Friday, November 14, 2008

The Worst Free Agent Signings in Royals History

As we embark on the Hot Stove season and free agents begin to sign, let's take a look back at some free agent signings of the past for the Royals. First, we will take a look at the worst free agents. Next week, I'll look at the best.

The Royals, being one of the smallest markets in baseball, have traditionally not spent a lot of money on free agents, even back when Ewing Kauffman ran the ballclub. Occasionally the club has doled out the big money for a player, with mixed results.

For this list:

1. I only included Major League free agents, not waiver wire pickups or minor league free agents.

2. I only included free agents signed from other teams, not contracts given to players already on the club.

3. I only included the initial contract figure, but not extensions.

I didn't use any metrics, this is just sort of my opinion, so feel free to vociferously disagree or let me know if there are any glaring omissions. That's what my readers are here for!

10.Chuck Knoblauch, Albie Lopez, Joe Mays, and Brett Tomko
Chuck Knoblauch
2002 - 1 year $2 million
80 Games .210/.284/.300 6 HR 22 RBI
2 Win Shares

Albie Lopez
2003 - 1 year $1.5 million
4-2 12.71 ERA 22 1/3 Innings
0 Win Shares

Joe Mays
2006 - 1 year $2 million
0-5 8.70 ERA 23 1/3 Innings
0 Win Shares

Brett Tomko
2007 - 1 year $3 million
2-7 6.97 ERA 60 1/3 Innings
-1 Win Shares

All of these guys are pretty much the same. They were all signed to very low, but very guaranteed Major League contracts when they all probably should have been signed to non-guaranteed minor league deals for the league minimum or better yet, not brought into camp at all. They were all god awful to varying degrees and the Royals would have been better off flushing the money down the toilet.

9. Juan Gonzalez
2004 - 1 year $4.5 million
33 Games .276/.326/.441 5 HR 17 RBI
3 Win Shares

This signing gets panned more than it should in my view. It was a perfectly reasonable gamble considering where the Royals were. They were coming off their remarkable 2003 run, and needed some punch in the lineup. Gonzalez, when healthy, was still a feared slugger coming off a season in which he slugged .572 in limited action. The only question was his health. To their credit, the Royals offered him just a one year deal with a low base salary and plenty of incentives. It just didn't work out.

"Juan Gone is a slugger. A real one. He has the nickname. He has the numbers. He has the look. If they sign him, Gonzalez will be the most celebrated player the Royals have ever signed."
-Joe Posnanski

Juan Gone got off to a good start, blasting a pair of home runs in an early game against Minnesota. But he began slumping in May and late in the month he strained his back. He would never play again that season, and would bat just one more time in the big leagues, in 2005 with the Indians.

8. Storm Davis
1990-1991 - 3 years $6 million
10-19 4.85 ERA 226 1/3 Innings
6 Win Shares

Storm Davis had been a nineteen game winner for the World Champion Oakland Athletics, and was still in the prime of his career. Back then sabermetrics was pretty much confined to Bill James and a pack of loyal followers in their mom's basements, but it didn't take a mathematician to see Storm's success was due to a powerful offense and a spacious ballpark. Nonetheless, the Royals inked him to a three year deal in 1990.

"Some people say that his statistics, other than wins and losses, don't really match up, but the bottom line is wins and losses. He's a fly-ball pitcher, but we've got a big ballpark."
-John Schuerholz

Davis was a low-strikeout pitcher in Oakland and he proved that was not a fluke in Kansas City. He was hit hard and posted a 4.74 ERA in his first season with the Royals, missing a month of the season with injury. He got off to a better start in 1991, but when the Royals hired Hal McRae, Davis was bumped to the bullpen to make room for another pricey free agent, Mike Boddicker. Davis requested a trade, but no one wanted the pitcher with a 4.96 ERA. Finally, that winter Storm's old team, the Orioles, picked him up for backup catcher Bob Melvin.

7. Doug Henry and Scott Sullivan

Doug Henry
2001 - 2 years $2.9 million
2-2 6.07 ERA 75 2/3 Innings
2 Win Shares

Scott Sullivan
2004 - 2 years $4.7 million
3-4 4.77 ERA 60 1/3 Innings
3 Win Shares

Doug Henry and Scott Sullivan were rather similar. The Royals crowed "poor" for a decade, yet still spent millions on these two old, mediocre relievers. The Royals had a mess of bullpen problems under the Allard Baird regime, so that caused him to panic and seek veteran help. He signed the thirty-seven year old Henry to set-up for closer Tom Gordon. That plan fell through when Gordon signed with the Cubs. The plan fell apart even more when Henry proved he was no longer a set-up man and stunk it up for a season. The next spring, the Royals released the right-hander, eating the $1.5 million remaining on his contract.

