Thursday, April 4, 2013

Big Spending Teams Who Flopped


There was a lot made this past offseason over the moves made by the two Los Angeles clubs, the Dodgers and Angels. The Blue Jays also made a big splash with their moves. While these three teams acquired some talented(but expensive) players, there is no guarantee how it will work out. There has been occasions in the past when making offseason headlines paid off the following October. The 1997 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox, and the 2009 Yankees are the best examples of that. More often that not, it doesn't work out as intended. Sometimes, a player will fall off after signing a big deal, or bad chemistry will effect these teams. This post will discuss teams who spent big and crashed.

1988 New York Yankees

The 1980's Yankees had a lot of stars and even had the best winning percentage of that decade, but only had 2 postseason appearances the whole decade. They occured in 1980 and 1981. George Steinbrenner collected stars like baseball cards, and there were several disastrous free agent signings and trades during this decade. The Yankees traded away future All Stars like Willie McGee, Fred McGriff, Doug Drabek, Jay Buhner, Al Leiter, and Bob Tewksbury for relatively nothing during the 80's. One trade that did work out was for Rickey Henderson. However, the Yankees would never make the playoffs with the all time leading base stealer.

It's not like it was Henderson's fault, he put up several All Star campaigns, and the Yankees won over 90 games in 1985 and 1986, and 89 in 1987. In the 87-88 offseason, the Yankees hired Billy Martin as manager for the fifth time, signed slugger Jack Clark, traded for pitcher Richard Dotson, and later traded Buhner for aging Ken Phelps. Martin only made it half a season before being replaced by Lou Piniella(who Martin replaced the previous offseason). The Yankees finished in fifth, and went into a four year period of darkness. This would be Dave Winfield's last season in the Bronx as well. Steinbrenner would later get into trouble trying to dig up dirt on Winfield.

1991 Chicago Cubs

In 1989, the Cubs finished with the best record in the National League and won the NL East. They then lost to the Giants in 5 games in the NLCS. They were 16 games worse in 1990, so the front office decided to make some moves. They still had a core of Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, Greg Maddux, and Andre Dawson. The Cubs decided to spend big, signing free agent outfielder George Bell, closer Dave Smith, and left handed starter Danny Jackson. So what happened? Smith was terrible in Chicago and posted a 6.00 ERA in 91 and soon was out of the league. Jackson also flopped and was traded to the Pirates in mid-92. Bell made the NL All Star team in 91, but was traded the next offseason for Sammy Sosa. Needless to say, the 91 Cubs were expected to contend for the playoffs with their new additions, but won the same amount of games as the previous season.

1992 New York Mets

From 1984 to 1990, the Mets were the class of the National League, winning over 90 games every season but 1989. They won over 100 games in 1986 and 1988, the only years they made the playoffs that stretch. In 1991, they fell off and only won 77 games. They lost franchise player Darryl Strawberry after 1990 and replaced him with speedster Vince Coleman. The Mets still had some stars, but it was not the juggernaut who won the 1986 World Series anymore. Only Howard Johnson, Kevin Elster, Doc Gooden, and Sid Fernandez remained from that team. So, the Mets decided to bolster their club by signing Bobby Bonilla to a then record 5 year, $25 million deal, and trading for 2 time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen. They also signed free agents Eddie Murray and Willie Randoph.

So what happened to this team? Bonilla and Saberhagen had down years their first seasons in New York. Johnson was moved from third base to center field, and he didn't bring his bat with him. After leading the NL with 38 homers in 91, Johnson slumped and had a terrible season offensively. The team had a strong pitching staff on paper, but closer John Franco was hurt midseason, and David Cone was traded late in the year. The team's defense was also horrible with players playing out of position and some past their prime. After being predicted to win the NL East, the Mets finished 5th. The following year, they lost 103 games. New York sportswriters dubbed this team the "Worst Team Money Could Buy."

1997 Chicago White Sox

The Sox made big headlines in late 1996, signing free agent OF Albert Belle from the division rival Indians. Belle signed one of the first contracts to pay over $10 million a season. With Belle teaming with Frank Thomas, this was supposed to be one of the best offenses in the league. Belle and Thomas both put up big numbers. However, due to injuries, aging players, and underperformance, the Sox finished 9th in the AL in runs scored. Chicago also signed past their prime pitchers Jaime Navarro, Doug Drabek, and Danny Darwin for the 97 campaign, and they were all bad. About the same time Robin Ventura got healthy, the Sox traded away pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, and Darwin to the Giants for a package of six prospects headlined by Keith Foulke. Many people dubbed it the "White Flag Trade". Despite some struggles, the Sox were within 3 games of first at the time of the trade, but were never able to get any closer after the trade. Belle later opted out of his deal after his second season in the South Side.

