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Free Agent Hits and Misses of the Decade (Part I)

            Each year, the free agent market presents itself with at least one sought after superstar that a franchise is willing to spend big money on with the aspiration of reaching the World Series. While many players earned large contracts due to their past production, several players never lived up to the expectations of their multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts. 

            In this two-part series, we examine free agent signings of the last decade and how those players performed after signing their lucrative contracts. There were thousands of free agents over the decade, and this article will focus on the best and worst signings (in my opinion) between 2010 and 2014.

3B/OF Chone Figgins – four-years, $36 million

            Figgins, the 1997 draft’s 132nd overall pick by the Colorado Rockies, made his MLB debut with the Los Angeles Angeles in 2002. With the Angles, Figgins was an elite base stealer and a productive batter, never hitting below .275 in all but two of his eight seasons (2002, 2006). Between 2002 and 2009, Figgins had 280 stolen bases, 596 runs, 341 RBIs, and a .278/.338/.369 slash line, good for a 22.3 WAR. However, when Figgins signed with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2010 season, he never came close to replicating his offensive performance with the Angles. Figgins was a Mariner for only three years of his contract before being released November 2012. As a Mariner, Figgins played in 308 games, had 57 stolen bases, and had a combined .209/.281/.273 slash line. In the end, the $36 million the Mariners invested in Figgins was not worth his combined -0.7 WAR.

OF Matt Holliday – seven-years, $120 million

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

            Making his MLB debut with the Rockies in 2004, Holliday quickly became a monster threat with the bat. Prior to the 2009 season, Holliday was traded to the Oakland Athletics, then traded again mid-season to the St. Louis Cardinals, the team he would stick with for the next seven years. Holliday elected free agency at the conclusion of the 2009 season but just two short month later signed a seven-year deal with the Cardinals. Over the duration of his contract, Holliday was nothing short of productive and helped lead his team to a World Series title over the Texas Rangers in 2011. Between 2009 and 2016, Holliday slashed .286/.376/.479 with 143 home runs, 561 RBIs, 531 runs scored, and accumulated a 24.1 WAR. All in all, Holliday’s production took a major dip in 2015 and 2016, but the $120 million invested into him paid off entirely.

1B/OF Adam Dunn – four-years, $56 million

            A prolific power hitter, Dunn took his talents to the Chicago White Sox prior to the start of 2011 season. Unfortunately, Dunn’s first season with Chicago was an absolute disaster. Over 122 games, Dunn slashed .159/.292/.277 with 11 home runs, 36 runs, and 42 RBIs, ending the year with a -2.9 WAR. The aforementioned statistics were also career lows for Dunn in each category. This was Dunn’s worst season during his 14-year career, and the last three years of his contract did not turn out much better. Dunn finished his stint with the White Sox slashing .201/.321/.405 with 106 home runs and a -0.1 WAR. In 2014, the last year of his contract toward the end of the season, he was traded to the Athletics, the team Dunn would end his career with.

3B Adrián Beltré – six-years, $96 million

Photo Credit: Kelly Gavin/Texas Rangers

            A future Hall of Famer, Beltré signed as a free agent prior to the 2011 season with the team he later ended his career with, the Texas Rangers. Over his illustrious 20-year career, Beltré found success with the Dodgers, the team he made his MLB debut with in 1998, but his best seasons came in Texas. With the Dodgers, Beltré logged a 25.3 WAR over seven seasons as compared to his 36.4 WAR with the Rangers. During his eight seasons in Texas, Beltré slashed .303/.357/.507 with 199 home runs, 612 runs scored, 699 RBIs, and gave fans endless laughs. Beltré played the game with passion and love, and earned every penny of his six-year contract.

1B Prince Fielder – nine-years, $214 million

            Before neck injuries forced Fielder to to end his career early, he was the definition of durable. From 2006 through 2013, Fielder only missed 13 games, playing in all 162 regular season games three times from 2009 through 2013. The Tigers signed a superstar, left-handed power hitter prior to the 2012 season to protect then-third baseman Miguel Cabrera and create one of the scariest lineups in the league. Well, the nine-year contract paid off the two seasons he played in Detroit (2013, 2014), but when Fielder was traded to the Rangers with seven years left on his contract, the injuries began to pile up, forcing him to retire. With the Tigers, Fielder played 324 games, hit 55 home runs, scored 165 runs, had 214 RBIs, and slashed .296/.387/.493, which was good for a 7.7 WAR over two seasons. According to a USA Today article, Fielder is “declared medically disabled” but is not retiring. He was most recently released by the Texas Rangers in October 2017. Before the neck injuries, Fielder was worth every penny, but in hindsight, this may go down in baseball history as one of the worst free agent signings.

