COMMENTARY | When it comes to signing free agents, the results have been a mixed bag over the years for the Cleveland Indians.
Free agency was born in the 1970s when Indians were a lousy team, playing in a lousy stadium, and it remained that way for another 20 years. Even when those conditions changed, it was not always easy to lure big-name free agents to small-market Cleveland. While there are some success stories like Orel Hershiser and Juan Gonzalez, there are also plenty of disappointments.
Here are the top five in Cleveland Indians history:
5. Brett Myers
It's probably too soon to put Brett Myers on this list but at this point, the results certainly do not justify the investment. The right-handed pitcher was signed in January 2013 to a one-year, $7 million contract to assume a spot in the starting rotation. Myers made three starts and one long relief appearance, posting a record of 0-3 with an ERA of 8.02 before going on the disabled list with elbow problems on April 20. Nearly a month later, he is on a rehab assignment and the Indians' starting staff has come together in his absence, leaving his future in the Tribe's plans in doubt.
4. Jack McDowell
After losing the 1995 World Series, the Indians were looking to bolster their starting rotation (a common theme in the team's history). That December they signed former Chicago White Sox ace and Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell to a two-year, $9.6 million contract. McDowell had a decent year in 1996, going 13-9 in 30 starts, but his 5.11 ERA and 192.0 IP were not quite what the club had hoped for.
The 1997 season was much worse, with "Black Jack" going 3-3 with a 5.09 ERA in 8 games before having season-ending elbow surgery in May.
3. Steve Carlton
1986 was the 22nd season in the major leagues for Steve Carlton and with his best days behind him, "Lefty" had been let go by the Phillies, Giants and White Sox by the end of the year. Carlton signed with the Indians after spring training in 1987 for undisclosed terms, joining a staff with fellow 300-game winner Phil Niekro and lots of young arms. The season was a disaster for the Indians and not much better for Carlton, who made 14 starts and went 5-9 with a 5.37 ERA over 23 appearances. He was traded to the Minnesota Twins in July.
2. Keith HernandezAlthough his durability and production were noticeably declining over his last two years with the New York Mets, the Indians signed Keith Hernandez to a two-year, $3.5 million contract in December 1989. Hernandez proceeded to play only 43 games in 1990, batting .200 with 1 HR and 8 RBIs, and spending much of the season on the disabled list with leg and back problems. The back issue lingered, and Hernandez retired without playing a game in 1991.
1. Wayne Garland
Wayne Garland is the original "free agent bust." After the 1976 season, with free agency in its infancy, the Indians signed the four-year veteran pitcher with 33 career starts to a 10-year, $2.3 million contract. Garland felt the pressure to perform and tried to pitch through arm soreness in 1977. He put up workman-like numbers for the fifth-place Indians (13-19, 3.60 ERA, 282.2 IP, 21 CG), all the while laboring with what turned out to be a torn rotator cuff.
Garland had surgery the following May and missed the rest of 1978. He struggled through three more injury-plagued years before retiring after the 1981 season.
Matthew Frame is a lifelong resident of northeast Ohio, freelance writer, and baseball enthusiast. He has been a follower of the Cleveland Indians since his childhood in the 1970s.
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