Share “Free-agent roulette”

By Berry Tramel, Staff Writer, btramel@opubco.com Published: January 27, 2010
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lan Ryan, 1980, 4-year, $4.5M: Baseball’s first million-dollar man proved to be worth it in Houston. He revitalized a franchise and went 52-36 in those first four years with the Astros, with an ERA of 2.91. A decade later, Ryan would do the same for the Rangers.

→4. Roger Clemens, 1997, 4-year, $40M: The Blue Jays signed Clemens away from Boston, and in two years with Toronto before a trade to the Yanks, Clemens won two Cy Young Awards and went 21-7 and 20-6, with a combined 2.33 ERA. Hard to argue with that kind of pitching.

→3. Randy Johnson, 1999, 4-year, $53M: Those first four years in Arizona, at the height of the steroid era, Johnson went 81-27, with no ERA higher than 2.64, struck out 1,417 and won four Cy Youngs. If it’s possible to be worth $13.25 million a year, Johnson was.

→2. Greg Maddux, 1993, 5-year, $28M: The Braves tried to put together the best pitching staff ever, and just might have succeeded. Maddux eventually won 194 games in 11 Atlanta seasons, including a record of 89-33 the five seasons of this contract. He won the Cy Young his first three years with the Braves.

→1. Jack Morris, 1991, 1-year, $3.7M: Few superstars sign one-year deals anymore, but this worked out famously for Morris and the Twins. Morris went 18-12 back with his homestate team and pitched Minnesota to the World Series title, including that epic 1-0, 10-inning victory over Atlanta in Game 7.

Worst value free agent pitchers

→5. Bruce Sutter, 1985, 6-year, $10.125M: Barry Zito might eventually remove Sutter from this list. But Sutter was the Cadillac of relievers after the 1984 season, when he was 31 years old and set a major league saves record with 45. What the Braves didn’t know was that Sutter basically was finished. He pitched three more years, never had an ERA under 4.30 and was gone from baseball after 1988.

→4. Russ Ortiz, 2005, 4-year, $33M: The former Sooner star was a stud with the Giants (67-44) and Braves (36-16), but his career floundered immediately in Arizona — 5-11 his first year, 0-5 his second before a trade to Baltimore. Overall, since signing that contract, Ortiz is 8-28 with a 6.71 ERA.

→3. Denny Neagle, 2001, 5-year, $51M: A great year in Atlanta (20-5 in 1997) made him a star, and three years later the Rockies thought they could solve their ballpark hex. They couldn’t. Neagle went 19-23 with a 5.57 ERA in three Colorado seasons, his personal life spiraled downward and he hasn’t pitched since.

→2. Wayne Garland, 1977, 10-year, $2.3M: Garland went 20-7 with the ’76 Orioles and was a hot item. He went 13-19 his first year in Cleveland and then 15-29 his next four years before retiring.

→1. Chan Ho Park, 2002, 5-year, $65M: People forget Park was really good as a Dodger — 80-54 over six years. But in four Texas seasons, Park went 22-23 with a 5.79 ERA and became the poster child of this beleaguered franchise.