The 6 Biggest MLB Free Agent Busts of 2017

2016 – 2017 MLB Free Agents

The 2016 – 2017 free agent class was not deep and did not boast many stars at the top. The class was headlined by a 31-year-old slugging outfielder with a sub-.330 career OBP in Yoenis Cespedes, a 32-year-old third baseman who had never played more than 130 games before 2016 in Justin Turner, and two extremely elite closing pitchers in Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman. After this, there was an above average multi-tool outfielder (Dexter Fowler), a powerful first baseman/designated hitter (Edwin Encarnacion), a 37-year-old starting pitcher whom just had his first 100-plus inning season in a decade (Rich Hill), and then many even less attractive options.

Still, teams had holes to fix and not all could afford the high prices teams were demanding in trades. Some of the players signed or re-signed over the winter have done quite well for their club, but that is not the case for many of the contracts given out. Below are the six I believe to be the worst free agents signed from the 2016 – 2017 free agent class for the 2017 season.

The Multi-Year Contracts

Kendrys Morales – Career – 1,153 G 4,573 PA .270/.328/.462 112 wRC+ 184 HR 7.9 fWAR

2016 – 154 G 618 PA .263/.327/.468 110 wRC+ 30 HR 0.7 fWAR

Contract – Signed for 33 Million/3 Years by the Toronto Blue Jays.

2017 – 123 G 496 PA .247/.306/.441 95 wRC+ 22 HR -0.6 fWAR

Morales has not had a good overall season going all the way back to 2009 with the Anaheim Angels, hitting .306/.355/.569 with a 136 wRC+, 34 HR, and a 3.7 fWAR. Since then he has had little to no defensive value while playing both 1B and DH. Thankfully, outside of his disastrous 2014 with a 72 wRC+ and -1.8 fWAR, Morales has always at least been an above average hitter.

2016 was more of the same for Morales, although his hitting was down to a 110 wRC+, the second worst of his career since becoming a full time starter. Still, the Blue Jays felt like they needed someone to replace the void of Edwin Encarnacion and gave him 11 Million a season for the next three years. There were questions from the beginning about how wise of a move this was, but Morales was a proven slugger, though average or worse in every other aspect of his game.

Sadly for the Blue Jays, like some other moves, this has just not worked out for them, and is part of why they are sitting in last place in the AL East at 61-71.

Mark Trumbo – Career – 971 G 3,945 PA .250/.303/.464 108 wRC+ 198 HR 7.7 fWAR

2016 – 159 G 667 PA .256/.316/.533 125 wRC+ 47 HR 2.3 fWAR

Contract – Signed for 37.5 Million/3 Years by the Baltimore Orioles.

2017 – 122 G 518 PA .239/.297/.409 86 wRC+ 20 HR -0.6 fWAR

Trumbo has had an up and down career. He started off with the Angels much like Morales, a defensive liability who doesn’t get on base much, but with huge home run power. In his first three full seasons, Trumbo his 29, 32, and then 34 HR. His biggest problem, outside of his very lackluster defense, was the .291, .317, and .294 OBPs that accompanied those home runs.

After 2013, Trumbo was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal for SP Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in a three-way deal involving the Chicago White Sox as well. After fewer than two seasons in Arizona, Trumbo was traded to the Seattle Mariners in 2015 in a six player deal. It wasn’t until 2016 where Trumbo’s monster power once again shined smashing an MLB leading 47 home runs and a 125 wRC+.

Despite 47 home runs hit, many teams were worried about his lack of on-base and defensive skills, so the Orioles got Trumbo back at three years and 37.5 Million. It turns out teams were right to be skeptical. While Trumbo has hit for some power with 20 home runs, his play offense has regressed to 2014-2015 levels and his defense is as bad as ever. Trumbo’s terrible 2017 combined with Chris Davis’ ok season and Manny Machado’s first half slump are a big reason as to why the Orioles sit just two games above .500, and not more involved in the AL Wild Card race.

Ian Desmond – Career – 1,150 G 4,742 PA .268/.317/.425 100 wRC+ 137 HR 154 SB 20.3 fWAR

2016 – 156 G 677 PA .285/.335/.446 106 wRC+ 22 HR 21 SB 3.4 fWAR

Contract – Signed for 70 Million/5 Years by the Colorado Rockies

2017 – 67 G 272 PA .289/.333/.390 74 wRC+ 5 HR 11 SB -0.5 fWAR

In perhaps the worst deal of the off-season, Ian Desmond was signed to a $70M/5 deal by the Colorado Rockies. This does not only look like a bad deal in hindsight, it was very puzzling at the time, especially because it ended up costing the Rockies their 2017 first round draft pick to sign him. It may have made more sense if Desmond was an above average fielding shortstop like he was with the Nationals in the past, but he played mostly left field in 2016 with the Rangers, and was signed to play first base with the Rockies before Mark Reynolds took the position over.

2016 was a good season for Desmond, hitting .285/.335/.446 with a 3.4 fWAR, providing some very nice value. It was even better considering the season before he hit just .233/.290/.384 and was worth only 1.7 fWAR. Desmond showed he was still a good player, but become a corner outfielder/first baseman with just above average hitting was not a good recipe for success. This is his age 31 season, so there is time to turn it around going forward. However, for 2017, costing as much as he does as well as the first round draft pick to get him, he is easily the front-runner for worst free agent signed in the last year.

