Three months into the season, the best and worst free agents emerge
Phillies' slugger Raul Ibanez ranks as the offseason's best free-agent pickup
Enigmatic Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley -- who else? -- has been the worst
Outgoing players' union chief Donald Fehr's solitary failure was a glaring one
Cubs manager Lou Piniella allegedly told Milton Bradley "you're not a player, you're a piece of s---'' one day, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, then batted him third the next. Which only shows that 1) Piniella has a deep sense of guilt, or 2) things can turn around in a hurry in baseball.
Three months into this difficult Cubs season, Bradley will have to really turn it on to avoid being viewed as one of the biggest free-agent busts of the year. He surely tops my roster of the ridiculously overpaid free-agent pickups thus far, what with the underperformance (five HRs, 16 RBIs, .237), indifferent play, crummy attitude, and of course the prerequisite bad contract.
Here are my best and worst free-agent signing so far. I'll list the best ones first since I'm that kind of guy.
Best Free Agents
1. Raul Ibanez, Phillies OF. Before going on the disabled list, he was outperforming by so much that he spawned an Internet debate about whether he might be doing the juice. He has 22 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .656 slugging percentage, a bargain for $31.5 million and three years, or any price really. Here's my explanation: He's playing in a better ballpark for hitting (no letters please about his current home-road splits -- not playing in Safeco still is a plus), he's with a better team, he works hard and he's good. As for the Internet stories, I think they're unfair without a spec of hard evidence. And no, doing well is not evidence enough.
2. Trevor Hoffman, Brewers closer. He took the chance leaving Southern California (he had an offer to go with the Dodgers) to go for beer and brats, and he hasn't missed a beat. For a bargain $6 million, his 17 saves are only three off the NL lead, and he missed the first three weeks of the season.
3. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets closer. The Mets solved their relief woes by signing one of the very best for $37 million over three years. Worries about him losing his stuff appear wholly unfounded, as he has 20 saves in 22 tries and has allowed just 19 hits in 35 2/3 innings. Plus, he's hit as high as 96 mph on the gun lately. One of only two blown saves came when Luis Castillo dropped a pop fly on the last out.
4. Orlando Hudson, Dodgers 2B. Inexplicably ignored this winter, he's provided excellent two-way play for baseball's best team at a bargain rate $3.38 million (plus incentives). He's batting .307 with five homers and 41 RBIs. Great personality, too. If asked, he'll say he isn't upset about his low deal, at all, that he understands teams were concerned about last year's wrist injury.
5. Mark Teixeira, Yankees 1B. OK, $180 million for eight years isn't exactly a bargain basement price. But it's all good so far. The best thing isn't that he's second in the American League with 20 home runs after the notoriously slow starter turned in his usual putrid April. Nor is that he's helped the entire Yankees infield, which spent the past several years worrying about Jason Giambi's defensive deficiencies. It has to be that the signing still gets under the skin of the Red Sox higherups -- though Boston has won all its games against the Yankees thus far this year, Red Sox owner John Henry showed he hasn't forgotten, writing on his twitter page, "MT curse.'' That ill-advised tweet may in itself be its own curse.
6. Brad Penny, Red Sox starter. He may not be drawing big attention on the trade market. But he's been a big plus for Boston in the rotation thus far. For $5 million, he's well worth it.
7. CC Sabathia, Yankees starter. Some thought the Yankees crazy to pay $161 million over seven years for the heavy lefty. But except for his nervous debut in Baltimore, he's been well worth it. Beyond that, they absolutely had to have him. Without him, their ace is probably Joba Chamberlain, who should be in the bullpen (but that's a debate for another day).
8. Ivan Rodriguez, Astros C. Before they signed him, the Astros were practically guaranteed to get nothing offensively out of the catching position. He's hitting .254 with six homers and 29 RBIs, but consider the alternative. Rodriguez has hit better than he did with the Yankees last year. Plus, he brought a couple big moments, when he tied and broke the other Pudge's record for games caught.
9. Brian Fuentes, Angels closer. "He doesn't have closer stuff,'' one NL scout said. Well, who cares? He does have 20 saves to lead the American League. While he isn't K-Rod, he's good enough. Plus, the rest of the Angels' pen has been so awful, without him they'd be done by now.
10. Randy Johnson, Giants starter. Back in his hometown, he's throwing better than he did a year ago. Amazingly effective (7-5, 4.68) at close to 46.
11. Adam Everett, Tigers SS. For $1 million guaranteed, he solidified the Tigers' infield. It's true he's not much of a hitter (though his .267 average threatens his career high of .273). But his defense has enabled the Tigers' pitching staff to get off to a great start.
13. David Eckstein, Padres 2B. Always inspirational, at least the rebuilding Padres have had moments. Hitting .268 and making just $850,000.
14. Adam Dunn, Nationals OF. He can't play the outfield. But he's providing exactly what he's paid ($20 million, two years) to do. Has 18 home runs and 50 RBIs with .258 batting average. Very consistent at bat, year to year.
15. Felipe Lopez, Diamondbacks 2B. Arizona's awful start isn't his fault. Is hitting .304.
Worst Free Agents
1. Bradley, Cubs OF. Who else? He doesn't always count outs. Of course, if he did, he'd know he's made plenty of them, way more than his share. An absolute train wreck, he showed his ability to get hurt in spring training, and since then, he's showed all the other myriad issues. No one should give this man a three-year deal. One good thing, if he doesn't reach 75 games, the third year is wiped off the books and the $30-million, three-year contract is only a $20-million, two-year deal (still too much for him, though).
2. Oliver Perez, Mets starter. If Mets fans look at that 9.97 ERA, their reaction would be: he's pitched that well? He's also being hit at a .315 clip. Omar Minaya liked the fact that he's young, lefthanded and talented. He's also a bit of a head case with a knee problem.
3. Pat Burrell, Rays DH. Was out for a while, but two home runs and 22 RBIs aren't good. Neither is a .315 slugging percentage. At least the rest of the Rays offense is producing.
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