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Top 10 Best and Worst Free Agents Ever

by Ryan Hudson
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Forget crying: there are no bailouts in baseball either. The free-agent silly season of throwing Monopoly money at available players is in full force.

It was launched last week as the two New York teams committed a hefty $280.5 million to three arms (and one belly); the Phillies gave $30 million to a 36-year-old outfielder who has never made an All-Star team; Cleveland bet $20.5 million on Kerry Wood's health; and Kansas City gave $9.5 million to Kyle Farnsworth, a set-up man with a 4.47 career ERA.

And it shows no sign of slowing. Currently, the A’s, Dodgers and Braves are rumored to be after Rafael Furcal, a lifetime .286 hitting-shortstop who played in just 36 games last year. The Yankees, seemingly not content with their new, initialed-pitchers, are ready to offer Manny Ramirez a three-year deal, worth anywhere from $22 million to $25 million per year. Some recession.

And the ember that is keeping this stove burning, Mark Teixeira, could be inking a staggering 10-year deal with the Red Sox, or he may still yet end-up with either the Orioles, Angels, Nationals, or, yes, even the Yankees.

Signing free agents is often a crapshoot – just ask the Colorado Rockies. In December of 2000, the Rockies had just finished their eighth season in existence, and were looking to become a contender with a big splash in the off-season by signing two pitchers, Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. Even though importing a free agent had failed in the case of Darryl Kile (ERAs of 5.20 and 6.61 in his two seasons before he was traded to St. Louis), the Rockies tried again, giving $172 million to the two lefthanders.

Hampton was hampered by injuries and ineffectiveness in his two seasons in Colorado, going 21-28 with ERAs of 5.41 and 6.15 before being shipped off to Florida (and then on to Atlanta); his free-agent contract finally expired last year. Neagle was a decent 31-year-old pitcher with a 105-69 record and 3.92 career ERA when the Rockies elevated him to the front of their rotation; he gave them three seasons of 19-23, 5.56, before earning his release with two years left on his contract. The duos ineffectiveness, and price-tag of $4.3 million per win, landed them the third on our list of the Worst Free Agent Signings.

But it hasn’t all been blunders and embarrassments. Look no further than Greg Maddux, our second-best Free Agent Signing ever.

It seemed almost unfair when the Braves, who already had Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery, added Cy Young winner Maddux to the rotation, signing him in 1992 to a five-year, $28 million deal. In the five years of his contract, he won three more Cy Youngs in the first three years, two of them unanimous, was first or second in the league in ERA all five years, and posted an 89-33 record for the perpetual division champs. For comparison’s sake, Atlanta paid him less than $315,000 per win.

It’s difficult to ask baseball general managers and owners to predict the future when signing free agents, particularly when a player's best year coincides with the ideal time for it – when his salary can skyrocket on the open market. There are rarely bargains available, and no sure things, though some of the players signed to the biggest deals have made it seem that way. For now, the Yankees, with their signings of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, can only hope that they find themselves on the right side of our lists years from now.

Top 10 Worst Free Agent Signings

Top 10 Best Free Agent Signings