1B/DH Albert Pujols – ten-years, $250 million

Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP

            If history has taught us anything, it is that enormous, multi-year contracts rarely ever work out in their entirety. Before Pujols signed with the Angles prior to the 2012 season, he was an unstoppable force in the batter’s box. During his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols only hit below .310 once. In 2011, when he hit below .300 for the first time in his career, it marked the beginning of a decline in performance, something the Angles overlooked before offering him an enormous contract. In St. Louis, Pujols slashed .329/.421/.645 and had an 81.2 WAR, as compared to his eight years in Anaheim where he has slashed .257/.313/.448 and logged a 6.3 WAR. Pujols was worth more than $250 million from 2001 through 2011, but after only one above average season with the Angles, Pujols has not lived up to the value of his contract.

OF Josh Hamilton – five-years, $125 million

            The Angles signed the top free agent in back-to-back seasons, but once again, similar to the Pujols contract, Hamilton was another bust for the organization. Coming off a season where Hamilton slashed .285/.354/.577 with 43 home runs, 103 runs scored, and 128 RBIs in 2012, the Angles thought they signed an impactful player to accompany a young Mike Trout and the veteran Pujols. However, Hamilton’s stint with the Angles was short lived, as he was traded to the Rangers in April 2015. Aside from extra baggage off the field and $125 million flushed down the drain, Hamilton didn’t produce much during his two seasons with the Angles. He slashed an unimpressive .257/.319/.423 with 31 home runs and logged a 2.4 WAR while also being riddled with injuries in the 2014-15 seasons.

SP Zack Greinke – six-years, $147 million

            At the conclusion of the 2012 season, the Dodgers wanted to make a splash for another dominant starting pitcher to accompany Clayton Kershaw, and that pitcher happened to be Greinke. The investment to sign Greinke was worth it but failed to help the Dodgers reach their ultimate goal of winning a World Series. The Dodgers made the playoffs each year of Greinke’s contract before he opted-out prior to the 2016 season and even got a CY Young season out of him. In 2015, Greinke was the most dominant pitcher in the league. Over 222.2 innings, Greinke went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA, a 0.84 WHIP, and 200 strikeouts. He also held opponents to a .187 batting average.

OF Jacoby Ellsbury – seven-years, $153 million

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

            The Evil Empire struck again, nabbing one of the top free agents of the 2013-14 offseason. However, the seven-year investment the New York Yankees made in Ellsbury was a miserable failure. After four mediocre seasons in New York, Ellsbury’s injuries caught up to sideline him for the remainder of his contract. From 2014 through 2017, Ellsbury had 102 stolen bases, 39 home runs, 273 runs scored, 198 RBIs, and slashed .264/.331/.385. Ellsbury hasn’t seen MLB action since the conclusion of the 2017 season and was most recently released by the Yankees in 2019 with one year left on his contract. By far, Ellsbury’s best season came in 2011 with the Boston Red Sox when he had 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, 119 runs, 39 stolen bases, and slashed .321/.376/.552 over 158 games.

2B Robinson Canó – 10-year, $240 million

            The Mariners hoped Canó would be the player to help turn the franchise around and lead them to the postseason. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Although Canó continued to be an above average player, the Mariners signed Canó to a 10-year deal in the 2013-14 offseason when he was 31 years old, committing $24 million per year through his age 41 season. Canó continued to prove his durability, playing 150-plus games in each of his first four seasons, until an 80-game PED suspension limited him to 80 games in 2018.  Over his five seasons with the Mariners, Canó slashed .296/.356/.471 with 107 home runs, 435 runs scored, and 450 RBIs. His best season with the Mariners came in 2016, when Canó played 161 games, belted 39 home runs, scored 107 runs, knocked in 103 RBIs, and slashed .298/.350/.533. At the conclusion of the 2018 season, a rebuilding Mariners franchise sent Canó and CP Edwin Díaz to the Mets for a package of players to relive themselves of the burden of a large contract. 

Sebastian Moore View All

My name is Sebastian and I am a senior at Northern Arizona University. I am a double major in journalism and communication, along with a minor in German. I have been in various editorial positions and have contributed articles to The Lumberjack, NAU's student-run newspaper.

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