Monday, May 12, 2008

Ryan World's All-Time Worst Free Agent Signings

The goal of this post is not to embarass anyone, but rather to help people learn a little more about what can lead someone to sign a so-so free agent to a massive and potentially franchise-crippling contract. As such, I will not be including any contracts signed by current Ryan World members (myself excluded) in the list.

Matthew Berry, SP. Signed with Hartford in Season 3.

Contract: 5 years, $14.5M per year. Total value: $72.5M
Analysis: Berry was a very good pitcher during the early seasons of Ryan World, earning an All-Star nod during season two and posting a 15-4 record and 3.15 ERA. However, at the start of season three he was also 30 years old, had a health rating in the 60s and had already seen his ratings drop two points from their peak. Here's a hint: If a guy's ratings are already dropping because of age, you probably don't want to commit a lot of long-term money to him.
What happened? At the time of the signing, the owner (a new HBD player) was criticized for handing out such a massive contract to a player already in decline. He defended the move and insisted that he would not bail on the league if and when he realized that it was a mistake. Of course, he bailed after Berry's ratings plunged another 5 points that year and left the last 4 years and $62M for someone else to clean up. Berry's numbers continued to slide, and the following year, the next owner of the franchise complicated the mistake by releasing Berry rather than waiving him. That left him on the hook for 3 more seasons at more than $14M per without getting anything back. That contract finally expired last season with Berry pulling down $14.5 M as a 57-rated player with a 5.40 ERA in AAA.

Brandon Slocum, CF. Signed with Augusta in Season 7.

Contract: 5 years, $6.2M per year. $31M total.
Analysis: Slocum is very similar to Berry, a good player whose best years are clearly behind him, and one you definitely don't want to be locked into for five seasons. At the time the deal was signed, his overall ratings had dropped four points in the last season and seven points from his peak. His OBP and SLG slipped each season from seasons 4-6, and then slid again during season 7 after the deal was signed. Add on the fact that his health rating dropped from a high of 60 to 50 at the time of the signing to 45 now, and he's a serious risk to suffer a major injury that could decimate his ratings further.
What Happened: So far this season, Slocum is enjoying a mini-resurgence, with an OPS back over .900 for the surprising Iowa team. Nonetheless, the odds remain in favor of him suffering a major injury at some point. It's entirely possible that three seasons from now, someone will be paying him $6M to play CF in AA or put up a .550 OPS in the bigs.

Ramon Pan, Pittsburgh CF. Signed in season 3.

Contract: 3 years, $8.0m per year. Buyout of third year made it $18.0M total.
Analysis: Pan was a very good player during his first two seasons, but at age 31, he was already showing signs of decline. His health rating stood at 59 and his overall rating had dropped six points from the previous season and 10 points from his peak. Additionally, much of his value originally came from his defense. In the span of seasons one through three, Pan went from an above-average CF to a below-average one. That, coupled with a nine-point drop in power and smaller drops in other offensive categories made him a bust waiting to happen.
What Happened: Pan played just 99 games his first season, putting up respectable numbers, but also getting hurt. By the time season four rolled around, his health rating was 50, his defensive stats had plunged again and he was just a very average offensive player. He spent season four in AAA, cashing $8M in paychecks to put up respectable, but not remarkable numbers. After taking a $2M buyout, he signed a minor league deal in season six, posted okay numbers in AA and then retired.

Hades Atchley, New York Burros P. Signed in season 2

Contract: 4 years, $7.3M per year. $29.2M total
Analysis: Atchley was a deadline acquisition in season one (for future ML standout Diego Mieses)that pushed the Burros to the season one championship. Atchley went 7-1 down the stretch. In the afterglow of that title, the Burros handed the 30-year old Atchley a four-year deal at big bucks. The only problem was that he was already starting to slide downhill. He lost three points off his top pitch before that contract was signed, and his sub-standard control (49 at the time) meant that he had a smaller margin of error than most.
What Happened: Atchley pitched decently initially, but certainly failed to live up to his contract in year two. He started just 19 games because of injury, and then saw his ratings slide again heading into season three. He lost his starting job early in the season and was then dumped for two non-prospects who retired within a year. He bounced from Detroit to Little Rock to St. Louis to Fresno to Toledo to New Orleans before wrapping up his career back with the Burros last season. In the final year of his contract, he earned more than $7M for 42 innings of ML work and posted a 7.63 ERA. From the moment he signed the contract, he earned more than $28M and won just 20 ML games.

Jae Cho, Augusta 1B. Signed in season 7.

Contract: 4 years, $6.8M per year plus $1M signing bonus. Total: $28.2M
Analysis: The 30-year-old Cho had already lost a point off his power rating at the time he signed the deal. As it stood at the time, he had not posted an OPS of 800 in any of the previous three seasons, making him at best a mediocre offensive first baseman. Handing a sub-standard offensive player a big contract to play what is traditionally a "big bat" position simply didn't make sense.
What Happened: A .775 OPS and 22 HR would be okay for a C, CF or middle infielder, but out of a 1B, it constituted pretty middling production. Cho followed that up with a .231 batting average, just 16 HR in 162 games and an OPS of .626 in the second year of the deal. The owner who dished out the contract bailed on the league, leaving someone else to clean up the mess. Cho has put up a pathetic .495 OPS in limited action this season and still has another year and $6.8M left on his contract after this one.

This is far from a comprehensive list of free agency disasters, but it should provide some things to think about before you wade into the free agent pool again next year with payroll money burning a hole in your wallet.

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