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The Diamondbacks’ Worst Contracts: #10, Tony Womack

Sternly-worded comment from ‘Hacks, incoming in 3...2...1...

Tony Womack #5
  • Date signed: December 1999
  • Length: four years (2000-2003)
  • Cost at time: $17 million
  • Adjusted 2022 cost: $46.57 million
  • Production: 0.3 bWAR
  • Negative value: $44.17 million

How the player got there

Womack had come to Arizona in February 1999. Until that point, he had spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team who selected him in the seventh round of the 1991 draft. Tony was an All-Star in his rookie campaign of 1997, batting .278 and stealing a league-leading sixty bases. He put up similar numbers the next year (.282 and again led the league, with 58 SB). The D-backs had long coveted Womack, and various deals were worked on that would bring him to Arizona, such as one involving Womack and outfielder Al Martin for cash and the Diamondbacks’ Bernard Gilkey Jr. (the player probably best known for being on the team’s payroll for 17 years after his final game for Arizona).

In February 1999, the trade was finally consummated, the D-backs getting Womack for Australian prospect Paul Weichard and a PTBNL, who ended up being pitcher Jason Boyd. If you’ve never heard of either player, that’s fine. Weichard never reached the majors, and Boyd was worth -1.4 bWAR. Arizona GM Joe Garagiola Jr. was positively giddy, saying ”The addition of Tony Womack shifts us into a different gear. The speed he possesses brings another dimension to our club and makes for a much more balanced offensive attack.” However, with Jay Bell already at second, Womack was moved to right field: “It’s going to be tough trying to learn a new position and coming to a new team at the same time.”

But it seemed to work out. Tony hit .277 in 1999, and went even better on the bases, leading the entire majors with a remarkable 72 stolen-bases. Only one player has surpassed 70 since (Jose Reyes had 78 for the 2007 Mets). Womack would have been eligible for arbitration that winter, but the D-backs opted to buy out all three arbitration years, as well as one of free agency. Along with the deal came a move back to the infield, manager Buck Showalter saying, “He makes us a better club. We feel he can play shortstop for us and we won 100 games last year with him as part of the mix.” This opened an outfield spot for Travis Lee, with Erubiel Durazo emerging as a potential every-day first baseman.

What went wrong

This is likely going to be contentious. There’s no doubt that Tony Womack is responsible for some of the greatest moments in franchise history. Who can forget, for instance, his Father’s Day grand-slam? And, of course, his double off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of 2001’s Game 7 tied the game. But seen through a broader lens, there’s only one possible conclusion: all told, Womack was one of the worst hitters ever to pull on a D-backs jersey. Sure, he hit .269 in his time here. But it was a startlingly empty .269. Over the 527 games covered by the contract. he drew only 108 walks and hit 17 home-runs for a triple-slash of .262/.303/.353. That’s a .656 OPS in an offense-heavy era, for an OPS+ of just 64.

Never mind the D-backs (where he has the lowest career OPS+ of any hitter with 1,000+ PA), it made him among the least effective major-league hitters in that time-span. There were 124 batters to have 2,000+ PA from 2000-03. Womack ranks 123rd, ahead only of Neifi Perez (63 OPS+). Nobody else is below 70. Now, it’s true he’s a shortstop, not the most offensive minded of positions. However, he wasn’t that good a fielder either. In 2001, for example, his fielding percentage of .955 was the lowest among the 24 MLB players with 750+ innings at short. Total Zone’s Fielding Runs Above Average also rated Tony in the negative, three out of the four contract seasons.

What about base-running? All those steals must have been worth something, surely. Yes, though probably not as much as you’d expect. It didn’t help Tony never reached the same heights he had in 1999. Over the following four years, he averaged short of 29 SB a season, and all told Fangraphs values his skills on the bases as worth only 4.15 runs per year, so less than half a win. Still, through 2002 he had been worth 2.1 bWAR, and if he had simply retired at that point, would not have made this list. But in 2003, as he bounced between the D-backs, Rockies and Cubs, the 33-year-old Womack was one of the worst players in the majors at -1.8 bWAR, with a 40 OPS+. That turned this contract’s value from bad to terrible.

Biggest lesson to be learned

There’s more to evaluating players than batting average and steals. Maybe leaving him as an outfielder might have been for the best, too.