The One Year Deals

 

Carlos Beltran – Career – 2,568 G 10,969 PA .279/.351/.488 119 wRC+ 435 HR 67.6 fWAR

2016 – 151 G 593 PA .295/.337/.513 124 wRC+ 29 HR 2.3 fWAR

Contract – Signed for 16 Million/1 Year by the Houston Astros.

2017 – 111 G 447 PA .237/.289/.400 82 wRC+ 14 HR -0.7 fWAR

Carlos Beltran is someone who is likely to be hotly debated when he comes eligible for the Hall of Fame. Many will argue for his case because he was such a great hitter who had good defense and base stealing skills in the first decade of his career. Others may argue that he was never really one of the top players in the league at any given time, and may get lumped in with Bobby Abreu.

No matter what Beltran does on the field going forward, nothing will really change that. But looking at his recent seasons, Beltran could still hit quite well. In 2015 and 2016, Beltran had a 119 and 124 wRC+. Even with bad defense, he was worth 1.9 and 2.3 fWAR. The Astros taking a chance on Beltran for 1 season, even as high as 16 Million, was seen as a decent move.

While it’s true there is little risk to these one-year deals, Beltran has been the worst player on the AL’s best team, and just isn’t the player he was even last season. Of course, this is to be expected of someone in their age 40 season. Father time catches up with everyone. It looks like it’s just Beltran’s turn.

Matt Holliday – Career – 1,861 G 7,850 PA .300/.379/.511 135 wRC+ 311 HR 49.9 fWAR

 

2016 – 110 G 426 PA .246/.322/.461 110 wRC+ 20 HR 0.7 fWAR

Contract – Signed for 13 Million/1 Year by the New York Yankees.

2017 – 88 G 361 PA .229/.319/.430 98 wRC+ 16 HR -0.1 fWAR

Holliday is a somewhat similar case to Carlos Beltran, playing in his age 37 season and putting up a career somewhere between the Hall of Very Good and the Hall of Fame, depending on who you ask. Defense has always held Holliday back in the regard of value, and he was never one of the top players in the league for more than maybe a season or two. However, Holliday has been a great hitter in his career, with a great 135 wRC+.

Holliday even managed to put up a couple of decent last two seasons with the bat, hitting to a 125 and 110 wRC+. The problem for Holliday was staying healthy, having only played 73 and 110 games each of those seasons. The Yankees signing someone like that, after having dealt with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira for the last couple of seasons going through their own health issues did not seem wise.

To that end, Holliday has missed 40-plus games this season, but his offense has slipped to below average levels. Seeing as he has played designated hitter almost exclusively in 2017, sporting a 98 wRC+ is not going to earn your keep. This is reflected in his -0.1 fWAR.

Jose Bautista – Career – 1,648 G 6,727 PA .251/.364/.483 128 wRC+ 328 HR 34 fWAR

2016 – 116 G 517 PA .234/.366/.452 122 wRC+ 22 HR 1.4 fWAR

Contract – Signed for 18.5 Million/1 Year by the Toronto Blue Jays.

2017 – 129 G 568 PA .207/.315/.377 84 wRC+ 20 HR -0.2 fWAR

Going back to before the 2016 season, the season before Bautista were to hit free agency, there were talks of him seeking a 5 year 150 Million dollar deal. While this seemed like a very high deal, Bautista was just coming off of a 40 home run season, had not had under a 135 wRC+ since 2009, and was only worth less than 4.3 fWAR one time in that span. 5/150 may not have happened, but even at an advanced age, if he could still hit, he was going to make some good money.

In 2016, things did not go as planned for Bautista. His batting average and slugging percentage dropped to their lowest levels going back to 2009, and he only played 116 games. 2017 was going to be his age 36 season, which was further reason for teams to be worried about his production.

Similar to Mark Trumbo, his previous team the Blue Jays ended up retaining his services, but with just a one-year deal. Even still, with a rebound from Bautista, Rich Hill’s $48M/3 deal showed that not all teams were afraid to give multi-year deals to older players.

However, Bautista’s 2016 now looks like it may have been a sign of things to come, with his offensive production dropping down to pre-Blue Jays levels at just 84 wRC+ and providing little to no value this season. Coupled with Kendrys Morales, the Blue Jays have had a tough year.

Honorable Mentions:

Michael Saunders – Saunders had a surprising offensive outburst in 2016, but has completely regressed in 2017, and has not been worth his $9M/1 deal.

Brett Cecil – Cecil has not been bad, but he has not been good. He is on the honorable mentions list due to his 4.31 ERA and $30.5M/4 deal.

Bartolo Colon – At 44 years old, Colon could never have been expected to be great. But with a 6.35 ERA and 5.32 FIP in 112 IP, his $12/1 deal can’t be justified.

Jason Hammel – The only thing Hammel has done well this season has been eating innings, sitting just under 150 at the moment. But he is sporting a 4.76 and 4.47 FIP (4.48 in 2016), and only seems like a warm body going out there each start.

Aroldis Chapman – Chapman may be having a fairly good year, but his status as the Yankees closer has come into question, with Betances getting some save opportunities recently. If Chapman wasn’t making record closer money, he wouldn’t be on this list, but an $86M/5 deal really puts the spotlight on you when you struggle.