COMMENTARY | New York Yankees fans were reminded this week of one of Brian Cashman's worst free-agent signings -- the two-year, $8 million deal contract he doled out for Pedro Feliciano two offseasons ago.
Feliciano, who never threw a regular-season pitch for the Yankees, signed a minor-league deal with the New York Mets, who invited Feliciano to spring training. For most general managers, wasting millions on an overused relief pitcher would be a career-threatening move. Not for Cashman. The Feliciano deal doesn't even make Cashman's list of worst free-agent signings.
It takes a lot more than $8 million to make that list, so when you're arguing about whether Cashman needs to be fired, remember these pitching busts:
Carl Pavano. Dubbed "American Idle" by headline writers, Pavano earned his nickname. In return for a four-year, $38 million deal, Pavano gave the Yankees a total of 26 starts. In between injuries, he finished his Yankees career with a 9-8 record and a 5.00 ERA. According to Newark Star Ledger's Andy McCullough, Pavano, now 37, is talking to the Mets about coming to Queens this season. Cashman must be thrilled about that news.
Kei Igawa. In December 2006, two days after losing out to the Boston Red Sox for the rights to Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka -- a deal that cost Boston more than $100 million -- the Yankees bid $26 million for the rights to Igawa. One month later, Cashman signed him to a five-year, $20 million contract.
What did the Yankees get for their $46 million investment? Igawa's Yankees career lasted all of 16 forgettable games. In 71 2/3 innings, Igawa surrendered 89 hits, walked 37 batters, hit 4 others, balked once, and threw 5 wild pitches. He finished his career in pinstripes with 2 wins, 4 losses, a 6.66 ERA, and a whirlwind tour of minor-league stadiums. Igawa returned to Japan last year to pitch for the Orix Buffaloes. According to the Japan Times, he recently had elbow surgery.
A.J. Burnett. The Yankees signed Burnett to a five-year, $82.5 million contract before the 2009 season and are still paying part of the tattooed hurler's salary. After three seasons in which Burnett compiled a 34-35 win-loss record along with a 4.79 ERA and the distinction of leading the American League two times in wild pitches and once in hit batsmen, Cashman traded the right-hander to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two prospects. In return, the Yankees also agreed to pay $20 million of the $33 million owed to Burnett for last season and this season.
Sidney Ponson. Ponson makes this list because Cashman gambled on "Fat Sidney" two times and lost both times. In 2006, the Yankees signed Ponson to a free-agent deal estimated at close to $1 million after the pitcher was released by the St. Louis Cardinals. In three starts, Ponson went 0-1 with a 10.47 ERA. After that, he was sent to the bullpen, and then to the curb.
Two years later, the Texas Rangers released Ponson for blowing up at Rangers manager Ron Washington for taking Ponson out of a game. Cashman pounced again, later telling reporters, "Whatever happened in Texas, hopefully stays in Texas," Cashman said. Cashman was right about Ponson's attitude problem but wrong about Ponson's pitching. Ponson finished 4-4 with a 5.85 ERA in 15 starts before the Yankees released him again.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.