This past off-season there was a lot of money thrown around at free agents, but what money has been wisely spent and what has been a waste so far? Since the season is at about the 1/4 mark, let’s look at a large number of the free agents that were signed during the off-season and see how they are faring on their new teams. Of course, this isn’t a complete list of every single player, but a close look at quite a few.
The Big Boys (deals worth 7.5 million or more)
Raul Ibanez (3 years, $13.25 million, Anaheim Angels): Ibanez was brought to the Mariners because he could hit at SafeCo Field, something not very common. He has had two solid seasons over the past two years, averaging 21 homers with .294 in his first everyday action. The 31-year-old came to the Mariners as the person to play LF and it has not worked too well. Since leaving the hitters’ paradise of Kaufmann Stadium, Ibanez’s power and average numbers have dropped drastically. Plus, his defensive prowess has not been that good in the spacious Kingdome. Grade: C-.
Kelvim Escobar (3 years, $18.75 million, Anaheim Angels): Reeled in by the Anaheim Angels, Escobar has not really proven much in the past. His best season was 2003, when he started 26 games and pitched 180 innings with a 4.29 ERA. It seemed like a major gamble to sign him, especially to a contract this high, but Arte Moreno did it. And it has not worked to his advantage. Insofar Escobar has a 4.78 ERA, while only pitching about 5 innings per start. Grade: D-.
LaTroy Hawkins (3 years, $11 million, Chicago Cubs): Labeled one of the “best setup men in baseball” last year, and for good reason, Hawkins switched to the Cubs. His past two seasons have been incredible, and so far this year, he is doing more of the same. He has thrown 21.2 innings with a 1.25 ERA. He might be the closer sometime soon on the north side of Chicago due to Joe Borowski’s falters. Not too bad for someone with a career 4.98 ERA. Grade: A.
Tom Gordon (2 year, $7.25 million, New York Yankees): After watching an overworked Mariano Rivera falter, the New York Yankees added talent to their bullpen. A strong part of this was Flash Gordon, who quickly established himself as a key setup man. In 23.1 innings pitched, Gordon has an ERA of 1.54. He is a very important cog in the Yankee bullpen. Grade: A.
Bartolo Colon (4 years, $51 million, Anaheim Angels): Coming off a duo of good and a triumvirate of solid seasons, Colon was hailed as the best starting pitcher on the market. He signed the largest pitching deal of the off-season with the Angels, and it has not been too good. His ERA is 5.17, not quite what the Angels wished for. I expect better things from him for the remainder of the season. Grade: C+.
Eddie Guardado (3 years, $13 million, Seattle Mariners): After being inserted into the closer’s role, Everyday Eddie’s ERA dropped and he began to pitch better. Now Guardado is filling the closer’s role for the Mariners (Kaz Suzuki retired) and he is doing a good job, as witnessed by his 1.50 ERA for the short year. Grade: A-.
Kazuo Matsui (3 years, $20.1 million, New York Mets): Matsui was largely hyped this off-season, but his numbers translation to the Major Leagues hasn’t been that great. He is only hitting .253, albeit with a .330 OBP. When Jose Reyes returns, Matsui will be dropped to the number two hole, right in front of Mike Piazza. His numbers should go up a little bit for the rest of the season. Grade C+.
Andy Pettitte (3 years, $31.5 million, Houston Astros): Andy is coming off a 21-win season with the New York Yankees. He received a lot of run support, which accounted for a large number of those wins. This season in Houston (4-1, 3.51), Pettitte has put together a fine beginning, even though he has been injured a little. Grade: A.
Miguel Batista (3 years, $13.1 million, Toronto Blue Jays): Miguel Batista was one of the reasons that the Arizona Diamondbacks stayed around as long as they did last season; he pitched well both in relief and as a starter. Unfortunately for Miguel, he hasn’t quite hit his stride this year, but will be expected to improve very soon. Grade: D.
