The Hot Stove season is in full swing across all of Major League Baseball. Teams jockeying for position in their respective divisions will look to make the big moves that will push them over the top. There will be a few big signings that work out well, a few under the radar diamonds in the rough, and there will be a few big signings that were just a swing-and-miss. We will focus on the latter, as we will go year-by-year and explore the worst free agent signings since the 2012 season, excluding signings for the 2018 season, as it is still too early to tell.
2012: Prince Fielder signs with Detroit Tigers on a nine-year, $214M contract
Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers in December of 2011. Joining an already-dangerous team lead by star Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers looked poised to bring home a World Series Championship for the first time since 1984. His first season in Detroit was spectacular, hitting 30 bombs while driving in 108. He slashed .313/.412/.528, which was a career-best for him. Fielder disappeared a bit in the postseason, however, hitting just .190 in the ALDS, and an even more abysmal .071 in the World Series as the Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants.
Prince and the Tigers looked to make another run at the Fall Classic in 2013, and the team made the postseason. Prince fell off a bit, as he only hit 25 homers and drove in 106 runs. His slash line read .279/.362/.457. He started off the 2013 postseason well enough. In the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics, he hit .278 as the Tigers advanced to the ALCS for the third consecutive year. However, Fielder plummeted after that, hitting .182 in the ALCS. Detroit lost in six to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
In the 2013 offseason, the Tigers had a need at second base. They had seen the signs of decline in Fielder and decided to make him expendable. The Texas Rangers agreed to acquire Fielder in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler, and just two years after signing a nine-year deal in Detroit, Fielder was the Prince in Texas. He went on to play parts of three more seasons before being forced to retire, due to complications from a neck injury.
2013: Josh Hamilton signs with Los Angeles Angels on a five-year, $125M contract
Josh Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels to a five-year, $125M contract in December of 2012, and the signing garnered a bit of controversy. Torii Hunter, who had left the Angels that off-season to sign with the Detroit Tigers, was reportedly told the Halos didn’t have the money to bring him back. He took to Twitter to say that “it’s nothing personal”, but would have liked if the Angels didn’t lie.
During the 2013 season, the Halos didn’t receive a particularly dominant season from their newest star. Hamilton hit 21 homers while driving in 79 and slashing .250/.307/.432. Los Angeles missed the playoffs. In 2014, the Angels ended up finishing the season as the best team in all of baseball. Hamilton, however, was not exactly a driving force. He hit just 10 home runs, drove in 44, and slashed .263/.331/.414. To add to his disappointing season, Hamilton went hitless in the ALDS against the Kansas City Royals, as his Angels were swept out by the Wild Card team.
During the 2014 off-season, Hamilton relapsed on his drug addiction and voluntarily reported it to the MLB. It was later ruled that he could not be suspended, but Angels owner Arte Moreno publicly stated that he no longer wanted Hamilton on the team. Many Angels players and the MLB Players Association spoke up in defense of Hamilton.
“It doesn’t seem like any bridges are being built — it seems like a fairly contentious situation,” pitcher C.J. Wilson told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s definitely at a level right now. No one is talking to us about it. We’re supposed to stay out of the loop. But it’s fairly obvious what their intentions are.”
The Angels traded Hamilton back to his old team, the Texas Rangers. After another season of struggles, Hamilton has not found his way back to the Majors since October 4th, 2015. Ironically, that game was against the Angels.
2014: Ubaldo Jimenez signs with the Baltimore Orioles on a four-year, $50M contract
The Orioles signed Jimenez in February of 2014 after splitting time with the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians. Jimenez had been one of the better pitchers in the league at the time, being a former All-Star and coming off a solid 13-9 campaign. This was a drastic turnaround from his 2012 campaign in which Jimenez lost 17 games and saw his ERA rise above 5.00. In his first season in Baltimore, Jimenez pitched his way to a 6-9 record with a 4.81 ERA and 116 strikeouts.
His 2015 season was his best in Baltimore. He went 12-10 with a 4.11 ERA and 168 strikeouts. The Orioles made the postseason in his first three years with the team, but he only pitched in the 2016 postseason. His appearance was controversial, as the Orioles were tied with the Toronto Blue Jays 2-2 in the 10th inning. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had one of, if not the best closers in the game in Zach Britton in the bullpen. However, Showalter decided on Jimenez, and he proceeded to give up a three-run walk-off home run to Edwin Encarnacion.
Following an abysmal 2017 campaign in which Jimenez went 6-11 with a gaudy 6.81 ERA, he was not brought back to Camden Yards. He is currently out of Major League Baseball.
2015: Pablo Sandoval signs with Boston Red Sox on a five-year, $95M contract
Pablo Sandoval signed with the Boston Red Sox in December of 2014. His free agency was intriguing, and his value lied predominantly in the postseason. From 2008-2014, Sandoval hit 106 homers, driving in 462 runs and slashing .294/.346/.465. It was his postseason play in 2012 and 2014 that made him a hot commodity in the free agent market. In 2012, Sandoval hit .300 or better in every series, capping it off by hitting .500 in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers en route to winning the World Series MVP. In 2014, he got off to a bit of a slow start hitting .211 in the NLDS. Sandoval rebounded to hit at least .400 or better in the NLCS and World Series, as the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals.
Sandoval played in 126 games in his first year donning Red Sox colors. He slashed an abysmal .245/.292/.366 while hitting 10 homers and 47 RBI. This was his worst year statistically, and the Red Sox failed to make the postseason. Sandoval played just three games in 2016 before needing season-ending shoulder surgery. Sandoval played in just 32 more games as a member of the Red Sox before being released. He re-signed with the Giants, and hasn’t made much noise.
2016: Chris Davis signs with the Baltimore Orioles on a seven-year, $161M contract
Davis technically re-signed with the Orioles, but he is included in this list due to the fact that he re-signed as a free agent. He signed this new deal in January 2016 after a season in which he hit 47 homers while driving in 117 runs. It seemed to be a return to form for the former Silver Slugger, but Davis fell off a bit in 2016. He did hit 38 bombs while driving in 84 runs, but slashed .221/.332/.459 with a career-high 219 strikeouts. He fell even more in 2017, failing to reach 30 homers and slashed .215/.309/.423. The Orioles failed to reach the postseason in 2017.
The 2018 season was by far the worst year of Davis’ career. He finished with a .168 batting average, which is the worst batting average ever recorded by a qualified batter in MLB season. The Orioles sent him home early, and if it wasn’t for that combined with other times he was benched, Davis might have challenged the record for worst single-season WAR in MLB history. It is quite possible this will go down as one of the worst signings in MLB history, not just in recent memory.
2017: Dexter Fowler signs with St. Louis Cardinals on five-year, $82.5M contract
Fowler signed with the Cardinals in December of 2016. He was fresh off a World Series championship with the Chicago Cubs, and the Cardinals hoped his experience on the North Side would translate. In 2017, Fowler hit 18 home runs while driving in 64 and slashed .264/.363/.488. Not the worst season, but also not the best.
2018, however, was a bit of a train wreck. Fowler played in 90 games and finished with an unsightly slash line .180/.278/.298. Adding to this were comments made about Fowler by Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. Mozeliak noted that Fowler was “dogging it” on the field. There was an apology, which was accepted, but the tension remained. As of this writing, the Cardinals are looking to move on.
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