The Worst Free Agent Signing of the Year?

ESPN's Jayson Stark takes a wild pot-shot at the contract given to new Cards shortstop David Eckstein.

In his Saturday column, ESPN's senior baseball writer Jayson Stark provides generally-entertaining lists on such topics as:

Most Improved Teams
Most Unimproved Teams
Least Recognizable Teams
Checkbook Champs
Most Outrageous Contracts
Best Trades
Best Free-Agent Signings
…and many more…

But, Stark's ship obviously ran aground by the time he got to the category of "Worst Free-Agent Signings". Here is what Stark said as he called the three-year, $10.25 million contract signed by David Eckstein the worst of the year.

"There may be no more lovable player in America than Eckstein. And we know St. Louis will embrace him in a Rex Hudler-esque kind of way. But how Eckstein ever got a three-year contract from the NL champs, after getting nontendered by the Angels, is the head-scratching move of the winter."

link to Stark story

Now, only Stark is apparently capable of articulating the difference between a "Most Outrageous Contracts" list that included two free agent signings admittedly far worse than Eckstein's deal and "Worst Free-Agent signings". I can only imagine he ran out of new material and didn't want to repeat names.

Knowing Mr. Stark as I do, I approached him with a number of questions about his obvious indiscretion. He has his right to be wrong and clearly exercised it in this case.

Here is my summary of his reply to my note.

Stark's point was that the Angels would have had Eckstein on a non-guaranteed one-year contract and also could have traded him to a team knowing it had the same contractual situation. So his question is why a team as good as the Cardinals would guarantee him three years, at escalating money.

Fine, the third year was bad. I have said all along that I did not like the third year at $4.5 million given to Eckstein. But, the market in two or three years may be very different from today.

I also felt that Walt Jocketty seemed to be in scramble mode once Edgar Renteria was lost. Decent shortstops were pretty much gone from the free-agent market at that point and engineering another trade for Eckstein or anyone else was surely a crap shoot at that point of the off-season.

Given that, Walt played the hand he was dealt.

Eckstein is a Cardinal now and I'm long past his contract being an issue. He can earn it and more if he plays like he is capable of doing. Let's give him a chance on the field.

Personally, I agree with those who point that there are plenty of other deals made by other teams that will prove to be far more crippling than the Cardinals' signing of Eckstein.

Take for example, the Magglio Ordonez deal in Detroit (five years, $75 million). This stinker made the "Outrageous" list, but not the "Worst" list. Go figure.

I guess Stark wants to be controversial. As evidenced here, that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with being right.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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