Keith Foulke (4 years, $25.5 million, Boston Red Sox): Having pitched brilliantly for the past five seasons, Foulke raked in the money this past off-season. He has pitched lights out this season with a 0.40 ERA over 22.1 innings, while being a perfect 8-for-8 in save opps. Grade: A+.
Mike Cameron (3 years, $19.5 million, New York Mets): Playing a spectacular center field, Mike Cameron established himself as a gold-glove caliber outfielder. His range, arm, glove, and instincts are top notch. And that’s why the Mets wanted him. Last year the Mets were desperate (they even started Roger Cedeno in center) for somebody to patrol the area, and Cameron gives them that. Too bad he hasn’t hit much, .216 but with 7 homers. Grade: B.
Scott Spiezio (3 years, $9.15 million, Seattle Mariners): Not an entirely great player, Spiezio has put together solid numbers over the past few years. He is a large portion of the aging Mariners who need to be moved for the youth movement. He had a few injuries earlier in the season, and he is not yet up-to-speed. Grade: C-.
Carl Everett (2 years, $7.5 million, Montreal Expos): Having done nothing to prove himself so far this season, Carl Everett separated his shoulder and should be returning sometime soon. The Expos are very desperate for any offense, and Everett is due. Even though he doesn’t believe dinosaurs ever existed, I believe he can hit about 20 homers with a .280 batting average. Grade: D-.
Miguel Tejada (6 years, $72 million, Baltimore Orioles): In his first season as a sellout, Tejada has hit .327, but without much power. As the season starts to wind down, he should heat up and showcase some of his power. At least he keeps the consecutive games played streak going. Grade: A-.
Gary Sheffield (3 years, $39 million, New York Yankees): Hampered by a very bad right thumb, Sheffield’s power has all but disappeared. Claims that he is finally off the juice due to the BALCO investigation are inane; his injury has hampered him severely. Last season was a great one for Gary, as he was the centerpiece of a powerful Braves offense. He needs to be batting third in the New York Yankees lineup for his maximum numbers, but that Alex Rodriguez guy is there. Grade: B.
Javy Lopez (3 years, $22.5 million, Baltimore Orioles): After setting the record for most home runs by a catcher (42) and slamming 43 of his own, Lopez left the Braves and signed with the Baltimore Orioles. As part of a resurgent Orioles’ offense (seems odd saying that), he has his .333, but without as much power as last season. He’s still doing very well and is once again a good offensive player. Grade: A.
Arthur Rhodes (3 years, $9.2 million, Oakland Athletics): After a mediocre season last year, Rhodes signed with the A’s, who are known for turning around closers’ lives. They don’t have Rick Peterson, so that process is not going to work as well as it has in the past. Rhodes does not look like he will rekindle his former magic of sub-2.5 ERA years. Grade: C+.
Vladimir Guerrero (5 years, $70 million, Anaheim Angels): Probably tired of the constant inconsistency that surrounds the Montreal Expos, Vlad sold out his old team and joined the Angels. Vlad has taken a liking to the Angels’ clubhouse and team. So far he has hit .335 with 8 homers, played his normal rangy right field, and used his cannon arm to it’s best. This was pretty much a can’t miss signing. Grade A+.
Sidney Ponson (3 years, $22.5 million, Baltimore Orioles): Returning to his former team, Ponson has not pitched well at all. He’s a 3-3 with a 5.69 ERA as the “staff ace” of the Birds. His dropoff from last year’s numbers are quite odd, and expect an improvement. Grade: F.
Ivan Rodriguez (4 years, $40 million, Detroit Tigers): Ivan Rodriguez led the Florida Marlins to the World Championship last season and promptly left town. He joined the 119-loss Tigers and he has begun to turn around their losing ways with his .338 batting average and seven home runs. There are multiple escape clauses for the Tigers, mainly due to Rodriguez’s knack for getting injured. Grade: A+.