Sullivan was signed in response to the Royals unlikely run in 2003. That team had lost quite a few close ballgames due to an injury-filled and inexperienced bullpen. So they brought in the thirty-three year old Sullivan. The sidearmer had been a workhorse with the Reds, frequently topping over 100 innings in the pen. Those innings caught up with him in Kansas City. In August of 2004, he injured his back, ending his season and ultimately his career.

6. Reggie Sanders
2006-2007 - 2 years $10 million
112 Games .259/.325/.437 13 HR 60 RBI
9 Win Shares

Despite being a great clubhouse guy and a solid starter on several playoff teams, Reggie Sanders had bounced around the league quite a bit. He had often played for winners, so it was out of character when he signed a two year deal with the Royals. Sanders was thirty-eight, but coming off a very productive, albeit injury-limited season. Still, some questioned whether bringing on Sanders and other veterans on the wrong side of thirty, was in keeping with the youth movement.

"I feel very, very comfortable saying this fits right in with our plan." -Allard Baird
Sanders provided some modest power, but produced his lowest batting average and on-base percentage since 2000. He also missed the entire month of September with injury. The next spring, the Royals looked to move the veteran, but could not find a willing taker. Sanders would play just twenty-four games in 2007 before calling it a career.

5. Jose Lima

2005 - 1 year $3.5 million
5-16 6.99 ERA 168 2/3 Innings
-2 Win Shares

LIMA-TIME!

Jose Lima had been a sensation in 2003 when the Royals plucked him from obscurity in the Atlantic League. He resuscitated his once All-Star career by winning his first seven decisions. The Royals could not afford to keep Lima, so he split for Los Angeles. But like herpes, Lima returned. The Royals, desperate for pitching, gave Lima a decent one year deal. After getting shelled opening day, Lima continued to be putrid by posting a 6.99 ERA, the third highest ERA in Major League history by a pitcher qualified for the ERA title.

4. Benito Santiago
2004 - 2 years $4.3 million
49 Games .274/.312/.434 6 HR 23 RBI
3 Win Shares

After the Royals surprising run in 2003, Allard Baird decided to complement the core of his team that had finished 83-79 with some second-tier free agent veterans. One such veteran was Benito Santiago. Santiago was just one season removed from being the backstop for the NL pennant-Giants and had even garnered MVP votes in 2002.

Santiago was still putting up productive numbers, but was thirty-nine years old. Nonetheless, the Royals handed him a two year, multi-million dollar deal. Santiago actually played fairly well through June before he was hit on the hand with a pitch and missed the rest of the season. That winter, Santiago admitted to a grand jury the reason for his productivity. The Royals found a team stupider than them to take on his contract when he was shipped to Pittsburgh for pitcher Leo Nunez. He played six games in Pittsburgh before calling it a career.

3. Mike Boddicker
1991-1992 - 3 years $9.24 million
13-16 4.38 267 1/3 Innings
12 Win Shares

This is a pretty overlooked bust in Royals history I guess because Boddicker had one decent season and has been a really nice guy who is still visible in the Kansas City community. Mike had put together a very solid career with the Orioles and Red Sox and was coming off a seventeen win season when the Royals signed him in December of 1990. It was the first free agent deal for new General Manager Herk Robinson. It was a substantial deal, but the Iowa-born Boddicker turned down even greater deals to return to the Midwest.

"Money was not the biggest issue. Contract was not the biggest issue. My family was the biggest issue. And a winning ballclub. This is a great town to raise a family."

Boddicker won twelve games with a mediocre ERA of 4.08 in his first season in KC. After just two starts in 1992, he was demoted to the bullpen. He ended the year with a 4.98 ERA in twenty-nine games. That winter he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee. While rehabbing in Omaha, the Royals sold him to the Brewers.

2. Scott Elarton
2006-2007 - 2 years $8 million
6-13 6.59 ERA 151 2/3 Innings
2 Win Shares

During the Allard Baird years, the Royals shopped for free agents the way hyenas sift through garbage. If there was a player with some pretty significant limitations to his game, the Royals were probably looking to sign him. Elarton had been a fireballer early in his career, but suffered major injuries. He reinvented himself as a junkballer and had a decent comeback in 2005 with a 4.61 ERA. Decent numbers, but with his age and his injury concerns and a lack of proven history, probably not worth sinking a lot of money into.

