Time to see which signings have paid off

June 25, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

Three months of the season are nearly completed, plenty of time for the early returns on who were the biggest busts and buys of this offseason.

Some of the best moves of the winter were made via trade. The Washington Nationals got Alfonso Soriano, the Orioles picked up Kris Benson and Corey Patterson, the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Troy Glaus and the Cincinnati Reds got Bronson Arroyo.

But post-trade analysis can be saved for another day. These 20-20 hindsight glasses are focused on the guys who sought out big raises -- the free-agent class of 2005.

The requirements for the list are simple. Only players who changed teams via free agency are eligible. Re-signing your own free agent doesn't count. Also, money does play a factor in both lists. B.J. Ryan has been baseball's best free agent numbers-wise, but that doesn't mean he's the No. 1 best buy.

We'll revisit this in September and see how the list holds up.

Best buys

1. Kenny Rogers, LHP, Detroit Tigers: Isn't it great how this game changes month to month and year to year? At this time last year, one of the hot topics was how Detroit fans would react to Rogers if he made the 2005 All-Star Game after assaulting cameramen in Texas. Now, he'll likely be going to the All-Star Game again as a Detroit Tiger. He signed a two-year, $16 million deal and, so far, has been worth every penny. Not only did he become one of the first pitchers to 10 wins this season, but he also has been heralded by the Tigers' young pitchers as a great tutor. Go figure.

2. Nomar Garciaparra, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers: Another risky move because of Garciaparra's shaky health. He missed the first three weeks of the season with a strained oblique muscle, but has been splendid since, hitting over .350 with 43 RBIs in his first 53 games. Like Rogers, he's also been a welcomed veteran influence on a young Dodgers team. Not bad for $6 million.

3. B.J. Ryan, LHP, Blue Jays: Sure, his five-year, $47 million contract was the largest ever for a closer. And whether this deal was truly worth it won't be known until the end of the decade. But can he really be dropped any further on this list given his other-worldly performance so far? The guy has allowed just two runs in 37 innings over his first 34 games. He didn't give up a run in April or one through the first 22 days of June. He's 21 of 22 in save opportunities and struck out 43 batters in those 37 innings. Wow.

4. Ramon Hernandez, C, Orioles: The other guys on the list have been key to the improvement of their teams. The Orioles aren't exactly soaring with Hernandez behind the plate. But that's not his fault. His defense -- in particular, his accurate arm -- has given the Orioles a weapon they haven't had in years. And his potent bat has been a pleasant surprise. Some questioned the four-year, $27.5 million contract he signed. But they shouldn't. When healthy, he's one of baseball's best backstops.

5. Tom Gordon, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies: Another high-risk, high-reward guy. Gordon was 38 and a setup man when the Phillies signed him to a three-year, $18 million deal to be their closer. There were some snickers, but no one's laughing now. Gordon saved 20 of his first 21 chances and has been dominant in most of his outings.

The busts

1. A.J. Burnett, RHP, Blue Jays: When Burnett entered the free-agent market, the criticism was that he was a sub-.500 pitcher with an injury history. Toronto didn't care. It paid $55 million over five years for Burnett. On Thursday, he made just his third start of the season -- he pitched well, incidentally -- and his first since April. Three months into the season, the $55 million man has yet to win a game for the Blue Jays.

2. Esteban Loaiza, RHP, Oakland Athletics: How does a bad signing get worse? Meet Loaiza, a 34-year-old right-hander who won 12 games in a pitchers' park last year and somehow got a three-year, $21.375 million deal from the conservative A's. He was horrible early, went on the disabled list for more than a month with a back injury and, once he came back, was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence and driving 120 mph -- nearly twice the speed of his fastball these days.

3. Jarrod Washburn, LHP, Seattle Mariners: Sensing a trend? Big money to marginal pitchers apparently isn't a recipe for success. Other names could be substituted: Matt Morris, Paul Byrd, Jeff Weaver, and perhaps eventually, Kevin Millwood. Washburn gets the nod because he signed a long-term deal for huge money per year (four years and $37 million) and has four wins and a near 5.00 ERA to show for it.

4. Bill Mueller, 3B, Dodgers: This one is so unlucky it should be an Orioles move. Mueller signed a two-year, $9.5 million deal, about the going rate for a veteran third baseman. He was batting .252 with three homers when he injured his right knee and had to have surgery for the third time in three seasons. He's likely done for the season and maybe his career.

5. Jason Johnson, RHP, Cleveland Indians/Boston Red Sox: In the ridiculous economics of baseball, Johnson "only" cost $4 million. And it was just a one-year deal. But the Indians need to be financially prudent, and Johnson pitched poorly enough after a fast start that the Indians designated him for assignment and eventually traded him to the Red Sox before June ended.

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