Greg Maddux (3 years, $24 million, Chicago Cubs): Maddux is coming off an injury plagued 2003 season where he compiled “only” 218 innings with a 3.96 ERA. But budget restrictions with the Atlanta Braves have turned Maddux to his former club, the Chicago Cubs. Everything hasn’t been the fairy tale that most people have expected just yet, but Maddux’s numbers will return to where they should be. Grade: C-.
Luis Castillo (3 years, $16 million, Florida Marlins): Castillo received a hefty paycheck, most likely due to his work in the playoffs last season. So far this season, Luis has not done what he is supposed to, with a .260 batting average and a .329 OBP. For someone hitting behind Juan Pierre and in front of Mike Lowell and Miguel Cabrera, that’s extra bad. Grade: D-.
Shannon Stewart (3 years, $18 million, Minnesota Twins): Stewart, since joining the Twins, has been a new man in the leadoff spot. The Twins deal might have turned for their advantage, since they needed a lead off hitter. Grade: A-.
A Few Others (No Monetary Value)
Paul Quantrill (2 years, $6.4 million, New York Yankees): Pauly has been a great relief pitcher the past few seasons, getting the ball from starter to Gagne. This year, however, is not a repeat of past performance. I expect a progression toward the mean for Quantrill’s stats. Grade B-.
Michael Tucker (2 years, $3.5 million, San Francisco Giants): Tucker was taken away from the Kansas City Royals last year. He put up some decent stats in one of the best hitter’s parks in the AL, and many people discounted his value coming to play in one of the best NL pitcher’s parks; and many people are correct, Tucker has hit only 2 homers with a .250 batting average since joining the Giants. Grade D.
Tim Worrell (2 years, $5.5 million, Philadelphia Phillies): Last season Worrell saved 38 games for the Giants, and this season he will save around zero, as he gave up the closing job to return to being a setup man for Billy Wagner. He has done a good job this season (21.2 innings with a 3.39 ERA) and should continue to put up fine stats. Grade B+.
John Thomson (2 years, $7 million, Atlanta Braves): Thomson has worked with pitching guru Leo Mazzone, but the stats haven’t shown it yet. He’s currently sitting at 2-2 with a 5.01 ERA. The Braves pitching woes continue, and perhaps not even Leo Mazzone can fix things this time. Grade: D.
Vinny Castilla (1 year, $2.1 million, Colorado Rockies): Signed at a bargain price, Vinny has put up stats (.325, 12, 39) that warrant all-star consideration. Plus, he brings a great glove to the ballpark. Grade: A.
Benito Santiago (2 years, $4.3 million, Kansas City Royals): Santiago was a decent candidate to protect Barry Bonds in the lineup last year, but the addition of AJ Pierzynski made Santiago expendable. Amid BALCO controversies, Santiago has hit 3 homers and has not done much for the pitching staff in KC. The Royals need for Santiago to produce and help the pitching staff or trade him to a contending team in need of catching. Grade: C-.
Rondell White (2 years, $6 million, Detroit Tigers): White is oft injured, but he can put up very good stats when healthy. His best season came in 1997 when he clubbed 28 homers and hit .270 with the Expos, but he rarely in more then 120 games. He’s been healthy this season and has hit .310 with eight homers. Grade: A.
Jose Cruz Jr. (2 years, $6 million, Tampa Bay Devil Rays): The Rice University product Jose Cruz Jr. played well for the Giants last season until he dropped an easy fly ball in the playoffs. His overall stats weren’t great, but he did a good job of managing to put up decent numbers. So far he has hit 6 homers, but only with a .230 batting average. He has been pretty streaky and has had some injuries along the way, but with his glove, Cruz Jr. is worth the money spent on him. Grade: C+.
Reggie Sanders (2 years, $6 million, St. Louis Cardinals): In the past seven years, Sanders has played for seven different teams (Reds, Padres, Braves, Diamondbacks, Giants, Pirates, and Cardinals since I know you all were wondering), but this time, he did it right by signing a two-year deal. It’s very hard to tell why this guy hasn’t gotten more attention than he has in the past, but he hasn’t. So here goes: this season Sanders has hit nine homers with a .259 batting average. Not that great, but good enough. Grade: B+.
