Free Agent Review: The Class of 2004

Like no other professional sport, baseball's open market system garners almost as much attention as the game itself, and since the Mariners were one of the most active teams during free agency last year and will be again this year, takes a look at how the top free agents signings from last season turned out.

Every year as fall takes full effect and the holidays peak their heads out of the frozen tundra, the Major League Baseball Hot Stove League puts fans in a frenzy as the free agency period gets under way. Experts make their forecasts and web bloggers endlessly speculate about who will end up where. But even the best laid plans rarely materialize.

Here's a hint on what we found - It wasn't pretty.

Carlos Beltran: The talented five-tool center fielder was an absolute flop in his first season with the Mets, batting just .268 with 15 homeruns and 78 RBI's. Though many Mariner fans were disappointed the Mariners chose not to target Beltran, his switch-hitting home run power and amazing speed never materialized in New York and the decision not to pursue him seems to have been a good one, based on his performance in the first of a seven-year contract.

Only time will tell if the biggest prize of the 2004 free agent class will ever come anywhere close to justifying his immense $119 million contract, but with the Mets' history of huge free-agents disappointments, no one will be surprised if Beltran slowly fades into A-list oblivion. Two big thumbs down for 2005.

Adrian Beltre: Beltre's difficulties at the plate were no secret as he struggled to adjust to American League pitching. And were it not for Beltran's failure with the Mets, Beltre would likely have been considered the biggest bust. Fortunately for Mariner fans, Beltre seemed to gain confidence at the plate as the season wore on and should rebound somewhat in 2006, though his breakout 2004 season now seems more like an aberration than an indication of things to come for the 26-year-old third baseman. Two thumbs down – so far.

Carlos Delgado: The theories about players being on the wrong side of the 30 years old were turned on there ears this season as Delgado led the pack of dependable aged veterans who had quality seasons. The 32-year-old anchored the Marlins lineup, bashing 33 homeruns while hovering at or above .300 all year. Were it not for Richie Sexson's amazing return, Mariner fans may have missed out on a golden opportunity. Two thumbs up for Florida's foresight.

Pedro Martinez: With the playoff race winding down to the last few games of the season, the Red Sox must be kicking themselves after letting the disgruntled Cy Young winner walk in favor of keeping the aged, injured Curt Schilling. Pedro was his old dependable self in 2005, finishing near the top of most National League pitching categories and anchoring the Mets otherwise underachieving pitching staff. At least he isn't a Yankee. Two thumbs up.

Carl Pavano: Remember PavanoPalooza? Wasn't that the big concert tour that got canceled do to lack of a notable talent playing in it? No, that was the big hubbub surrounding the top pitching free agent not named Pedro and his tour of prospective cities he might lend his services to at the right price. A 4-6 2005 campaign, and barely 100 innings pitched, is apparently all $40 million will buy you these days. The Yankees spent over $100 million on pitching help and Pavano might not even be the biggest flop. Two thumbs down.

Richie Sexson: What else can be said about Richie Sexson? He was undoubtedly as good as advertised and his shoulder injury seems to be a thing of the past. If Beltre was a disappointment, Sexson's season was an total, but pleasant surprise to many who feared an injury hangover - even if he was given a clean bill of health. As salaries increase, the Sexson signing may end up a bargain, especially since Sexson's productivity should increase if Bavasi can wheel in a power-hitting lefty to hit between Sexson and Beltre. Two thumbs - way up.

Jaret Wright: Going 5-4 with a 5.97 ERA - for $21 million dollars. It couldn't have happened to a better team, yet the Yankees still managed to make the playoffs with the other $200 million they spent on payroll this year. Bummer.
Two thumbs down.

Eric Milton: The Mariners never really looked at Milton - and thank the baseball gods for that. After signing a 3-year $25.5 million deal, Milton went 8-15 with a 6.47 ERA - the highest ERA in big league history. And you though Meche and Piniero were bad. Two big thumbs - way down.

Edgar Renteria: Another player Mariner fans coveted, Renteria never really recovered from a slow start, ending the season with a .278 batting average and eight home runs. A fair season for an average shortstop, but not for one being paid $10 million a year. Two thumbs down.

Magglio Ordonez: The Mariners never really wanted him, but it is worth pointing out that signing Ordonez long-term may prove to be one of the dumbest signings in the history of baseball. Granted you have to overpay to get players to play in Detroit anyway, but $75 million guaranteed? Give me a break. I wonder if the Tigers' brass was surprised when he went down just a week into the season with a hernia injury that cost him half a season. Duh. Thumbs down.

Troy Glaus: The Angels seemed to think that Glaus was not worth the money he was demanding and all he did was respond with a 37-home run season with the D-backs. Meanwhile, Glaus's replacement, rookie phenom Dallas McPherson struggled to hit major league pitching during his rookie campaign and ended up the season on the 60-day DL. Despite bad knees, Glaus proved well worth the money. Two thumbs up.

Clearly the only thing all of this proves is that free agency is a total crapshoot – especially for those clubs that like to toss money at anyone with a pulse. Nobody expected guys like Glaus and Sexson to outshine Beltre and Beltran, at least not to that extent, and certainly nobody expected the complete collapse of nearly every single free agent pitcher that inked a contract last winter. Yet you can bet that the 2005 Free Agent class will end up just as unpredictable.

In fact, last years crop of free agent pitchers is proof of how important it is to find pitching from within the organization. Real comforting for Mariners fans whose team may have to replace as many as three starting pitchers via the free agent market.

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