Before agreeing to sign Milton Bradley as a free agent last offseason, Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry felt it imperative that he sit down face to face with the man who can be as tempestuous as he is talented. Hendry drove from the GM meetings in Dana Point, Calif., to Los Angeles for dinner with Bradley. The discussion centered on the usual subjects, but when it turned to Bradley's combustible behavior in the past that included charging an umpire, trying to go after a broadcaster and angrily confronting a fan, Hendry became equally direct. "I was very blunt and honest with him, and I was very pleased with how honest he was with me," Hendry said back in spring training. "That's all in the past."
Unfortunately for Hendry, Bradley and the still-suffering Cubs fans who will endure another championship-less year, it was still in their future, too. Bradley's disastrous season in Chicago has included an underwhelming statistical performance (.257/.378/.397, 12 home runs, 40 RBIs) and a cringe-worthy series of flare-ups both on-field (smashing his bat, forgetting the number of outs) and off (charging Cubs fans with being racist, a seasonlong battle with the media and public spats with manager Lou Piniella).
Bradley's year came to an end on Sunday when Hendry suspended him for the rest of the season. It's difficult to imagine Bradley will be back with the Cubs next season, but even harder to imagine any team that would want to take a chance on trading for him, especially after he so easily laid claim to being baseball's worst free agent signing from last winter. To be sure, Bradley is not the only big-name, big-money addition who has failed to earn their paycheck this year, just the most attention-getting.
Milton Bradley, Cubs3 years, $30 million
It doesn't seem possible that this marriage could be any worse, which is why it's a very good thing that Bradley's season is over. Hendry may have a difficult time finding a taker for Bradley this winter, but this isn't the first time a general manager has had to find a new home for Bradley after he wore out his welcome with his demeanor. In 2005, Ned Colletti, then the Dodgers new GM, was looking for a new home for Bradley after he had a run-in with a fan during a game. He eventually shipped him to Oakland and got a pretty decent young player in exchange: Andre Ethier.
Oliver Perez, Mets3 years, $36 million
The only thing keeping Perez from the top of this list is the spectacularly disastrous season Bradley is having in Chicago. Perez year has been better off the field, but far worse on it. Perez has made just 14 starts all season, has the highest ERA of his career (6.82), nearly a 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (fifth-worst among all starters in the game) and an astounding 1.92 WHIP. He has only three quality starts all year, matching the fewest of any pitcher in the majors who made at least 14 starts this season.
Pat Burrell, Rays2 years, $16 million
The size of the investment isn't prohibitive, but the return on that investment has been minimal. Burrell was added in the hopes that he would provide an offensive boost as a designated hitter, after the Rays got just 24 home runs and 78 RBIs from that spot a year ago while Burrell was putting together the seventh season of his nine-year career with at least that many homers and his eighth with at least that many RBIs. But he's been injured and ineffective in Tampa Bay, with just 14 home runs and 62 RBIs. He has the lowest slugging percentage of his career and his batting average and on-base percentage are the second-worst. He was also involved in a clubhouse confrontation recently with Carl Crawford, and although manager Joe Maddon dismissed the incident, it was yet another example of Burrell's lost year in Tampa Bay.
Ryan Dempster, Cubs4 years, $52 million
A career year in 2008 that included personal bests in wins, ERA and WHIP earned Dempster a sizable raise from the three-year, $15.5 million deal that expired last year. But so far he hasn't exactly justified that raise, regressing to a 10-8 mark with a 3.72 ERA. In fact, his numbers are down across the board. He's given up more hits, runs and home runs than he did a year ago, with a worse WHIP and fewer strikeouts per nine innings. He hasn't been terrible, but the Cubs were clearly expecting more this year from a pitcher who signed the fourth-highest contract of any free-agent starter last winter. With his salary increasing each of the next three years and with a $14 million player option for 2012, the Cubs can only hope that Dempster will soon resemble the pitcher who earned that large deal in the first place.
Edgar Renteria, Giants2 years, $18.5 million
This isn't the first time Renteria's been a free-agent bust, having previously flamed out in Boston after signing a four-year, $40 million deal with them before the 2005 season. His new deal is much more affordable, but he has once again struggled to produce after signing it. His .250 average, .307 on-base percentage and .328 slugging percentage are the lowest of his career, and he's provided just five home runs and 48 RBIs. His defense has been solid, but the Giants needed an offensive boost. Manager Bruce Bochy spent most of the year penciling Renteria into the No. 2 spot in his lineup, but he has received production more worthy of a No. 8 hitter.
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, Yankees8 years, $180 million
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, Yankees7 years, $161 million
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, Angels1 year, $5 million
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, Phillies3 years, $31.5 million
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, Brewers1 year, $6 million
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.