Jose Guillen (2 years, $6 million, Anaheim Angels): Trying to prove that last season was not a fluke, Guillen signed with the Angels for only two years. So far he’s done a good job proving that his 2003 season was not a flash in the pan. He has eight home runs in a lineup that desperately craves offense. Grade: B+.
Jeromy Burnitz (1 year, $1.5 million, Colorado Rockies): Jeromy has quietly been putting together a good season, albeit in Colorado. He has a .295 batting average with thirteen homers and thirty-nine RBIs. He is the main force in the Rockies lineup, and with numbers like that he’s doing a good job. Grade: A-.
Armando Benitez (1 year, $3.5 million, Florida Marlins): Many people discounted the ability of Armando Benitez as a successful closer due to his bad clutch performances. Perhaps he has not had many clutch performances required of his this season, but he has put up 16 saves with a 0.36 ERA. Grade: A+.
Kenny Lofton (2 years, $6.2 million, New York Yankees): Lofton has either complained about playing time, and has been injured, or both for much of the entire season. This is definitely not the Lofton of old, and he is clearly having a decrease in his talent level (this usually does happen for 36-year-old outfielders). Grade: D-.
Juan Gonzalez (1 year, $4.5 million, Kansas City Royals): Gonzalez has (surprise, surprise!) missed some time this season, but if he can begin to approach even last year’s statistics, he should be pretty well off. So far this season he has hit some, but not too much, and has provided a decent glove in right. Grade: C+.
Danys Baez (2 years, $6.5 million, Tampa Bay Devil Rays): Prone to blowing some save opportunities, Baez has remained perfect this season. Also, he has pitched very well for a struggling team that desperately needs some arms in the bullpen (and rotation and minors). Grade: B.
Braden Looper (2 years, $6.75 million, New York Mets): Braden LaVern Looper has been inconsistent throughout his career, to say the least. The Marlins replaced him with Ugueth Urbina last season, and he pitched well in a setup role. The Mets made a decent acquisition here in Looper. Grade: B.
Rafael Palmeiro (1 year, $4.5 million, Baltimore Orioles): Raffy Palmeiro has been perhaps the best example of consistency throughout his career. He will usually put up 38 homers with around 100 RBIs and maybe a .270 batting average. This year, however, Palmeiro is falling behind his career average stats. He has only six homers and a .256 batting average. Look for him to crank up his power production as questions about his Hall of Fame candidacy come into question. Grade: C+.
Roger Clemens (1 year, $5 million, Houston Astros): After retiring Clemens returned with a vengeance. He is already 7-0 with a 1.72 ERA. Look for the Rocket to cool off, but he should continue to be a strong starter and the NL starter at the All Star game in Houston. Grade: A+.
Jay Payton (2 years, $5.5 million, San Diego Padres): Perhaps a Coors Field product somewhat last season, Payton has done an acceptable job at the plate this year, minus the power numbers. He has a .369 OBP, which is what the Padres need, to have runners on base a lot since there won’t be many home runs in Petco Park. Grade: C-.
Ugueth Urbina (1 year, $3.5 million, Detroit Tigers): There was some concern about Urbina who “hadn’t picked up a baseball since Game 6 of the World Series” until he signed with the Tigers. He has gotten back into shape and has pitched his worth with 6 saves on the young season. The Tigers figure to make Urbina trade bait, so look for him to go soon. Grade: A-.
Mike Timlin (1 year, $2.75 million, Boston Red Sox): Timlin has been part of the Red Sox’s great bullpen, though his numbers don’t show his true value. He’s 3-1, but has a 4.05 ERA over 20 innings. Timlin will most defintely cut that number down about a run over the remainder of the season. Grade: B.
(Author’s Note: Special thanks to espn.com for their stats and salaries on the above players.)
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