Bradley headlines worst free agent signings; Teixeira tops best (cont.)
Last year's free-agent class has had its share of successes, however, starting with the duo who cashed the biggest checks last winter.
Mark Teixeira, Yankees
The year's most expensive free agent has also been the best. Teixeira, who signed an eight-year, $180 million deal, had averaged nearly 34 home runs and 113 RBIs in his six major league campaigns and he's already topped both of those figures this season, ranking second in the American League in both categories. He also has the second-highest slugging percentage and OPS of his career. As good as he's been offensively, he's been every bit as valuable defensively, representing a sizable upgrade over Jason Giambi from a year ago. Teixeira has the second-best zone rating among big-league first basemen, the fifth-best fielding percentage and has saved numerous errors with his adept skill at scooping balls out of the dirt. With seven years still to go on this deal, the jury is out on whether this will be a great deal in the long run, but it's off to a very good start.
CC Sabathia, Yankees
Sabathia has given the Yankees wins: 18, the most in the American League. He's given them durability: 32 starts, tops in the league, and 220 1/3 inning pitched, good for second. He's given them the strikeout artist they've desperately lacked in recent years: 186 strikeouts, seventh in the AL and on pace to become only the second Yankees pitcher in the past eight years to reach 200 strikeouts. But mostly he's given them a bona fide ace to slot atop their rotation this postseason, and thus, their best shot at ending their World Series drought in some years. Like Teixeira, full judgment on Sabathia's deal must be reserved until he is more than one year in, and will depend as much, if not more, on what he does in October than what he does from April through September. Sabathia has not been as good in the postseason the past two years as he was in the regular season. The Yankees can only hope that the third time will be the charm.
Bobby Abreu, Angels
He didn't get a new contract until shortly before the start of spring training, but he has been well worth the wait for the Angels. While batting .295/.394/.429, he's second on the team with 96 RBIs, 89 runs, 29 stolen bases and 90 walks. It's the latter category that has earned him the most praise. Abreu has been credited with helping show the Angels the value of patience at the plate. They've already received 511 bases on balls this year, their highest total since 2000. They are also taking more pitches than they ever have in the wild card era (56.5 percent) and swinging at fewer first pitches (21.7 percent). How much of that is directly attributable to Abreu is debatable, but his own teammates and manager are quick to acknowledge his influence. It's likely the rest of baseball will acknowledge his value this winter, when he shouldn't have to wait so long again to get a new contract.
Raul Ibanez, Phillies
He's cooled down considerably since coming off the disabled list right before the All-Star break, batting just .237 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs, but he had already done enough before he was hurt to establish his value to the Phillies. At the time of his injury, he was batting .312 with 22 home runs and 59 RBIs with a .656 slugging percentage. Recapturing his early season form would certainly go a long way toward helping the Phillies defend their World Series title, but Ibanez's season already stands out as especially impressive considering his age, the fact that he helped keep the Phillies on track early in the season and that both the man he replaced in Philadelphia (Pat Burrell) and the fellow outfielder who got a comparable deal from an NL contender (Bradley) have been disastrous in their new cities.
Trevor Hoffman, Brewers
He's been under the radar most of the year, which is nothing new for Hoffman, who excelled for 16 largely unheralded seasons in San Diego before heading to Milwaukee last winter. He ranks fifth in the NL in saves, second in save percentage and lowest opponent OPS and third in ERA among all relievers and runners allowed per nine innings. He has only added to his Hall of Fame resume and ensured that he will once again be a desirable free agent this winter.
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