre signed with the Mariners.
Thus, let's take a look at this past season's free agency class. Specifically, the players that picked the wrong teams.
No. 10: Jeff Francis, Kansas City Royals
Last season, Jeff Francis was making his first appearance in the majors after missing all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. His numbers weren't impressive, as he posted a 4-6 record with an ERA of 5.00. Still, one must remember that his home ballpark was Coors Field and that place isn't necessarily pitcher-friendly.
This offseason, he had offers from a multitude of teams. Experts guessed the key players to be the New York Mets, New York Yankees, and Texas Rangers. Instead, Francis turned heads when he signed a one-year, $2 million contract (plus bonuses) with the perennial cellar-dwelling Kansas City Royals.
Sure, it's possible that Francis's overall numbers like ERA and WHIP will improve in a normal ballpark like Kauffman Stadium, but his losses will surely outnumber his wins. The Royals just traded their pitching ace in Zack Greinke, and No. 2 starter Gil Meche just retired due to persistent injuries. Francis is now expected to be the ace of a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in 25 years and with a fairly anemic offense supporting him, I just don't see success happening for him in KC.
No. 9: Johnny Damon, Tampa Bay Rays
After a substandard 2010 with the Detroit Tigers, Johnny Damon was not looking very attractive to free agent suitors. He hit a modest .271, but only had eight home runs and 51 RBI (down from 24 and 82 in 2009). It seemed that age had finally caught up with the former leader of Red Sox players known as "The Idiots."
Despite having offers from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and New York Yankees (the latter offering him a reserve role), Damon chose to join former teammate Manny Ramirez with the Tampa Bay Rays. In all honesty, Damon will regret this decision.
The Rays are managed by Joe Maddon, the ultimate smallball manager. Damon, of course, has the skill of getting on base that is required in this type of offense, but his speed just isn't there anymore. The man is 37 years old and should be a full-time DH or reserve outfielder someplace.
With the Rays missing two of their key players from 2010's AL Eastern Division-winning squad, it appears that Damon picked this team solely for the paycheck. If that's the case, then it is a sad day for baseball.
No. 8: Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals
After Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth was considered the best free agent available from the class of 2010. He had a phenomenal final season with the Phillies, batting .296 with 27 homers and 85 RBI.
After the season, most experts anticipated that Werth would leave the National League for the American League and sign a lucrative contract with the Boston Red Sox. Instead, he threw everybody a curveball and signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals. Ultimately, he will regret this decision.
Now, there's no doubt that the Nationals have some good young prospects. Pitcher Stephen Strasburg and catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper are sure to have long and successful careers.
Yet Strasburg is going to miss all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery and Harper won't be ready for at least another two seasons. Plus, the Nats' minor league system is fairly thin. With a lot of money tied up in Werth, Strasburg and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, they will still be without key pieces to a winning franchise for quite some time.
Does Werth have that kind of patience? Hopefully he does, if he did indeed choose Washington because he thought he could win there.
No. 7: Vladimir Guerrero, Wherever He Signs
Vladimir Guerrero was once a top outfielder. He could hit for tremendous power and had a cannon of an arm. In recent years, he has been slowed by injuries and relegated to a DH role. Despite having a fine comeback season with the Texas Rangers in 2010, he has not been offered a new contract from the team.
The only team right now that really has any interest in Guerrero is the Baltimore Orioles. The team is sure to see improvement in 2011 with Buck Showalter at the helm, but they will still have to play in a tough AL East dominated by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Thus, barring a major catastrophe for those two teams, Baltimore's chances of making the postseason are slim to none.
Guerrero loves two things: baseball and winning. If he ultimately signs with Baltimore (and I think he will), he'll be a big fish in a small pond. A pond that misses the playoffs.
No. 6: Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
Victor Martinez is the type of catcher coaches dream about. He's a switch-hitter with great power, hits for average well and can even play some first base. Thus, what is a power-hitting catcher doing on the Detroit Tigers?
Last season, V-Mart enjoyed the confines of Fenway Park as he hit .302 with 20 homers and 79 RBI. The home run and RBI totals would have been higher had he not missed time with a broken thumb, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he still had a great season.
This offseason, the two teams that made the biggest plays for him were the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers. Rather than choosing the hitter-friendly ballpark in Texas (not to mention a great young pitching staff with which he could work), he chose the pitching-friendly confines of Comerica Park.
