Arizona have made their share of mistakes in the free-agent and associated markets over the years. We were debating exactly where the Madison Bumgarner signing ranked on that list of desert follies, and I decided to dig through history and see where exactly Mad Bum might rank. To come up with an objective measure, I looked purely at the cost of the contract and the production over its length. I didn’t care whether the player was here or dealt elsewhere, or any value returned in trade. Contract costs were adjusted from the time of signing into 2022 baseball dollars, largely using this information on average salary. That figure was then discounted by $8 million for every bWAR the player produced, to get a final negative value.
The next time there’s a free day, we’ll begin looking at the top ten in chronological order. [Edit: it’s now twelve, and I’ll be doing them in ascending order of awfulness] For now though, here are some which were considered, yet were not quite terrible enough to make it in, for one reason or another.
Travis Lee, October 1996, $10 million/four years
The first big splash made by Jerry Colangelo took place almost 18 months before the team took the field. Lee was the first free agent signed by Arizona: he’d been picked 2nd overall by the Twins in June, but they failed to send in the necessary paperwork, and Lee (along with another future D-back, John Patterson) pounced to test the market. He got a big-league deal from Arizona, and hit the team’s first home-run on Opening Day 1998, on his way to third-place in Rookie of the Year voting. It was all downhill from there. He was below replacement level over the rest of his deal, spending the final year and a half of it in Philadelphia, after becoming a small part of the trade which brought Curt Schilling to the desert.
Luis Gonzalez extension, March 2003, $30 million/three years
Gonzo was already under contract for 2003, the final year of a very team-friendly contract that had seen him be worth almost 25 bWAR while earning only $18.55 million. Perhaps pledging $30m for the player’s age 36-38 seasons was the Diamondbacks’ way of making up for that. It wasn’t a complete disaster, with a 109 OPS+ overall, and still a decent 99 in the final year of the contract. He was even named the team’s All-Star rep in 2005. However, Luis was a defensive liability, with an arm often compared to a noodle, and the team decided not to exercise their part of an option for 2007. Gonzalez played on for two more seasons in LA and Miami. Better to remember the glory years - not least that bloop to left.
Cody Ross, December 2012, $26 million/three years
This perhaps marked the start of the D-backs’ Curse of the Veteran Outfielder, which still seems to persist to this day. Ross was already aged 32 by the time he made his first appearance for Arizona, and the aging curve was more of a cliff, due to Ross’s health. It all went pear-shaped on August 11th, 2013. He’d been worth a decent 2.3 bWAR in 94 games, but then became the only recorded player in MLB history to break his hip running the bases. Surgery required the entire hip socket to be reconstructed, inserting a plate and 13 screws. That he was able to play again in the majors is impressive. That he sucked, being worth -1.2 bWAR in 92 games thereafter, is likely unsurprising.
Bronson Arroyo, February 2014, $23.5 million/two years
The D-backs were looking for a veteran starter, and Arroyo seemed an ideal workhouse. Over the previous nine season, he had never started fewer than 32 games, and from 2006-2013, nobody made more starts in the majors than Bronson’s 265. Naturally, that all fell apart when he signed for the D-backs. He injured his back in spring training, and did not seem to recover, with his velocity - never the highest - sinking into the low eighties. Arroyo hit the DL for the first time of his career in mid-June with elbow tendinitis, finishing his time with Arizona at just 86 IP. He ended up being packaged with first-round pick Touki Toussaint in a salary dump on Atlanta. Had Toussaint not turned out to be an equal bust, I’d be even more peeved.
Yoan Lopez, January 2015, $8.27 million
First off, you can more or less double the then record amount for an amateur player paid to Lopez. In the 2014-15 signing window, the team had a total bonus pool of just $2.3 million for all signings, and obviously, Lopez blew them past that. First, they had to pay a 100% surcharge on the overage to MLB. Adding to the cost, Arizona were also prohibited from signing any meaningful amateur (over $300,000) for the two years that followed. It might have been worthwhile had Lopez lived up to the hype. But he threw only 112.2 IP for the D-backs and was worth just 0.3 bWAR, before being dumped on the Braves for outfield prospect Deivi Estrada. Lopez has since been DFA’d by the Braves, Phillies and Marlins.
Nick Ahmed extension, February 2020, $32.5 million/four years
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, when Ahmed was coming off back-to-back Gold Gloves and four bWAR seasons. But the results since have been thoroughly underwhelming, and heading south quickly. The first year was okay, Ahmed putting up 1.6 bWAR in a shortened 60-game season. on par with his rate in 2018-19. But he has been fit to appear in less than half the team’s games since, managing only 146 appearances over the last two years, with an OPS+ of 70. He was below replacement level thus year, though was only seen seventeen times. The final year, with Ahmed being paid $10.375 million, could potentially push the total value close to 0 bWAR, depending when/if the team decides to cut bait.
And if you think any of the above are bad, just remember - they weren’t terrible enough to crack the top ten...