While watching the Tigers lay a 19-9 drubbing on the Mariners on Tuesday night, I noticed a few concerning things. First, our bullpen is still a hot mess. Secondly, Anibal Sanchez didn't pitch in the blowout, hasn't pitched well at all, and Jordan Zimmerman was garbage again.
I've noticed a troubling trend with our free agent signings over the last few years - I know this isn't a secret, and that I'm not alone. So, I decided to dig deeper, and find all of our major league free agent signings over the last 10 years (I started with just the last few and got carried away) and have detailed them out below.
Please note that this does not include minor league free agent signings (such as J.D. Martinez). I'm not leaving these out so as to not hurt my point, it's just my point is that of high-risk major league free agent signings, since there are many minor league signings per year, and they are of minimal risk, and would be near impossible to track. This also does not include trades, of which I think the Tigers have done a very good job of overall, but again, would be more difficult to track and a completely separate post.
Of this group, only Zimmermann and Upton are still on the roster. Zimmermann looks like garbage still, as he did last year aside from the first month, while Upton is looking pretty strong in the early goings this year. He could opt out at year's end, which if he has a strong season, I'd imagine he would.
2015: $70 million committed to Victor Martinez, Tom Gorzelanny, and Joba Chamberlain (nearly all of which was for Victor). This group received $19 million in 2015 and $18 million in 2016 while totaling -1.3 WAR. In the final calculation, I'm going to assume Martinez is going to be a 2-WAR player over the remainder of his contract to simplify things. I think this is a fair assumption.
2011: $96.75 million to Victor Martinez, Magglio Ordonez, Joaquin Benoit, Jhonny Peralta, and Brad Penny, minus $6.25(IIRC, we got about half of Victor's 2012 salary back from insurance), for a total of $90.5 million. Total WAR: 17.7
2009: $5.25 million to Adam Everett and Brandon Lyon. Total WAR: 2.7
2008: $8 million to Kenny Rogers. Total WAR: 0.1
5-year total: $357.5 million spent on 20.1 WAR.
I feel that 2012 is a fair cut-off point looking at the differences in values put on free agents between 2011 and 2012. So, over the last five seasons the Tigers have been paying an average of $17.5 million per WAR from their free agents. The "going-rate" of one WAR over the last five years, has ranged anywhere between $5-10 million, so let's average to $7.5 million per WAR. The Tigers have been paying over twice that amount.
Again, this doesn't include rookie contracts, trades, or minor league free agent signings, but that's the point. On our big-risk signings, the Tigers have done absolutely terribly. Some of this is just bad luck -- you do the research as a team, sign a guy to a fair market value, and hope he delivers. Sometimes they don't. The more concerning thing to me, is that many of these bad signings were fairly obvious to the general fanbase at the time.
For instance, the contracts given to Pelfrey and Lowe were quite obvious, to me, to be fairly risky in terms of returning value. Pelfrey's production could have been replaced by a player on a minimum contract. Mark Lowe was signed at 32 years old, with poor peripherals after many inconsistent years (albeit a great year in 2015, but again, with questionable peripherals).
I was not a fan of the Zimmermann signing from the start. Once again, his peripherals stats were all trending downward, and he was starting to show signs of age. Looking at the list of free agent starters that year, I'm not sure there were any I would have been comfortable signing for more than $6 million per year. The Mike Aviles signing was just dumb.
Looking back at the next few years, I think we all agree that the Tigers overpaid Victor after his breakout season in 2014. I'll chalk this one, as well as the Fielder signing, to Mr. Ilitch. The Joe Nathan signing was also chastised here at Bless You Boys, as well as by myself. He was a reliever approaching 40 years old with, again, bad peripherals, who was signed to $20 million. Just, no.
I can't be upset at too many of the other signings, as they were short contracts, or for relatively small amounts, or for players in their mid-to-late 20's who could be assumed to keep up their production for nearly all of their contract. In the end, I believe the Tigers' front office would do well avoiding the large contracts for aging and/or inconsistent players. This is an obvious memo to the front office that they apparently have missed over the last decade. It seems like they're becoming more frugal now, which should hopefully make each signing that much more researched.