In my first two posts on the subject of past Yankees' free agency transactions, I looked at deals with Bernie Williams and Reggie Jackson. Two high-priced moves for high profile stars that worked out well for everyone involved. But it wouldn't be fair if we didn't also take a look back at some of the dud contracts the Yankees have handed out over the years. Two such contracts were signed in the same offseason for two pitchers coming off career years: Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. As you are all keenly aware, it did not work out so well for the Yankees.
The impetus behind the Yankees' attempts to bolster their rotation was their 2004 collapse against the rival Red Sox. A sound thumping in Game Seven and a middling starter ERA of 4.82 (18th in MLB) during the regular season was enough to convince the front office that an overhaul of the staff was needed. They made Wright their first target, who was coming off of a 4.3 fWAR, 3.28 ERA campaign with the Atlanta Braves. There were complications with Wright's passing a physical, but eventually the Yankees inked Wright to a three year/$21 million deal. I can remember it seemed odd at the time that the Yankees would be so interested in a pitcher who had been terrible from 1999-2003, but they were clearly hoping he was not simply a product of Leo Mazzone's magic.
Pavano was the premier pitcher of the free agent class that year. Unlike Wright, Pavano had strung together two consecutive good campaigns, taking a huge step forward in 2004 with an 18-win, 3.00 ERA, 4.1 fWAR effort. Possibly also impressed by his performance against him in the 2003 World Series the Yankees outbid several other teams and got Pavano to sign a four year/$39.6 million deal. Throw in a trade for the dominant Randy Johnson in January, with Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown as holdovers, and the Yankees thought they had an unstoppable starting staff loaded with accomplished veterans.
Obviously that last notion was contingent on Pavano and Wright being able to actually pitch, and pitch well. Wright was bombed in the 63 innings he managed to pitch in his injury-marred '05 season, barely managing a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio and sporting an ERA over 6.00. He actually managed to have the only respectable season between the two in 2006, tossing 140 innings while accumulating 2.6 fWAR. But his terrible start (2.2 IP, 4 R, 2 HR) in the clinching loss of the ALDS against Detroit sealed his fate and he was dealt to the Orioles after the season for Chris Britton.
As much of a cash dump Wright was, it is the Pavano deal that will echo in the minds of Yankees fans forever. Four seasons: 145.2 IP, 26 games started. A grand total of 1 fWAR. He rarely ever pitched and wasn't good when he did. Mysterious car accidents, Tommy John surgery, elbow strains, buttocks injuries. You name it and it happened with Carl Pavano. Whether he was simply a victim of bad luck or partly responsible for his myriad of misfortunes, Pavano was nary a factor over the life of his contract for his employers. It was one of the worst signings the Yankees have ever made.
The Yankees just so happen to find themselves with a few open spots in their rotation for 2014. Could one of those spots be filled with a free agent as disastrous as the gruesome twosome discussed above? Of course they could! But here's hoping history does not repeat itself.