Columnists, Sports

Fair or Foul: Each 2020 NL playoff team’s last big free agent signing… and how they turned out

Last week, I took a look at the last major, multi-year free agent signing for each 2020 playoff team from the American League. They ranged greatly in the number of years and size of the paycheck. Today, I’ve got the same deal for each 2020 playoff team from the National League. This series of moves also features quite the variety in length, money and the year the deals were signed.

Let’s dive in with the Atlanta Braves’ most recent major free agency move.

Atlanta Braves: Will Smith (three years, $39 million, 2019 offseason)

Smith came off his first All-Star campaign with the 2019 San Francisco Giants. He accrued 34 saves with more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings. While his deal with the Braves did not reach the magnitude of other relievers’ deals, such as those of Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, Smith earned the hefty paycheck to anchor Atlanta’s bullpen for the rest of his prime. 

His first campaign in Atlanta did not go great, but hopefully a full 2021 season will bring the All-Star-caliber Smith back. 

Los Angeles Dodgers: A.J. Pollock (five years, $60 million, 2019 offseason)

Pollock came to a Dodgers team that already possessed way too many outfielders. With Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor and Alex Verdugo also in the fray, the oldest among them in Pollock drew the short straw for playing time. 

After playing in just 86 games in 2019, albeit at a serviceable level, Pollock played in 55 out of 60 games in 2020, and posted an 0.881 on-base plus slugging percentage and 134 OPS+. 

Milwaukee Brewers: Matt Garza (four years, $50 million, 2014 offseason)

Garza came off a solid stretch with the Chicago Cubs from 2011 to 2013 with a 3.45 earned run average and 1.213 walks plus hits per inning pitched average during that stretch. That secured him this deal with the Brewers, and it could not have gone worse. 

Garza posted an ugly 4.65 ERA and averaged just 23 starts per season during his stint with the Brewers. Garza never earned a winning record in Milwaukee, and never pitched in MLB again after the deal ended.

Cincinnati Reds: Nicholas Castellanos (four years, $64 million, 2020 offseason)

Castellanos’ development as a player with the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs proved that he excels at hitting, while remaining lackluster in the fielding department. The first year of his new deal may have coincided with a Reds playoff berth, but Castellanos did nothing to help. With a -0.2 wins above replacement, a 0.225 batting average and his usual poor defense during his first campaign in Cincinnati, Castellanos must step up in year 2 of his contract.

St. Louis Cardinals: Dexter Fowler (five years, $82.5 million, 2016 offseason)

Believe it or not, this deal is not the worst of the bunch. Fowler came off an All-Star campaign at age 30 back in 2016 — the year he helped the Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years. That netted him this deal from the Cubs’ division rival in the Cardinals. 

The issue is that Fowler’s time as a Cardinal has been bad. After posting an 0.851 OPS in his first year, that dropped to an OPS average of 0.690 and an OPS+ average of 86 in his last three seasons.

Chicago Cubs: Yu Darvish (six years, $126 million, 2018 offseason)

Darvish’s short campaign with the Dodgers during their 2017 World Series run increased his stock enough to earn him a generous paycheck from a Cubs team that already spent big on Jon Lester, Jason Heyward and more. 

A rocky start has turned into sunny skies since the second half of 2019. His 2020 performance landed him in the runner-up spot for the NL Cy Young Award. The deal may not be worth it, but Darvish looks better than ever at 34. 

San Diego Padres: Manny Machado (10 years, $300 million, 2019 offseason)

After a career of frustration in Baltimore and suffering a 2018 World Series loss with the Dodgers, Machado joined fellow youngster Bryce Harper as a recipient of a $300-million deal. Machado’s first season in San Diego was poor for that paycheck, but it got overshadowed by the emergence of Fernando Tatís Jr. 

Fortunately, as the Padres’ core continued its progress in 2020, Machado played like an MVP along with Tatis Jr. and the rest of the team to help San Diego reach the second-best record in the NL. 

Machado has eight years to go with the Friars, so this deal is far from ready to fully evaluate, but the trend is as good as it gets.

Miami Marlins: Wei-Yin Chen (five years, $80 million, 2016 offseason)

The worst deal of the bunch concludes this list. The Marlins remained cursed with pitching ineptitude throughout most of their history and arguably up until 2020. Chen put up two strong seasons with Baltimore in 2014 and 2015 before signing this deal with Miami.

To say the least, he flopped massively. After putting up a 5.10 ERA, only 53 starts, getting demoted to the bullpen and not pitching at all in 2020, Chen was a massive bust in Miami. 

Fortunately, the many young pitchers the Marlins have all made strides as the team stunningly made the playoffs this past season. They are better off with Chen in the rearview mirror.

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