That's where Allard Baird stepped in. Baird, desperate to cobble together a rotation that could resemble Major League pitchers, signed Elarton to a two year deal. Elarton even won the Opening Day starting assignment, pitching well in a 3-1 loss to Detroit. After one month, Elarton had a 4.28 ERA and it looked like Allard had made a shrewd investment. After that, Scott completely collapsed and by July he was out for the year with injury. He returned in 2007 to make just nine starts before mercifully getting released with an ERA over ten.

1. Mark Davis
1990-1992 - 3 years, $14 million
9-13 5.31 ERA 167 2/3 Innings 7 Saves
4 Win Shares

Well we all knew he would be tops on this list, didn't we? Davis was the reigning Cy Young Award winner with the Padres, and in December he became the highest paid player in baseball* by signing with the Royals. The Royals had American League Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen, making them the first team ever to have both reigning Cy Young Award winners.

*-Is it just me or is it kinda sad that from 1990-2006, the Royals only signed one free agent to a richer contract than Mark Davis? That was David Cone in 1994 - three years $15 million. Dayton Moore must have used the Jedi Mind Trick to get David Glass to open up the wallet.

Even if Davis had been a solid reliever with the Royals, in hindsight it seemed like a waste of resources to spend so much money on a closer. The Royals had two solid relievers in Jeff Montgomery and Steve Farr. But neither had the "Proven Closer" label or had "closer stuff"**, so the Royals were not confident letting either close out games on a full-time basis. The Royals had a very good rotation and had finished second in the league in complete games, and third in ERA. The reason they couldn't keep up with the Oakland Athletics was because they couldn't score runs. They were eleventh in runs scored and got particularly abysmal production from their designated hitter position from guys like Pat Tabler and Bill Buckner. Spending the money on a big bat would have been a much better use of money than the bullpen.

**-which is kinda curious since Dan Quisenberry was one of the greatest closers of all-time, yet never had "closer stuff."

Davis was actually pretty good his first month with the team, converting three saves in a row. He then blew a 6-2 lead against Texas.

"When you have a guy like Mark Davis, they are going to feel confident to turn the ball over to him."
-Manager John Wathan

He then blew three saves in a week in May and by the end of the month Jeff Montgomery was closing games and Davis was in long relief. He ended his first season with an awful 5.11 ERA and just six saves. He was slightly better the next season with a 4.45 ERA, but was already considered a huge bust. After thirty-six innings and an ERA over seven in 1992, the Royals finally dumped him on the Braves. Mark Davis became an infamous name in Royals lore.

11 comments:

ChaimMKeller said...

Well, it's a week later...I'm eager to see the "best" list. I'm guessing Gil Meche is on top, probably followed by David Cone and Wally Joyner. I can't think of any other very good Royals FA signings, off-hand. Would Ron Mahay be on the top 10 list? He certainly did well for us, but it's just hard to think of a middle reliever as top 10 anything.

Oh, and don't think these tangents are a valid excuse for delays in the progression to Top Royal # 1. You're slipping behind. Bluejay Banter, whose first stab at a list stalled somewhere in the twenties over a year ago, has started a new top-50 list and they've posted 5 entries since the beginning of this month (the latest one is John Mayberry...we'll get to OUR John Mayberry one of these days, right?) and even Amazin' Avenue has re-awakened to post two more entries for Top 50 Mets.

ChaimMKeller said...

Also, I thought it was not possible to have negative win shares? How did you come up with negative numbers for Tomko and Lima?

Max said...

Hardball Times has negative Win Shares, although I'm not sure intuitively how that makes sense. Let's just say Jose Lima really, really, really sucked.

John Q. said...

I think there were 4 events that killed the Royals franchise.

The David Cone and Danny Jackson trades that brought back Ed Hearn and Kurt Stillwell. I always felt that if they kept those two guys they could have beaten the A's of the late 80's early 90's.

And then the 2 Davis' free agent signings.

Also you have to put those dollar amounts in the context of the times. Those were huge sums of money back then.

In hindsight the Mark Davis signing made no sense considering they had some very good relievers already.

Storm Davis should be higher on your list. That was a disaster.

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