After the Cardinals failed to re-sign star first baseman Albert Pujols and watched the star slugger depart for Los Angeles, a lot of fans are calling for failure for the Cardinals in 2012. It got me to thinking whether or not a defending World Champion had ever made a move in the season after their championship that was criticized as much as this. My conclusion? Oh yeah….it’s happened before. Here are five of the worst moves by a defending World Champion.
1) San Francisco Giants re-sign Aubrey Huff (2010)
After a 2010 season that saw him energize the Giants offense with an .891 OPS and 6.0 fWAR in 668 plate appearances, Giants GM Brian Sabean felt like he needed to keep his new star in the fold, and signed him to a two year, $22 million contract. Keep in mind that in 2009, the year before his breakout season (at age 33) with the Giants, Huff had a .694 OPS and was worth a sparkling -1.8 fWAR in 597 plate appearances for the Orioles and Tigers. Predictably, the Giants offense languished in 2011, and while the broken ankle suffered by star catcher Buster Posey was a huge concern, the .676 OPS and -0.6 fWAR posted by Huff in 579 plate appearances didn’t help matters in the slightest. Further pushing the signing to the edge of insanity was the presence of top prospect Brandon Belt in San Francisco’s farm system. Belt had a 1.075 OPS in 2010 in the minors, finishing his season at AAA Fresno. He spent a good bit of 2011 there as well, despite a .989 OPS in the minors. When Belt did get time in the majors last season, he spent a majority of it on the bench, only getting into 63 games and 209 plate appearances. His .718 OPS was better than Huff’s, and his 0.7 fWAR produced was also better. Thank god Huff is under contract for next season too, so that he can steal even more time away from Belt! San Francisco did not make the playoffs in 2011.
2) New York Yankees trade for Javier Vazquez (again) (2009)
Vazquez was coming off of an excellent year with the Braves, where he posted 6.5 fWAR, a 2.87 ERA, and a near career-high 238 strikeouts. The Braves (as usual) were having payroll problems in the offseason, so dumped their best pitcher onto the Yankees for outfielder Melky Cabrera, middle reliever Mike Dunn, and the prize, then 19 year-old pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino. Vazquez struggled for the Yankees for most of 2010, throwing 157 2/3 innings (close to a career-low), a near career-low 121 strikeouts, and another near career-worst, with a 5.32 ERA. The deal was an unmitigated disaster for the Yankees, and it wasn’t much better for the Braves on the surface, with both Cabrera and Dunn struggling in the majors, though Dunn was flipped after the 2010 season in the Dan Uggla deal. But Vizcaino cemented his reputation as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, with a 2.74 ERA and a 79:12 strikeout to walk ratio in 85 1/3 innings. In 2011, he had a 3.06 ERA and a 100:28 strikeout to walk ratio in the minors, before debuting in the Braves bullpen in the season’s final third and striking out a batter per inning. Whether his future is in the bullpen or in the rotation, the Braves got themselves a hell of a deal for a pitcher that didn’t do much of anything when sent out of town.
3) Philadelphia Phillies sign Raul Ibanez (2008)
This move was maligned before the ink was dry on the deal. Ibanez got three years, $31.5 million at the age of 36 for the defending World Champions. No one expected it to go well, and honestly, we were all stunned when in the first year of the deal, Ibanez racked up 3.9 fWAR and an .899 OPS in 565 plate appearances. HA, RUBEN GOT US AGAIN! The wheels loosened in 2010, with Ibanez’s OPS falling to .793, and his fWAR dropping to 1.7. Then this past season, the wheels completely fell off. Ibanez was worth a staggering awful -1.3 fWAR, and had a nauseating .708 OPS. In addition to his terrible bat, Ibanez was awful with the glove. Over the three year life of the deal, Ibanez was worth -21 runs according to DRS, or just over two wins. All that for $31.5 million….that comes out to $7.3 million per win, with an additional cost of taking plate appearances from Domonic Brown, an insanely talented prospect who has never gotten a chance to play every day in Philadelphia, and John Mayberry Jr, who looks like a platoon player, but a hell of a platoon player. At least it was only a three year deal though, right?
4) Replacing Orlando Cabrera with Edgar Renteria (2004)
The Curse of the Bambino was finally lifted in 2004, and it was due in part to then-GM Theo Epstein’s shrewd acquisitions of players like Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Dave Roberts that helped end Boston fans’ misery and forever put those players in the annals of Red Sox history. They were all moved following the season, with Cabrera being the only one to leave via free agency. Boston signed former Cardinals shortstop Renteria to replace him, giving him a four year, $40 million deal. In his 58 games as a member of the Red Sox, Cabrera was worth 0.8 fWAR, and amassed 3.7 fWAR in 2005 for the Angels. Renteria on the other hand, accrued just 1.8 fWAR in 692 Red Sox plate appearances before being unceremoniously dumped by the team following the season. He was sent to the Braves, with the Red Sox paying $11 million of the $33 million left on his deal. So Boston essentially paid $18 million (the $11 million, plus Renteria’s 2005 salary of $7 million for 1.8 fWAR. That’s not too efficient. Of course, Renteria was worth 8.4 fWAR total in his two years with Atlanta, before dropping to 1.3 fWAR in the final year of his deal with the Tigers, to whom the Braves traded him for current starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens. Poor Boston.
5) New York Yankees sign Mike Mussina (2000)
“WHAT THE HELL?!?!” you’re probably saying right now. Bear with me here. Mussina was a member of the Yankees for eight years, from 2001 to 2008. They won a title in the last year before they signed him, and in the first year after he retired. I know it’s just a coincidence, but it’s interesting. Mussina was a great pitcher, amassing 85.2 career fWAR with a 3.68 ERA in his 18 career seasons. But the Yankees paid him like a superstar. The man they called “Moose” made $109 million in his eight years with the Yankees, and had a career Yankee fWAR of 38.2. He had three seasons uner 3 fWAR, and four seasons with an ERA under 4.00. On the bright side for Mussina, his final year of 2008 resulted in the only 20-win season of his career, and a 3.37 ERA was the lowest since his first full season in The Bronx in 2001. But he’s still one of the top candidates in the “best player to never win a ring” discussion, and was the first real big money free agent signing of the Steinbrenner Yankees of the 2000s.
Photos from Daylife.com