While Martinez is a great player, his defense is less than average. He is first and foremost an offense-oriented player. In signing a four-year deal with the Tigers worth $50 million, he more or less agreed to let his home run totals drop over the next four years at an estimated $12.5 million a year.
No. 5: Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
After a great 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays, for whom he had played his entire career, Carl Crawford hit the open market. Naturally, experts knew that the small-market Rays would not be bringing him back.
While most thought that he would go to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and play for Mike Scioscia in the system he had grown accustomed to in Tampa Bay, Crawford turned heads and signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Where to begin with why Crawford will regret this decision? Well, for starters, let's talk about the Red Sox team in general. They have a great lineup, but that pitching staff is very unpredictable following Jon Lester's turn in the rotation. Plus, Crawford is a speedster who likes to slap the ball around and steal bases. Red Sox manager Terry Francona is going to ask him to go against what he was taught and pull the ball.
With the drops in steals and batting average as well as having to adjust to playing balls off of the Green Monster, don't be shocked if Crawford pulls a Manny Ramirez and requests to be traded every couple of seasons.
No. 4: Andruw Jones, New York Yankees
Over the past two seasons, Andruw Jones has been trying to revitalize his career. Last year, he had a fine season as a reserve outfielder for the Chicago White Sox, hitting a less than average .230 but smacking 19 home runs in a mere 278 at-bats!
In January, he signed a one-year deal worth $2 million (plus $1.2 million in incentives) to be the fourth outfielder/sometimes DH for the New York Yankees. Honestly, I believe this is where Jones' comeback will stop.
Throughout most of his career, Jones has played for small-market teams. The prime of his career was spent with the Atlanta Braves, who he left in 2008 for the larger-market Los Angeles Dodgers. That proved to be a disaster as Jones only batted .158 with three home runs and 14 RBI. He was injured most of that season, but it was clear that he could not handle fans who demanded results.
He is facing his harshest critics in 2011, as Yankees fans will show him no mercy if he doesn't produce. Given his history with demanding fans, Jones will be in for a rude awakening.
No. 3: Bobby Jenks, Boston Red Sox
At the start of his career, Bobby Jenks was a top relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He was a late-season call-up in 2005, helping the team win the World Series that same year. The next season, he was made the team's closer.
The last two years, however, he wore out his welcome in Chicago. He struggled with his weight, fell out with manager Ozzie Guillen, and was not tendered a contract for 2011.
Shortly after becoming a free agent, Jenks signed a two-year contract worth $12 million with the Boston Red Sox. Much like the aforementioned Andruw Jones, Jenks is in for a rude awakening.
Red Sox fans are probably the most demanding fans in baseball and as they are expected to do quite well this season, a 1-3 record and 4.44 ERA just won't do.
No. 2: Hideki Matsui, Oakland Athletics
When it was announced that Hideki Matsui would sign a one-year, $4.25 million contract with the Oakland Athletics, I shook my head. Out of all the American League teams, the Oakland Athletics could not be a worse fit for the man known as "Godzilla."
Despite being slowed by weak knees, Matsui is still an effective hitter with some power. At this point in his career, he is a DH who should be trying to primarily hit home runs and less on getting key base hits. Thus, why would he go to a team whose offensive philosophy is focused more on getting on base and not so much on the home run?
On top of that, Oakland Coliseum is a pitcher's park. It is the last place a home run hitter would want to play, let alone a pull one who isn't on steroids. Come midseason, don't be shocked if Matsui requests a trade.
No 1: Cliff Lee, Philadephia Phillies
Yes, he said it was where he wanted to play all along. Yes, it's very noble that he turned down bigger offers from the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers to play for the Phillies. Yes, he will ultimately regret this decision.
The experts think that Cliff Lee, along with an extremely stacked pitching rotation in Philadelphia, will lead the Phillies to multiple World Series titles over the course of his contract (5 years, $120 million). Really? Except for Cole Hamels, that entire rotation is 30 years old or older! In fact, so are the two biggest threats in the lineup, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
In signing with Philadelphia, Lee put himself in a situation similar to what he would have had in New York. He's a soon-to-be-aging All Star player surrounded by a bunch of aging talent. With top prospect Domonic Brown expected to be the starting rightfielder this season, the Philadelphia minor league system is fairly dry at this point.
Lee can say whatever he wants about how much he loves playing in Philadelphia and how he never wanted to leave to begin with. That doesn't take away from the fact that the team as a whole is getting old and won't contend forever. Ultimately, he'll get tired of the underachieving and want out.