Judging by the comments on our free agency pieces over the last few days, a lot of you had opinions (reasonable or, ah, less so) about some of the free agency signings who weren't profiled either as disappointments or pleasant surprises.
Meanwhile, over at Sports Illustrated, Jay Jaffe put together a nice post on the return that free agents give their new teams in the first year of their contract over the last five seasons. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but the return is generally not good. Whether this is a commentary on starting slow in a new environment or hard evidence of some sort tangible impact of the contract year on player motivation, we'd need a larger sample size to tell, but for you Angels and Braves fans out there shrinking in horror from the size of the Hamilton and B.J. Upton contracts compared to their production on the field so far, adopting a wait-and-see approach is not only the smart thing to do given the history of these bad first years but also for your sanity.
For the rest of you, here's a quick rundown on a few more pleasant surprises and disappointments so far this year, focusing primarily on players who are on shorter deals and have switched teams. First, the disappointments:
Brett Myers, Cleveland Indians
The whole idea of turning Brett Myers back into a starter seemed far-fetched to begin with, regardless of how much the pitcher himself clearly wanted to be in the rotation rather than the bullpen. The good news for the Indians, then, is that they only have to deal with the consequences of that decision for another couple months, until Myers' one-year, $7 million contract expires. Cleveland has the option to retain Myers' services for 2014 with an $8 million team option, but considering Myers threw an atrocious 21.1 innings of 8+ ERA ball before going on the disabled list last month for elbow inflammation, I'm sure they'll thank him for whatever meager contributions he's able to make this year and send him on his way.
Brandon McCarthy, Arizona Diamondbacks
While I'm not particularly concerned about Brett Myers crashing and burning for a variety of reasons, some related to the fact that he's already had a long, decent career in the big leagues and some not, Arizona's Brandon McCarthy (previously of the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and the Chicago White Sox) is someone that most people in my field root for exceptionally hard, not just because of the narrative surrounding his comeback from a head injury last year but because of what a delight he is to cover. That said, the injury concern with McCarthy isn't in his head but his shoulder, and he might have issues there once again, as he's started out the first of his two years with the Diamondbacks on a sour note: 40 innings of 6.75 ERA ball, lots of balls finding holes in the infield, lots of frustration overall. Good news, though, is that he's struck out 27 and only walked 6 so far, giving him a strikeout to walk ratio much in line with his past two successful years in Oakland, and it's unlikely opposing hitters will continue to hit .385 off him on balls in play, to put it mildly. If McCarthy can stay healthy, he should be moving out of this category by midseason.
Jeff Keppinger, Chicago White Sox
Jeff Keppinger was one of the recipients of Tampa Bay's random dark arts hitter career revival magic in 2012 (we'll get to this year's winner in a moment), hitting .325/.367/.439 in 418 PA. He had a noticeable split -- better against lefties than against righties -- like he has his entire career, but even against righties he had a respectable .755 OPS. Now the thing about hitting .325 in the majors at age 32 is that if you haven't been hitting somewhere around .325 for two or three years before that, it's highly unlikely that you're going to keep doing it -- and if you look at Keppinger's line from 2012, it's very heavily reliant on being a high-contact singles hitter. That said, I don't think anyone could have reasonably expected the fall-off from last season to be this hideous. Through the end of yesterday's action Keppinger is hitting .191/.188/.209 in 112 PA, with only 2 extra base hits, a pair of doubles. He's not inordinately expensive, making $4 million a year, but the White Sox gave him a three-year deal for some reason, so he'll be around awhile and have a chance to make up for this. But then, he's also 33 years old. Some of this is on the White Sox for sure, because the entire team is hitting like it's their first week in AA, but how long into his thirties is a singles-hitting utility player really worth locking up?
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On the brighter side:
Kevin Correia, Minnesota Twins
Speaking of contracts that are longer than one year for some reason, Kevin Correia's is one that's working out at the moment in Minnesota. The veteran righthander, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates, has a career 4.48 ERA across 1107.1 professional innings, but so far for Minnesota has a 2.83 ERA in just over 40 IP with peripherals in line with the rest of his career. That's likely due to decent luck on balls in play, combined with a number of helpful double plays turn behind him -- but he's also being helped a lot by the cavernous Target Field. He's had four starts at home and two away, and yet has allowed one more run on the road than he has at home. If the Twins were to juggle the rotation to keep him pitching in Minnesota through the end of July, they'd have themselves a decent trade commodity on their hands ... had they not inked Correia to a 2 year, $10 million contract, which should be enough to scare away even the most desperate contenders looking for help in the back of the rotation. Except maybe the Dodgers, assuming they climb back into things, but the Dodgers don't really have much to offer in trade anyhow.
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
I haven't focused on relievers much in this space because relievers are both more volatile and less important than everyday position players and starting pitchers, but the Red Sox got a fantastic deal with Koji Uehara. Uehara came over from Japan a few years back as a Baltimore Oriole, where he started for a season with mixed to poor results, then moved to the bullpen as a closer (his role during his final season in NPB) and was fantastic. Uehara strikes out a bunch of guys, walks almost no one, and the Orioles dealt him to the Rangers for Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis, where he promptly pitched the worst relief innings of his career, culminating in 3 disastrous playoff appearances in 2011 that resulted in him being left off the World Series roster. He had a great season last year that was cut short by a trip to the 15 day DL, and so far Boston manager John Farrell is using him the way he should be used: often and late. Even with Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey out, the Sox have one of the better setup/closer combos in the league in Uehara and Junichi Tazawa -- but Boston's 6th and 7th innings have suffered for losing their elite relief arms.
James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays
Which brings us to James Loney, who after a disappointing seven year career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and even worse half season in Boston, is hitting .385/.427/.531 in 103 plate appearances, just barely qualifying him for the lead in the race for the American League batting title. He won't win it -- at least, he shouldn't, based on everything we know about James Loney to date -- but he's another example like, yes, Jeff Keppinger, of discarded hitters coming to the Rays for a season, building an insane amount of value for one reason or another, then travelling elsewhere and giving it all right back. Loney will probably be productive for the rest of the season, sign a three year deal with Seattle or someone, and go right back to hitting for middling average with very little power. That's how Tampa Bay works.