By Artie Greenberg
With so many fresh faces on the 2014 Yankees, and many of them signed to lucrative multi-year contracts, it’s clear that money can buy happiness (at least during Spring Training). Big free agent signings don’t always work out, but the Yankees have bigger balls than most other clubs, and you can almost always count on them to go out and get their guy; the most recent example being Masahiro Tanaka and his 7 year, $155 million contract.
You can’t, however, always rely on a player to live up to his high salary. Often times, these deals do not work out, and the Yankees have been burned far too often by them. Let’s look back at the five biggest free agent busts in Yankees history, and have some fun with the insane amounts of money that were thrown at them.
Hideki Irabu: 4 years, $12.8 Million, 4.80 ERA as a Yankee
Danny Tartabull 3 years, $14.9 Million, 7.9 WAR as a Yankee
Roger Clemens (2007) 1 year, $17,400,000, 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA
Jose Contreras: 4 years, $32 million, 4.64 ERA as a Yankee
Ichiro Suzuki: 2 years, $13 million, .297 OBP in 2013
5. Tony Womack: 2 years, $4,000,000
Tony Womack makes this list mostly because his successor, Robinson Cano, demonstrates why homegrown talent almost always trumps high-priced free agents. Womack turned his strong 2004 season with the Cardinals (.307 BA with 28 SB) into a solid two-year deal with the Yankees.
His first and only season in pinstripes ended miserably, losing his job to then-rookie Robby Cano after putting up a disgusting stat line, including a .249 BA, no homers, 15 RBIs, and an OBP of .276. Hardly inspiring stuff from your leadoff hitter.
He was worth -2.4 WAR, by the way, which is pretty bad considering he only got 329 AB, or half a season’s worth of at-bats. I shudder at the thought of how bad he would have been if the Yankees had let him play a full season.
FUN WITH MATH: Tony Womack’s 9 extra base hits as a Yankee cost the team $444,444 each.
4. AJ Burnett: 5 years, $82,500,000
It’s easy to dismiss this ranking, because Burnett pitched a gem in the 2009 World Series, and Yankees fans tend to value winning over all else. However, I can’t ignore Burnett because he was just so damned frustrating to watch. For all of his unbelievable talent, he had poor control, and never truly learned a third pitch to complement his power fastball and power knuckle curve. He walked too many guys and gave up home runs like he was pitching in a video game. For someone blessed with the kind of gifts he had, his career should have turned out differently.
His first season as a Yankee was a success, as he went 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and struck out 195 batters in 207 innings. The warning signs were there, though, as he walked 97 batters (almost 4.5 per 9 innings) and gave up 25 home runs, and his 2010 and 2011 seasons were more indicative of the pitcher he really was.
In 2010, Burnett had the worst season of any starting pitcher in Yankees history, going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA (although Phil Hughes’ 2013 certainly is a challenger for this title). 2011 was more of the same, and the Yankees swallowed most of his contract to ship him to Pittsburgh, where he promptly revived his career and, at 37, is still a front-line starter.
FUN WITH MATH: The Yankees paid approximately $13.75 million for each Win Above Replacement that Burnett provided while he was with the team.
3. Kei Igawa: 5 Years, $20,000,000, excluding his $26,000,194 posting fee
I don’t think anyone expected this move to work out well, not even the Yankees front office. Desperate to keep up with the Red Sox, who signed Daisuke Matsuzaka to a huge contract before the 2006 season, the Yankees went out and impulse-bought Kei Igawa, much like many of us buy unnecessary things on Amazon after a long night of drinking. If only the Yankees had left their credit card at the bar before going home and ordering Igawa, this mess never would have happened.
Igawa’s first MLB start was a no decision, as he allowed 7 ER in 5 IP, but was bailed out by an A-Bomb from A-Rod. After getting removed from the rotation, eventually Igawa was removed from the team, getting sent to A-ball (not even Triple-A!) to learn how to throw a baseball. He worked his way back up through the minors and lasted another month in the majors, before getting sent back down to Triple-A. From 2008-2011, Igawa was a non-roster invitee to spring training, but never pitched in the majors again.
At least Triple-A got their ace for a few years. Igawa, now pitching back in Japan, holds many all-time records for the Yankees’ Triple-A team.
FUN WITH MATH: Igawa won 2 games in his Yankee career, meaning each win cost the team $23,000,097, or about a million more than the entire 2013 Houston Astros, who won 51 games.
2. Carl Pavano: 4 years, $39,950,000 million
Carl Pavano wasn’t just bad; he was unlucky, and very possibly one of the least cost-effective signings in Major League history. Plucked from the Marlins, Pavano started off 2005 strongly; going 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA in his first 10 Yankee starts. His shoulder started acting up, and he only made 7 more starts the rest of the year, going 0-6 the rest of the way.
2006 was a total loss. After injuring his ass (no, I mean it, he bruised his buttocks!) in a spring training game, Pavano missed the entire season with a variety of minor injuries. He also broke two ribs after crashing his Porsche into another car. He didn’t tell the team about this until the day he was supposed to come off the disabled list.
In 2007, free agent success story Mike Mussina called out Pavano for a lack of effort. Pavano then started Opening Day, made one other start, and then went down for the season after electing Tommy John surgery. Pavano made a few starts in 2008, but never came close to living up to his contract at any point during the 4 years that he was signed for.
FUN WITH MATH: Over the life of Pavano’s contract, the Yankees paid him over $1,500,000 every time he started a game.
1. Alex Rodriguez: 10 years, $275,000,000
Ah, the big kahuna of free agent busts. Steroids. Narcissism. Injuries. Getting suspended for the entire 2014 season. Alex Rodriguez has brought all of these things and more to the New York Yankees since they traded for him before the 2004 season. Already signed to the largest contract in the history of sports. Alex was not content, and opted out after the 2007 season in order to find a bigger deal. Yankees brass scoffed at this, and a cold war ensued, until Alex and the Yankees finally agreed to a 10-year, $275 million deal that would have him playing well into his 40’s.
Since then, Rodriguez has embarrassed himself and the team more often than any of us could have ever dreamed of. Not only has he been a schmucky guy to have in the clubhouse; he also hasn’t come anywhere close to earning that massive contract. Now suspended for the entire 2014 season, A-Rod’s future is in doubt, but his legacy is not; he will go down as the worst signing, and one of the worst characters, in the entire history of baseball.
FUN WITH MATH: Since Alex signed his second 10-year deal with the Yankees, he has been paid $347,249 per game that he’s actually appeared in. This is about the cost of 10 brand-new Ford Mustang GTs.
BONUS FUN WITH MATH!
If you add up these top five contracts, you get $451,950,000, which could have fed the entire population of Africa for one day. Consider that food for thought