With a few exceptions, it appears the free agent market has evened itself out when compared to previous years. Gone are the days of John Lackey and A.J. Burnett landing 5 year $82.5 million deals. Their relative comparison this offseason is Edwin Jackson, who is without a contract and is expected to sign for roughly half of what Lackey and Burnett made. But even in a more “team friendly” free agent market, overpaying for talent is still a common occurrence. The ironic part of this whole process is the fact that while fans may never know when their team strikes gold on a signing, they are usually the first to know if their team overpaid. The offseason isn’t over yet, but there’s no shortage of bad deals to talk about.
1. Michael Cuddyer – Colorado Rockies: 3 years, $31.5 million.
Cuddyer’s contract wouldn’t be so awful if not for some minor details. The first, he’s not a second baseman or third baseman. He’s simply a RF that is a sure-fire bet to produce .270/.340/.450 with 30 doubles and 20 HR. Not exactly spectacular, he’s not going to carry any offense. Another detail, Cuddyer is 32 years old and spent a large portion of his career playing on artificial turf. By the time he’s 35 (right before the 2014 season begins), this contract may look terrible. It’s not as if the Rockies have a DH slot to stick Cuddyer at if his legs go out.
Josh Willingham – Minnesota Twins: 3 years, $21 million.
Willingham is expected to be Cuddyer/Kubel’s replacement in Minnesota and it wouldn’t be surprising if he outperforms both. Cuddyer’s 162 game average is .272/.343/.451 with 34 doubles and 20 HR. Willingham’s is .262/.361/.475 with 32 doubles and 27 HR. These are remarkably similar players, but with Josh Willingham, you get a higher OBP and more power for $3 million less each year. Not to mention if Willingham’s health goes south, Minnesota could hide him at DH.
2. Carlos Beltran – St. Louis Cardinals: 2 years, $26 million.
Beltran is being paid like a relatively elite hitter, but is he? Last season he was solid (.300/.385/.525 with 39 doubles and 22 HR), but the last few seasons Beltran was healthy, he managed to hit .284, .276, .275 and .266. But when Beltran did that, he was younger, still had elite power and could swipe 25 bags a season. Now he’s 35 year old and there are red flags everywhere. He’s been healthy for one of the past three seasons and is no longer a base stealing threat. The Cards don’t have a DH and for $13 million they’ll need him to stay healthy, hit like he did in 2011 and play a competent RF at age 35/36 in order to be worth the money. But hey, they *did* have the iron legs of Lance Berkman in right field last year, and won the World Series.
Jason Kubel – Arizona Diamondbacks: 2 years, $15 million.
For roughly half the price, Jason Kubel signed with the Diamondbacks. Kubel is not as good of a hitter as Beltran, but at this point in their careers, it’s pretty close. Kubel is five years younger and his 162 game average while playing in Minnesota is .271/.335/.459 with 31 doubles and 22 HR, though that slugging percentage has dropped since leaving the Metrodome. Even if Beltran stays healthy and plays as well as he did in 2011, it still wouldn’t be much better than Kubel’s career average, certainly not worth paying $7 million more a season for.
3. Jonathan Papelbon – Philadelphia Phillies: 4 years, $50 million.
Paps is a good reliever, there’s no reason to believe his performance in Philadelphia won’t be as good as it was in Boston, which was very good (with the exception of 2010). If you want to nitpick, it would be unreasonable for Papelbon to recreate his 2011 season again. His H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/9 were all either career highs or near career highs, so some regression is expected. Still, was it necessary to precede the new bargaining agreement, give the Red Sox another first round pick and pay Papelbon $12.5 million?
Ryan Madson – Cincinnati Reds: 1 year, $8.5 million.
For four million dollars less and no long contract, the Reds got a reliever that’s roughly the equivalent of Jonathan Papelbon. While his numbers across the board aren’t as good as Papelbon’s, the highest ERA Madson has posted in the last 5 years is 3.26.
As a quick note, it’s clear that Albert Pujols and, once he signs, Prince Fielder will be overpaid. There simply isn’t a substitute for either of these players. They didn’t make this list because it wouldn’t be fair to say Lyle Overbay for $1 million is a substitute for Albert Pujols at $25 million. Apples and oranges.