1999 Los Angeles Dodgers

Big changes for the Dodgers actually started during the 1998 season. Rupert Murdoch bought the team from the longtime ownership of the O'Malley family. Star catcher Mike Piazza was traded away in May after contract negotiations broke down. The Dodgers did get a package of five players including Gary Sheffield in the trade. The Dodgers also acquired Jeff Shaw and Mark Grudzielanek during the season, trading away top prospects like Paul Konerko and Ted Lilly. The Dodgers also had two different managers during the 98 season.

For the 1999 season, the Dodgers made even bigger moves. They hired Davey Johnson to be their new manager. They signed Kevin Brown to the first $100 million contract, despite the fact that Brown was 34. They felt that Brown was a better investment than Randy Johnson, who was thought to have a bad back. Todd Hundley and Devon White were also added. This team had a lot of big name stars, but perhaps a clash of egos and personalities did not work out. The Dodgers finished a distant third in 99, as the Diamondbacks won the division with Johnson.

2001-02 Texas Rangers

During the 2000-01 offseason, many big deals were signed. Manny Ramirez signed with the Red Sox, Mike Mussina with the Yankees, and the Rockies signed the Denny Neagle/Mike Hampton lefty combo(that was a big flop as well). The biggest move of all was the Rangers signing shorstop Alex Rodriguez to a 10 year, $250 million deal. Later, owner Tom Hicks would have to go through bankruptcy in part of this deal. The Rangers also added aging players like Andres Gallaraga, Randy Velarde, Ken Caminiti, and Ruben Sierra. The 2001 team was third in the AL in runs scored, led by A-Rod, Ivan Rodriguez, and Rafeal Palmeiro. However, their pitching was atrocious, finishing dead last in team ERA at 5.71. The Rangers only won 73 games and finished in last place. For the 2002 season, they doubled down on big spending, signing Chan Ho Park and Juan Gonzalez. Both players flopped as the Rangers again finished in last in 2002.

2008 Detroit Tigers

The Tigers faded down the stretch in 2007, missing out on the playoffs after making the World Series the previous season. GM Dave Dombrowski decided to bring in some players from his Marlins days. He traded for Gary Sheffield the year before, but he didn't make the desired impact. Dombrowski dealt away pitching prospect Jair Jurrjens to the Braves for Edgar Renteria. Then, he traded away 6 prospects headlined by Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Carlos Guillen moved to first base, then later third base to accomodate Renteria. Their was predictions of a 1,000 run season and talk of a World Series run coming into the 2008 season.

However, the Tigers ended up having a terrible season, winning only 74 games. What was the problem? It certainly was not Cabrera, who put up a monster year, leading the AL in home runs. Renteria wasn't the same player in Detroit as he was in the past. The team's defense was shaky. Jim Leyland referred to it a as a "horseshit defense." The pitching was also bad in 2008, finishing 12th in the AL in ERA. Justin Verlander had his worst season, finishing 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA. Verlander has obviously rebounded from that, but the other pitchers did not. Willis was a complete disaster in Detroit and is no longer in the majors. Jeremy Bonderman was hurt and never the same. The Tigers were also relying on aging pitchers Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones, who slumped and retired at season's end. Unlike many of these other teams, the Cabrera trade worked out great long term. However, pitching and defense sunk the Tigers in 2008.

2011-12  Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox missed the postseason in 2010, and watched division rivals New York and Tampa Bay both make it. They decided to take action in the offseason to correct that. They traded for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and signed free agent outfielder Carl Crawford. They figured they weakened the Rays by signing away Crawford, a power and speed threat. Kevin Youkilis was moved to third to make room for A-Gone. With Youk, Big Papi, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury to go along with these new additions, big things were expected in Beantown.

The Red Sox had the division lead going into September. They soon lost that, but retained the wild card lead. In the season's last day, Boston choked away the playoffs, and the Rays took it. Manager Terry Francona was soon fired, and GM Theo Epstein left for the Cubs job. Then, there was a supposed chicken and beer scandal involving pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz. Boston went with Bobby Valentine to try to bring order in the clubhouse. Instead, Valentine ended up alienating his players and was dismissed after one last place season. Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett were traded to the Dodgers in August, marking a end of the Crawford/Gonzalez era.

2012 Miami Marlins

The Marlins opened up a gaudy new park in 2012, mostly financed by Miami and Florida taxpayers. Owner Jeffrey Loria insisted that a new ballpark was essential for the Marlins to compete and spend money on players. The Marlins had a young core of Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and Josh Johnson already. They then added Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Carlos Zambrano to the mix, along with new manager Ozzie Guillen. Guillen stirred up controversy from the start, and the Marlins got off to a poor start. Midway through the season, the front office decided to trade away Ramirez, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, Randy Choate, and Edward Mujica. Then in the offseason, they traded away Bell, Buehrle, Reyes, and John Buck, and let go of Zambrano and manager Guillen. Loria claimed these moves were baseball related and had nothing to do with their salaries. Needless to say, the Marlins have one of the lowest payrolls in the league this year. It's unclear if last year's group of players would of been a winner, but they weren't given much of a chance either.

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