History's worst free-agent deals
Word is Braves pitcher Mike Hampton is making very little progress in his efforts to come back from the "strained pec'' injury he suffered while warming up for what was to be his season debut on April 4. What a shame it is that so many words were written this spring about a comeback that was, very predictably, a mirage.
No one in the know should be shocked that the 35-year-old Hampton, who now only throws 88 or 89 mph on days he actually can throw, is hurt again.
"Even if he's healthy,'' one scout says, "he's no better than an ordinary lefty.''
Of course, he isn't healthy -- again -- and he hasn't been since 2005, the last time he pitched in a major league game.
In fact, since signing his $121 million, eight-year deal with the Rockies before the 2001 season and disingenuously explaining that he chose Colorado over New York because of its great schools (it was that and the $121 mil), Hampton has had just one productive season, going 14-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 2003 with the Braves.
That, of course, was well before he became a symbol for misspent money. As it turned out, Hampton spent more time on the disabled list (all of the past two and a half years) than in Colorado (pitching two seasons there before being traded).
It wasn't a good sign when one scout told me this spring, "He looks like he shrunk.'' Big or small, he's just an enormous waste of money. Hampton will never head a rotation again. But he does head my list of the worst baseball contracts. Here are my lucky (for the players who got to pocket the cash, anyway) 13:
1. Hampton, $121 million, Rockies (and Braves). The deals for him and Denny Neagle ($55 million, five years) set the Rockies back five years. On the other hand, the complicated trade to send him away and get the Rockies on the path to the World Series was a stroke of genius. The Braves, who got him from the Marlins in November 2002, two days after Colorado dumped him, are known for wise pitching decisions, but this has to be their worst.
2. Carl Pavano, $40 million, four (long) years, Yankees. Never really looked interested. Changed agents more times than he actually pitched.
3. Albert Belle, $65 million, five years, Orioles. Brought surly mood, diminished power and bad hip to Peter Angelos' brand of bad baseball.
4. Chan Ho Park, $65 million, five years, Rangers. Poor Tom Hicks. Or should I say, rich Tom Hicks. Park showed up without much zip on his pitches, then delivered almost zip for the money.
5. Jason Giambi, $120 million, seven years, Yankees. He apologized for who knows what but hasn't yet apologized for taking all this money, which is, of course, obscene. He's still got $26 million to go in this the final year alone, assuming the Yankees decline the option year for a measly $5 mil.
6. Kevin Brown, $105 million, Dodgers (and Yankees). The first $100-million free agent. There were whispers that no one was offering anywhere near nine figures, but the truth is that while L.A. was the high bidder, there were other fools out there, as well. He brought his surly demeanor to the Bronx for two years, and left without a word, never to be heard from again. That is, until the Mitchell Report was released.
7. Darren Dreifort, $55 million, five years, Dodgers. Dreifort had the talent but was always hurt. And that's always, meaning before and after the contract.
8. Bobby Higginson, $35 million, five years, Tigers. With his buddy Kirk Gibson, then in the Tigers TV booth, constantly saying how great Higginson was, and with a terrible Tigers team where Higginson was the "star,'' owner Mike Ilitch felt compelled to give silly money to Higginson. Immediately upon signing, his bat turned to a wet noodle. Ilitch has done a lot better lately, with worthwhile big-bucks deals for Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez.
9. Barry Zito, $126 million, seven years, Giants. Hard as it is to believe now, at least one other team (the Mariners) was willing to hit nine figures. Zito has lost 4-5 mph, leaving too little discrepancy between the fastball and his signature breaking ball. He's still got almost six years to go, so there's time to turn it around, but he turns 30 next month.
10. Mo Vaughn, $80 million, six years, Angels (and Mets). Got heavy, hurt his knees and became such a non-entity that no one cared when he showed up in the Mitchell Report.
11. Julio Lugo, $36 million, four years, Red Sox. They won a title in his first year at shortstop. But otherwise, file this under the heading, "Smart people can do dumb things.'' Boston looked into A-Rod for shortstop this winter.
12. Russ Ortiz, $33 million, four years, Diamondbacks. This contract bombed so badly, and so fast, that the D-Backs wound up eating a majority of it. Ortiz tried a comeback with the Giants last year and looked a little better with his old team ... at least for a while.
13. Juan Pierre, $44 million, five years, Dodgers. He's riding the bench only one year into his term. Great guy. But the lesson here is, never pay big bucks for a singles hitter with a nice personality.