COMMENTARY | For a franchise like the New York Mets, one that has not had much luck when it comes to signing free agents, deciding who belongs on a list of biggest busts can be challenging.
Understanding that some deserving names will be left off, here are the top five free-agent busts in New York Mets history:
5. Luis Castillo: At one point early on in his career, when he was playing for the Florida Marlins, Luis Castillo was one of the best second basemen in baseball. A top-of-the-order guy with speed, Castillo stole 62 bases and hit .334 in 2000.
The Mets acquired him in 2007 and he did well for them down the stretch, batting .296 and playing a solid second base. Then, the Mets gave him a four-year contract worth $25 million when he became a free agent that offseason. He was never the same player.
For the most part, Castillo was either hurt or ineffective after that. He played in only 87 games in 2008, batting .245, and 86 games in 2010, batting .235. His 2009 season was actually not that bad. He hit .302 and stole 20 bases, but the season will be remembered more for a miscue he made in the field.
Up one run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Yankees, Castillo dropped a routine pop-up hit by Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees won 9-8. In New York, people don't forget plays like that.
The Mets released Castillo right before the start of the 2011 season, paying him the $6 million he was still owed.
4. Oliver Perez: Here's a guy who had plenty of doubters. Omar Minaya, the Mets' general manager at the time, wasn't one of them.
The Mets acquired Perez from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006. He was a reliable pitcher for them in 2007 and 2008, but not good enough to get the three-year, $36 million contract the Mets gave him prior to the 2009 season.
While Perez won 15 games in 2007 and 10 games in 2008, he forgot how to pitch after that. After signing the deal with the Mets, Perez went 3-9 in two seasons.
In 2009 and 2010, he pitched 112 and 1/3 innings and walked 100 batters. His earned run average was close to 7.00 and he didn't win a single game in 2010.
The Mets released him during spring training in 2011, eating $12 million just so they could rid themselves of a big mistake.
3. Johan Santana: Not a complete bust, but not worth anything close to the $137.5 million the Mets will end up paying him. (Santana is out for the year and will be a free agent at the end of this season.)
When the Mets signed Santana prior to the 2008 season, they got one of the best pitchers in baseball. In Santana's first year in New York, he won 16 games and led the National League with a 2.53 ERA. It was downhill from there. His 2009 and 2010 seasons were cut short due to injuries, he missed all of 2011 after shoulder surgery, and last year his season ended in August due to a back injury.
Santana had a second surgery performed on his throwing shoulder this spring. His Mets career is over, though they're still paying him $31 million this season.
Santana went 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA in four seasons with the Mets. He started 30 or more games only once. Though he had a dominating year in 2008 and pitched the first no-hitter in franchise history in 2012, because of the sheer size of his deal, it goes down as one of the Mets' worst free-agent signings.
2. Bobby Bonilla: After the 1990 season, the Mets lost Darryl Strawberry to the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency. When they brought in Bobby Bonilla prior to the 1992 season, he was supposed to fill the void. It never happened.
When the Mets gave Bonilla a five-year, $29 million contract, they had every reason to believe that they were getting a top-flight outfielder. Playing for the Pirates, Bonilla was one of the better hitters in the game, and there were plenty of teams that pursued him when he became a free agent. The Mets ended up making him the highest-paid player in Major League Baseball.
The Mets "won" and over the next three and a half seasons they had a player who fell short of expectations on the field, and was a disappointment off it. It should also be noted, however, that Bonilla was not a complete bust. He actually put up decent numbers, but, fairly or unfairly, just never lived up to the expectations. And, it was the off-the-field incidents that people remember the most.
Bonilla ended up playing on some bad Mets teams, including the 1992 squad that was the subject of the book "The Worst Team Money Could Buy." He might be remembered most for his run-ins with the media, or for calling the press box to complain about being charged with an error.
To make matters worse from a contract standpoint, the Mets brought him back for the 1999 season. They cut him loose at the end of that year, but as a result the Mets owe Bonilla deferred payments of over $1 million per year for 25 years.
In terms of production, Bonilla wasn't that bad. In terms of everything else, the side shows and the money, it's hard to imagine it being any worse.
1. Jason Bay: By now, it's hard to pick on Jason Bay. Everything has already been said and the guy is now out in Seattle trying to resurrect his career. But when it comes to bad contracts, and all-out busts, Jason Bay is your prime example.
Prior to the 2010 season, the Mets signed Bay to a four-year contract worth $66 million. It ranks up there with the worst contracts off all-time, given how little he produced and how much he was paid.
Before joining the Mets, Bay hit 45 home runs and drove in 156 runs in 200 games with the Boston Red Sox. In his three years in New York, Bay hit 26 home runs and had 124 runs batted while hitting .234. Bay hit rock bottom in 2012 when he played in just 70 games and hit .165 with eight homers and 20 RBIs.
Bay and the Mets agreed to part ways this past offseason, with the Mets owing him $21 million.
If you haven't noticed, the Mets have a habit of paying guys not to play for them.
Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
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