I wrote about this recently on FanGraphs (link), but to take the relevant excerpt out here, take a gander back to the winter of 2006 and these free agent signings:
Danys Baez – 3 years, $19 million. Produced -0.5 WAR.
Miguel Batista – 3 years, $25 million. Produced 1.3 WAR.
Adam Eaton – 3 years, $24.5 million. Produced 0 WAR.
Keith Foulke – 1 year, $5 million. Didn’t throw a pitch.
Orlando Hernandez – 2 years, $12 million. Produced 0.9 WAR.
Kei Igawa – 5 years, $20 million plus $26 million posting fee. Produced -0.2 WAR so far.
Daisuke Matsuzaka – 6 years, $52 million plus $51 million posting fee. Produced 7.7 WAR so far.
Guillermo Mota – 2 years, $5 million. Produced 0.1 WAR.
Mark Mulder – 2 years, $13 million. Produced -0.4 WAR.
Vicente Padilla – 3 years, $34 million. Produced 4.5 WAR.
Jason Schmidt – 3 years, $47 million. Produced 0 WAR.
Scott Schoeneweis – 3 years, $10.8 million. Produced -1.5 WAR.
Justin Speier – 4 years, $18 million. Produced -0.2 WAR, released in 2009.
Jeff Suppan – 4 years, $42 million. Produced 1.6 WAR so far.
Jamie Walker – 3 years, $12 million. Produced -0.6 WAR.
Jeff Weaver – 1 year, $8.5 million. Produced 1 WAR.
Woody Williams – 2 years, $12.5 million. Produced -0.1 WAR.
Barry Zito – 7 years , $126 million, full no trade clause. Produced 5.3 WAR so far.
All values per FanGraphs.com.
And that's just the pitchers! There were some humdingers on the batting side as well (Alfonso Soriano! Vernon Wells' extension!), but that's not the thrust of this post. No, I listed the free agent pitchers to help provide some context on the signing that I did want to review. On December 11th, just days after the disastrous Horacio Ramirez trade, word leaked out that the Mariners were on the verge of this deal:
Miguel Batista - 3 years, $25 million.
This was somewhat of a weird singing in retrospect. Dave Cameron had advocated for signing Miguel Batista back in 2003 when Batista ended up signing a 3 year, $13 million contract with Toronto, which he would go on to vastly outperform, racking up roughly $20 million in production according to FanGraphs.*
I'm going to stick with FanGraph's valuations for the duration of this post because there are some things I want to change with StatCorner's WAR that will render including here moot in a short time.
Three years later however, and Miguel Batista was 36 and now he was signing for $25 million. As both Dave and Jeff would write, at the time of the signing, especially when surrounded by the contracts being given out, this particular deal didn't see overtly horrendous. It did look bad when packaged up with the likes of Jarrod Washburn and Richie Sexson though.
The hopes for Batista was that he would do exactly what he did in 2007, make 30 starts and toss ~190 innings of mid-4 FIP ball. Batista posted a 4.52 FIP in 2007 against an AL league average of 4.52. Being an average starter in the AL for that many innings is quite valuable and if Batista had just declined gracefully from that vantage point, his contract actually would have been borne out to be near a wash.*
At least for the Mariners. Based on the number of batters faced, average number of times a runner was on base, and average pitches per plate appearance, I spent approximately 91 hours of my life over the last three years staring at Miguel Batista hold the ball between pitches just because there was a runner on. Miguel Batista owes me about $3,000 in damages.
Instead, he collapsed completely. Which is kind of why you want to avoid giving three year commitments to 36-year-old pitchers that don't really have good command or stuff to begin with. No matter how you slice it, Batista was below replacement in 2008 and essentially meaningless in 2009 while relegated to mop up duty in the bullpen. In the end the Mariners ended up paying about a 500% premium on wins from Miguel Batista than they could otherwise have done from the free agent market in theory.
On the bright side, THE END!