This past off-season saw its free agent class make quite a splash. Not only did a storied franchise lose a legendary player in stunning fashion, the resulting contract from that departure wasn’t even the only $200 million deal given out. I’m of course referring to Albert Pujols (10 years/$254 million) and Prince Fielder (9 years/$214 million) there, but they weren’t the only big names to cash in. The Marlins needed $106 million to land Jose Reyes, for instance, and then promptly spent another $58 million to bring in Mark Buehrle. The Angles, not satisfied with winning the Pujols sweepstakes, also decided to throw in an extra $77 million at C.J. Wilson, effectively poaching him from their divisional rival. The Phillies got in on the action as well, keeping a declining Jimmy Rollins in town with $38 million as well as gambling $50 million on adding intimidation and presence (Jonathan Papelbon) to their bullpen.
While it’s way too early to evaluate those major signings, we’re starting to get a better idea of how some of the short-term deals of the 2011 off-season are panning out. It’s still early, of course, but it’s always exciting to pick arbitrary points in the middle of the season and question past decisions, especially now that we’re armed with the benefit of future results to bolster the inner critic in us. For the sake of fairness, I will resist the temptation to bring up any deals that run longer than one year. I know that eliminates a lot of exciting players that are just begging to be analyzed, but I’m going to give them a pass until their contract’s end approaches.
We already know that one-year deals are generally considered to be a pretty sound move financially. It means little risk for the team handing out the money, and it works well for the player too, as a good season puts them right back on the free agent market with new leverage. Even low risk transactions have varying degrees of success, however, so it’s time to take a look and see how these baby contracts are playing out so far in 2012.
Edwin Jackson (Nationals, $11 million)
Jackson was a Type B free agent, so he didn’t cost the Nats anything in the draft that recently took place. He’s hardly a star (career FIP of 4.27), but at 28 years of age, Washington got a solid pitcher at the absolute peak of his abilities with virtually zero risk included. Jackson is relatively durable and consistent, and even if he is over-performing at the moment, his 1.4 WAR total in 2012 indicates he’s well on his way to making this a big win. Jackson’s solid peripherals (7.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.02 WHIP) are all well ahead of his career averages, but it’s not at all impossible he’s ready to take another step in his career. He’s always had the ability, and this being the prime of his career, it would make sense for him to show some improvement. If he regresses to his old self, however, it’s still hard to see this deal not working out for the Nationals, and they’ll get the first crack at signing him to a long-term deal if his gains are sustainable.
Carlos Pena (Rays, $7.25 million)
Coming off a previous one-year deal with the Cubs, Pena elected to return to Tampa Bay on yet another one-year deal. While he was solid enough for the Cubs (.819 OPS, 2.3 WAR), his return to the AL has not gone well so far. Apart from hitting .282 in 2007, Pena has never finished a season in which he compiled at least 500 plate appearances with an average higher than .248; his contact hitting skills are non-existent. Despite his penchant for working walks and hitting for power (14.0% BB rate, .244 ISO for his career), Pena offers limited upside at the plate since he’s always being weighed down by an abysmal batting average. His 2012 BABIP is a little lower than normal, but not by enough to justify the fact he’s hitting .198. One-year deals carry very little risk, obviously, but Pena isn’t on pace to earn this contract as of now.
Luke Scott (Rays, $6 million)
Scott had just concluded a season in which he posted a .220/.301/.402 triple-slash line with Baltimore, and the early results of 2012 with his new team are almost identical. He’s just two years removed from slugging .535, however, so you can see what the Rays might have thought they were getting with this deal. Instead, they paid $6 million for someone who’s played at replacement level so far. The major problem seems to be that Scott is no longer hitting lefties at all (.510 OPS in 2012); he was passable against them earlier in his career. He could still be a useful platoon bat, but this was probably an overpay for a guy who’s only useful in limited doses.
Paul Maholm (Cubs, $4.75 million)
Possessing typical boring lefty stuff, Maholm is hardly worth mentioning; this was about the most yawn-inducing contract of the entire off-season, in fact. Admittedly, he did post 2.1 WAR a season ago with the Pirates, and the Cubs were looking to give their rotation some depth, so it’s hard to find fault here. It’s just that Maholm isn’t a very good pitcher and no one really cares about him. Having been worth -0.3 WAR so far this season, he may wind up achieving the nearly impossible: making a team regret a one-year deal.
Erik Bedard (Pirates, $4.25 million)
The Pirates are getting about exactly what they hoped for in Bedard thus far; his numbers are all in line with his career averages, and he’s staying healthy. He’s been a little wild, perhaps, but the K’s are starting to pile up and in the incredibly rare event he makes all his scheduled starts this season, this will wind up being a pretty nice move by Pittsburgh. It’s still a puzzling decision, however; why sign random injury-risk veterans to short-term deals when your team has too many holes at present to even bother trying to fill with the patchwork approach?