MLB’s best, and worst, free agent contracts of 2015

As free agency officially opens on Tuesday, you can understand if teams are more wary than usual of committing to mega-deals. Of the six players signed for more than $100 million last year, only Johnny Cueto delivered in a fashion making him worth the money.

And Cueto, who went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA for the Giants, signed the least expensive of those nine-figure deals — six years, $130 million.

Meanwhile, the most expensive deals, signed by David Price, Zack Greinke, and Jason Heyward, all left the teams that signed them essentially looking for some sort of refund.

The other players that topped $100 million, Chris Davis and Justin Upton, put up solid power numbers, but their overall production left a lot to be desired for their $161 million and $132.75 million respective pricetags.

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On the other hand, there are always bargains to be found, if teams either get lucky or sometimes prove smarter than everybody else. Players like Mike Napoli and Dexter Fowler proved to be invaluable to World Series teams while on one-year deals, and, of course, at $37.5 million over three years Daniel Murphy was the signing of the year.

This time around the market will be thin on those mega-deals. With no elite starting pitchers available, only sluggers Yoenis Cespedes and Edwin Encarnacion are likely to top the $100 million mark.

What figures to be fascinating, though, will be the bidding for closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen.

Shut-down relievers are more valued than ever after a post-season in which they were used more heavily than ever, and both Chapman and Jansen should set records for contracts given to closers, especially with the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs all in the bidding, and perhaps the Nationals and Giants too.

A look at the top 25 MLB free agents this offseason

No more than 7 images from any single MLB game, workout, activity or event may be used (including online and on apps) while that game, activity or event is in progress.

Daniel Murphy, because of his price and production, was far-and-away the best signing of last winter.

(Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

So let the spending begin. And one thing we know by now: even if history shows that the biggest signings often produce some level of regret, the teams trying to win will always pay for top talent and hope for the best.

All they have to do is look at the new champs: the Cubs may have built a young nucleus via the draft and trades, but they wouldn’t have finally won their World Series without spending big in free agency the last two years on Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey.

Even the offensively-challenge Heyward proved valuable at the end — for his get-it-together pep talk during the Game 7 rain delay, anyway.

In any case, as teams go looking for that missing link to a championship, here’s a reminder of how it worked out last winter: the 10 best and worst free-agent signings.

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1. Daniel Murphy: Nationals, 3 years, 37.5 million — As great a season as Kris Bryant had, I believe Murphy was the NL MVP. He carried the Nationals offensively during a season in which Bryce Harper struggled for months at a time; without Murphy’s stunning season, the Nats may well have been fighting it out to the wire with the Mets for the NL East title.

Obviously the Mets would love a do-over on Murphy. But let’s not give too much credit to the Nationals: remember, they only signed Murphy after Reds’ second baseman Brandon Phillips vetoed a deal, via his no-trade clause, the Nats made for him.

2. Mike Napoli: Indians, 1 year, $7 million — After an off-year with the Red Sox, Napoli, 34, was an afterthought in the free-agent market, signed in early January by the Indians. Yet he responded with 34 home runs and 101 RBI, both career-highs, and became a middle-of-the-lineup thumper the Indians desperately needed in making their run to the World Series.

No more than 7 images from any single MLB game, workout, activity or event may be used (including online and on apps) while that game, activity or event is in progress.

Jason Heyward’s pep talk during the rain delay of Game 7 may justify his gigantic paycheck.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

3. Dexter Fowler: Cubs, 1 year, $13 million — Technically, it only cost the Cubs $8 million this past season for a player who played an essential role as leadoff hitter and center fielder in helping them win the long, long-awaited championship. But the Cubs are on the hook for a $5 million buyout as part of a $9 million mutual option for 2017 that Fowler has rejected.

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Even at $13 million, the Cubs were fortunate that Fowler backed out of a deal with the Orioles to return to Chicago, largely because he wanted to the chance to win such a historic title.

4. J.A. Happ: Blue Jays, 3 years, $36 million — Few teams believed that Happ, a 33-year old journeyman last winter, could take his late-season brilliance in Pittsburgh and make it last in 2016 and beyond. But apparently the lefthander found something that stuck, as Happ went 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA for the Blue Jays, and gave them two solid starts in the post-season as well.

5. Ben Zobrist, Cubs, 4 years, $56 million — This probably won’t turn out to be anything resembling a bargain, as Zobrist will be 36 next season, he has been pushed off second base by Javy Baez. But Zobrist has already made his deal worth it for the Cubs by earning MVP honors in the World Series, hitting .357 and delivering some big hits, including the tie-breaker in the 10th inning of Game 7.

6. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets, 3 years, $75 million — In truth, the Mets got lucky that Cespedes essentially fell in their laps because his market never materialized as expected. That’s almost certainly not going to happen again; he’s the top free agent available in a thin market, after delivering in 2016, and the Mets are going to have to dig into their pockets to keep him.

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The rest of the Best 10:

7. Seung hwan Oh, Cardinals, 1 year, $2.5 million.

8. Ian Desmond, Rangers, 1 year, $8 million.

9. Rich Hill, A’s/Dodgers, 1 year, $6 million.

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10. Asdrubal Cabrera, Mets, 2 years, $18.5 million.


1. Jason Heyward, Cubs, 8 years, $184 million — A lot of scouts are quietly chuckling over Heyward’s awful season (.230, 7 HR, .631 OPS), having scoffed at the notion of paying such huge money for a sabermetrics darling valued most highly for his baserunning and defense.

Theo Epstein has made all the right moves with the Cubs, and he won it all in spite of this signing.

2. David Price, Red Sox, 7 years, $217 million — It’s not that Price had an awful first season in Boston. He went 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA, benefiting greatly at times from his team’s powerful offense, but he failed miserably again in the post-season, as he has repeatedly during his career, lasting only 3-1/3 innings in his loss to the Indians.

For that money the Sox expected him to finally excel in October.

David Price was OK for the Red Sox in the regular season but was a bust, as usual, in the playoffs.

David Price was OK for the Red Sox in the regular season but was a bust, as usual, in the playoffs.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

3. Zack Greinke, 6 years, $206.5 million — You can make a case that both sides made a mistake here. Greinke’s introverted personality is such that he was surely more comfortable being the No. 2 guy to Clayton Kershaw in LA, which may at least partly explain why Greinke’s ERA jumped from 1.66 to 4.37. The Dodgers, meanwhile, desperately needed another top starter in the postseason.

4. Alex Gordon, 4 years, $72 million — This one flew mostly under the radar, in part because Gordon was such an important part of the Royals’ 2015 championship season. But he was pretty awful last season, hitting .220 with a .692 OPS.

5. Jordan Zimmermann, 5 years, $110 million — A month into the season this looked like the best signing of the winter, as Zimermann was 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA. But then injuries cost him time and seemed to compromise his effectiveness and he went 4-7 with an ugodly 6.81 ERA over 14 starts the rest of the way.

The rest of the Worst 10:

6. Wei-Yen Chin, Marlins, 5 years, $80 million.

7. Yovani Gallardo, Orioles, 2 years, $22 million.

8. Joakim Soria, Royals, 3 years, $25 million.

9. Colby Rasmus, Astros, 1 year, $15.7 million.

10. Justin Upton, Tigers, 6 years, $132.75 million.

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