This annotated week in baseball history: Dec. 12-Dec. 18, 2010

This week Richard moves into his new apartment. In honor of the move, he looks back at the first season by players who moved to a new home and did so for many millions of dollars.

Although I am technically moving into my apartment today—and if anyone would like to help carry boxes, please don’t hesitate to get in touch—my occupancy will not start in earnest until 2011. Hopefully, that will be a good year for me in my new home—successful, happy, and all that.

But it did get me thinking about others who move homes, specifically those players who leave one team and sign an enormous new contract with another. In order to see what I might expect, this week we will look back on the debut year in a new city by the players who signed the eight biggest contracts in baseball history.

A few ground rules: any debut season by a player with a massive contract is eligible, whether the played signed as a free agent, or was traded to the new team and then signed an extension before his first season. And of course, players who sign huge extensions with their previous team—like Joe Mauer—are not eligible. Let’s begin:

(1)Alex Rodriguez, 2001, Texas Rangers, 10 year contract, $252 million

This year was something of a mixed bag for A-Rod. On a personal level, he had a typically brilliant season, hitting .318 with a 160 OPS+ and a league-leading 52 home runs. He was elected to the All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger award and placed sixth on the MVP ballot.

On the other hand, the Rangers went just 73-89, finishing an astonishing 43 games behind Rodriguez’ former team, the Seattle Mariners, who won an American League-record 116 games.

(2) Mark Teixeira, 2009, New York Yankees, 8 year contract, $180 million

If A-Rod’s season was a mixture of good personal results on a bad team, Teixeira managed to hit the sweet spot. After signing late in the winter, and somewhat unexpectedly with the Yankees, “Tex” arrived and hit just .200 in April. But he turned it on thereafter, and put a .976 OPS the rest of the way.

Of course, the Yankees would go on to win the World Series in October of his first year, helped along by a walk-off home run Teixeira hit in Game 2 of the ALDS.

(3) CC Sabathia, 2009, New York Yankees, 7 year contract, $161 million

And speaking of players who helped the Yankees win the World Series that year, it’s CC Sabathia! After going 19-8 in the regular, Sabathia turned it on in the postseason, going a collective 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA. Sabathia was particularly impressive in the ALCS, allowing just two runs in 16 innings on his way to earning MVP honors.

The top two on this list celebrate a big hit. (Icon/SMI)

(4) Manny Ramirez, 2001, