Men Who Weren’t Worth the Paper on Which Their Outrageous Contracts Were Printed

A club can’t win a championship without good pitching. Yet, thanks in large part to the dilution of talent brought about by expansion, there just isn’t that much good pitching out there. The laws of scarcity kick in and, as a result, some very large dollar amounts are thrown at players who plain don’t deserve them. This leads to a pitiful domino effect: money better invested elsewhere is tied up in one albatross of a contract. Other needs go unattended, flexibility in signing other players is lost, the other guys in the clubhouse resent the would-be superstar for stealing their paychecks, and so on. In a nutshell, it sucks for everyone, except for maybe the guy who got paid.

The All-Bad Free-Agent Pitching Staff is merely a snapshot of the grisly history of high-priced signings that have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Unfortunately, this staff of woe stands no chance of serving as a cautionary tale for owners of Big-league teams, who will continue to throw good money after bad in the ever-desperate attempt to shore up this most important and elusive element of good ball club.

A massive star in Japan, Irabu high-handedly refused to play with an American club other than the Yankees. So New York traded with the Padres for his right, then signed him to a four-year, $12.8 million contract. Irabu went 29-20 with the Yankees from 1997 to 1999, but had an ERA (4.96) as chubby as his 240-pound body. Thanks to manager Joe Torre’s reluctance to use him in an situations perceived as actually meaningful, Irabu was also useless in the postseason, appearing just once for the Yankees and piling up a 13.50 ERA.*

In his first six full seasons (1995-2000) as a starter in Houston and New York, Mike Hampton’s highest ERA was 3.83. Prior to the 2001 season, he signed an eight-year, $121 million contact with the Rockies. Hampton’s ERA ballooned to 5.41 in his first season in Denver, then to 6.15 the following year. For good measure, he also threw in a 7-15 record. Just two years into his ginormous contract, Hampton, yet another casualty of that thin Colorado air, was bundled off to his Atlanta. His ERA promptly went on a diet and slimmed back down to 3.84.**

Early in 1997, the Pale Hose penned Navarro to a four-year, $20 million contact following a couple of excellent seasons with rival Cubs. In three seasons on the South Side, Navarro went 25043 with a hideous 6.06 ERA, all while being the second-highest-paid player on his team. These two fun facts didn’t sit well with the White Sox faithful.

The Tribe signed Garland, fresh off a twenty-win season in Baltimore, to a ten-year, $2.3 million deal in 1977. That’s right, you read correctly, ten years. In his first spring training with the Indians, Garland tore his rotator cuff. He went 28-50 with Cleveland, and had been out of baseball five years when he received his last paycheck from the contract in 1986. Making matters worse, Garland squandered much of the money on schemes that were worse investments than he had been for the Indians.

Garland, in a 1990 Sports Illustrated story on the first free-agent class, complain that Cleveland fans seemed to think he was actually a millionaire, even though his contract only paid roughly $200,000 per annum. “People would see me on the street and say, ‘There goes the millionaire.’”

Arlington has long been a graveyard for pitchers, but Chan Ho Park’s Ranger headstone is a bit pricier than most. Signed to a lucrative deal in the winter of 2002, Chan spent three and half season in Texas: he won twenty-two, lost twenty-six, had a 5.80 ERA, and spent long stretches on the disabled list. He made more than $50 million doing so.

Historically not known for shrewd thinking when it comes to pitchers, the Red Sox signed Young, a 51-79 lifetime hurler who had lost eighteen games the previous year in Seattle, to a three-year, $6.4 million contact on December 4, 1990. That he was a dismal stinker in Boston, going 3-11 with a 4.91 ERA in two season, shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone with any inkling about the game, which may or may not describe every single person in the Red Sox front office at the time.***

Appropriately enough, the Yankees have two pitchers on this All-Bad staff. In the winter of 2005, they signed Pavano, a twenty-nine-year-old right coming off an eighteen-win season in Florida, to a four-year contract worth just under $40 million. The Yankees thought Pavano was becoming the top-of-the-rotation stalwart the Pin-striped Ones had craved for years. What he turned out to be was black hole of wildly expensive injuries.

After a truncated 2005 in which he went 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA, Pavano was a tenured member of the disabled list for all of the ’06 season with, amount other ailments, two broken ribs from a motorcycle accident. New York’s thin and aging staff was a major contributor to the Yankees playoff defeat in both of the seasons. Meanwhile, $17 million of George Steinbrenner’s money disappeared into the pocket of a pitcher who wasn’t doing any pitching.****

In Baltimore, they called Stanhouse “Full Pack,” because that how many cigarettes Earl Weaver nervously puffed through watching the frizzy-haired fireman eke out another save for the Orioles. In 1979, the Dodgers needed to rebuild their bull pen, so they signed Stanhouse to five-year, $2.1 million contact that November. In one season in Los Angeles, he transformed from Full Pack to Full Platter. That was how much comfort food Tommy Lasorda needed in order to withstand see Stanhouse win two games, save just seven, and run up 5.04 ERA, all the while working in of baseball’s most pitching-friendly ballparks. On April 15, 1981, just one year into his contact, the Dodgers cut Stanhouse. “Somewhere the guy just lost his stuff,” shrugged team president Al Campanis. Yeah, maybe on the transcontinental flight from Baltimore.

It took a then-Major League record four-year, $14 million contract to bring Mark Davis, the 1989 NL CY Young Award-winning closer, to Kansas City. Davis had saved forty-four games in ‘89. In parts of three seasons with the Royals he had a total of seven saves, along with a 9-13 record and 5.31 ERA.*****

* Irabu gave up sixty-eight home runs as a Yankee, which gave birth to Stuart Scott’s home run call: “Iraaaaaaa-BOO-YAH!” As it happens, this is officially the only slightly amusing catchphrase Stu has ever uttered in his SportsCenter career.

** Hampton, an excellent hitter for a pitcher, hit .315 with ten home runs and a .552 slugging percentage in 143 at-bats with the Rockies. So he took back at least a little of what he so often gave out.

*** Matt Young pitched a no-hitter for the Red Sox in Cleveland on April 12, 1992. But he still lost 2-1, mainly because he walked seven batters and allowed six stolen bases.

**** Red Sox fans revel in their rival’s misfortunes, and Carl Pavano has made a career out of benefiting New York’s bitter enemy in Boston. In 1998, the Red Sox traded Pavano, then a stud prospect in their farm system, to Montreal for Pedro Martinez, who became the best pitcher in the history of the Red Sox franchise.

***** In 1990, the Royals—yes, the Royals— had the highest payroll in baseball.

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