COMMENTARY | The San Francisco Giants have had a string of good luck lately when it comes to free agent signings. They've avoided high profile moves, signed their own free agents, and have found a number of gems that other teams overlooked. Their success on the field over the past few seasons shows that their approach is working, and working well.
But what about when it...well, doesn't work? The Giants have handed out some horrendous contracts over the years that have hampered them both on and off the field, from poor play to sucking up payroll space. In no particular order, here are five of the worst free agent contracts in the team's history:
Armando Benitez (3 years, $21 million): The Giants missed the postseason by a game in 2004 due in large part to not having a reliable closer at the end of their bullpen. Armando Benitez had a lights-out 2004 for the Marlins that saw him lead the league in saves and finish in the top 25 of MVP voting. It was a perfect storm: the Giants saw Benitez as the answer to their bullpen woes and handed him a ridiculous contract. For their money, the Giants got 45 saves over three seasons (or, two less than he had in '04 alone), a myriad of injuries including tearing his hamstring while covering first base, memorably awful performances and blown saves, and a generally sour disposition. The Giants mercifully shipped Benitez back to the Marlins in '07, but not before he left Giants fans with terrible memories to last a lifetime. Truly one of the worst moves of Brian Sabean's career.
Barry Zito (7 years, $126 million): This isn't an indictment of Zito. Over the course of his Giants' career, he's been a model teammate who hasn't shied away from criticism; plus, he's managed to turn his career around and has become an indispensable part of the rotation. That doesn't mean his contract isn't terrible, though. Since signing with the Giants, Zito has been an average to below-average starter while being paid like an ace. He's provided value in terms of innings pitched and staying healthy, but that's not what you're looking for from a $126 million pitcher. The Giants were crazy to give that kind of money to Zito: not only would it be virtually impossible for him to live up to it, but his production in Oakland had been in decline. A massive, massive mistake that's affected the team's payroll since the day it was signed.
Aubrey Huff (2 years, $20 million): Huff was a bargain for the Giants in 2010 on a relatively inexpensive one-year contract. He was motivated to perform and put up one of the best years of his career, anchoring the middle of the Giants' lineup and helping them win the World Series. Then he hit free agency, and the Giants lost their minds. Instead of thanking Huff for a job well done and handing the first base job to Brandon Belt, the Giants gave Huff a two-year contract and crossed their fingers that he'd be able to repeat his success. He didn't: Huff was atrocious in 2011 and was somehow even worse in 2012. He hit 13 home runs over the course of his contract after hitting 26 in '10 alone, he looked lost at the plate, and he didn't keep himself in good shape physically. It's funny in a sad, sad way: Huff's '10 contract would rank as one of the Giants' best free agent signings ever, and his next contract is without a doubt one of their worst. A disaster.
Mark DeRosa (2 years, $12 million): The best you can say about DeRosa's contract is at least it only cost the Giants $12 million. For their money, the Giants got a .235/.313/.279 line with a single home run and 22 RBIs. DeRosa was damaged goods from the get-go, destroying his wrist with an injury that lingered for the entire two years of his contract. He was a well-paid cheerleader for most of his Giants career until he was finally healthy enough to play again in late 2011. He'd lost all ability to drive the ball by that time and was a shell of the hitter the Giants thought they'd get when they signed him. He did leave Giants fans with one memorable moment, though: injuring himself yet again while taking a pitch . DeRosa was a nice guy, a good teammate, and a terrible signing.
Aaron Rowand (5 years, $60 million): The Giants paid big money for Rowand, and for the first two seasons he wasn't all that bad. What was all bad: the Giants gave him five years, not two. Rowand went into a steep decline in 2010 and never righted himself, becoming such an albatross the Giants decided to eat the final year of his contract and released him in late 2011. You know it's bad when a team would rather pay a player close to $12 million to stay away, and Rowand was bad . It didn't help matters that he still saw himself as a starter and wanted more playing time, either. The way Rowand flailed at breaking pitches in the dirt remains the stuff of legend for Giants fans, so at least he left his mark on Giants' history somehow.
Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer who's written about the Giants for the better part of a decade. His work has appeared on numerous sports websites, including Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew. You can follow him on Twitter @gggiants.
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