HomeTrending MLB NewsThe five most disappointing MLB free-agent signings

The five most disappointing MLB free-agent signings

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Every Monday during the MLB season, Yardbarker unveils a list devoted to a MLB-related topic. This week, we’re ranking the five free-agent signees of the offseason who have disappointed the most.

It’s still early in the season, so for this list, we aren’t simply listing the statistically worst players who signed deals in free agency. Instead, we’re ranking players who had legitimate expectations to be reliable contributors but have failed to deliver so far.

With that in mind, here is the list in inverse order.

(All records and statistics are through Sunday’s games.)

5. Second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield | Philadelphia Phillies 

Philadelphia, winners of 12 of its past 15 games, is tied for the most wins in MLB (19), though Merrifield — an All-Star with Toronto last season — hasn’t been much of a factor in the team’s success.

The two-time MLB hits leader and three-time American League stolen base leader has had difficulty adjusting to a part-time role, the first of his career. Through 14 games, the 35-year-old has a slash line of .209/.244/.302 with nine hits, one home run, two RBI, two stolen bases and a 54 OPS+ (MLB average is 100).

While Merrifield has collected six hits over his past five games, it’s hard to be too optimistic about that level of production continuing because he posted a 77 wRC+ in the second half of 2023. 

Nonetheless, if he can return to his pre-2023 All-Star break form, the Phillies’ deep lineup will be that much more formidable. If he doesn’t, Philadelphia shouldn’t hesitate to give its young players more at-bats. 

4. RHP Robert Stephenson | Los Angeles Angels 

After improving his slider’s velocity during his stint with Tampa Bay last season to the point where Statcast considered the pitch a cutter, Stephenson became a highly coveted reliever on the free-agent market. The Angels ultimately won the Stephenson sweepstakes, signing him to a three-year, $33M deal, making him their biggest addition this past offseason. The expectation was that he’d be Los Angeles’ setup man.

It didn’t take long until the Angels had a problem on their hands, as Stephenson missed spring training with shoulder soreness that forced him to start the season on the injured list. Then, just four pitches into his first rehab outing, the right-hander left the game with an elbow issue. On April 17, the Angels announced Stephenson’s injury would force him to miss the entire 2024 season and undergo surgery.

The Angels surely could’ve used Stephenson in the bullpen as the team’s relievers have a combined 5.55 ERA, the second worst in MLB. 

3. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez | Arizona Diamondbacks 

Rodriguez, who signed a four-year, $80M deal this offseason, has yet to pitch for the Diamondbacks after suffering a left lat strain during spring training. At the time of Rodriguez’s injury, manager Torey Lovullo believed the Diamondbacks “dodged a bullet,” but the lefty suffered a setback in April and landed on the 60-day IL. 

The 31-year-old is eligible to come off the injured list May 25. Even so, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Rodriguez returned to action later than that because there are no reports that he has resumed his throwing program.

Arizona’s starting rotation has been resilient without Rodriguez, compiling a 3.79 ERA (13th in the majors) in addition to posting a 1.16 WHIP, the fifth lowest in MLB. Even so, with series against the Dodgers, Padres, Reds and Orioles on deck, Arizona’s pitching staff is in a difficult spot, especially in light of starter Merrill Kelly’s recent shoulder strain.

2. LHP Josh Hader | Houston Astros

The three-time National League Reliever of the Year came to Houston on a record-setting five-year, $95M contract and was supposed to be the piece that put a strong bullpen over the top. However, like many areas of Houston’s roster, the backend of the bullpen has been a massive disappointment this season, with Hader playing a major role in the problem.

Across 12 appearances, Hader has a 7.59 ERA, the 17th worst among qualified relievers, and has blown one of his three save opportunities. The Astros surely regret shelling out what they did for the five-time All-Star. On a positive note, Hader has a higher strikeout rate (14.34%) this season than the mark he posted in 2023, potentially signaling he could turn a corner. 

1. LHP Blake Snell | San Francisco Giants

There’s no question Snell, another Scott Boras client who overplayed his hand this past offseason, wishes he had accepted the six-year, $150M deal the Yankees reportedly offered him. In 2023, Snell became the seventh player in MLB history to win a Cy Young in both leagues and entered free agency seeking a nine-year, $270M contract as a result.

Snell’s market value, however, wasn’t nearly as high as he and Boras anticipated. While the Yankees gave him a generous offer, the left-hander believed he could sign for a higher AAV or a longer contract elsewhere. A month into spring training, Snell finally signed a two-year, $62M deal with the Giants, which includes an opt-out after this season.

Unsurprisingly, not having any spring training starts to ramp up his workload took a toll on Snell. Across three starts with San Francisco, Snell posted an 11.57 ERA and a 1.97 WHIP in just 11.2 innings pitched with 12 strikeouts and five walks.

To make matters worse, the Giants recently placed Snell on the 15-day injured list with a left adductor strain, but he’s expected to be out even longer.

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