Daisuke Matsuzaka’s decision to have season ending surgery prompted a post comparing his signing to the Yankees’ ill-fated acquisition of Kei Igawa. The conclusion reached was that both Japanese imports turned out to be busts, but perhaps not so outlandish in comparison to the rest of the 2006 free agent class. So, instead of leaving that point dangling, let’s take a look at how the other mega free agent deals signed that off season have fared to date.
Top-20 Contracts Signed in 2006 Off Season, by Total Dollars ($mn)
*By retiring, Meche forfeited final year of salary. #Players still active and contracts still ongoing (“difference” based on pro-rated total to date; “pro-rated difference” based on estimated total value minus total contract value). ^Contracts still ongoing, but no further contribution from player assumed.
Note: Value is a WAR-based conversion into dollars.
Source: fangraphs.com and mlbtraderumors.com
Needless to say, the 2006 free agent class was not a distinguished one. Based on pro-rated figures for contracts that haven’t yet expired, only four of the 20 deals worth over $20 million wound up yielding a net benefit (although J.D. Drew could make that total five with a strong second half in Boston). Interestingly, all four of the positive value contracts were given to pitchers, including Gil Meche, whose deal was widely regarded as one of the most absurd. It should be noted, however, that if Meche had decided to remain active while rehabbing from an injury, the contract would have ended up yielding a deficit.
To date, the Matsuzaka commitment stands out as the biggest net loser, but if the pro-rated totals stay true to form, the Barry Zito contract will eventually claim that mantle. Meanwhile, the Igawa pact currently ranks as the fourth worst deal from that winter. Adding insult to injury, Igawa also joined Gary Matthews Jr. and Adam Eaton as the only three free agents from the list to provide negative value on the field.
The 2006 offseason was one of the most spendthrift in recent memory. Its four contract commitments of over $100 million (including posting fees, but not including players resigning with existing team before filing for free agency) remain the most ever, while the number of deals averaging over $10 million also established a record. Although the amount of free agent dollars decreased in subsequent years, thanks in large part to the global recession, this past off season seemed to indicate a return of happy days for free agents. Over the winter, not only were three $100 million deals given out (not including extensions given to Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun and Adrian Gonzalez), but the recent free agent class also featured 15 deals averaging over $10 million, only one fewer than in 2006.
Note: 2006 includes Matsuzaka posting fee.
With a return to normalcy in spending, have baseball general managers learned from their past mistakes? And, how will deals like the ones given to Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth stack up against the red ink-stained contracts handed out during the 2006 spending spree? Only time will tell, so be sure to check back in five years.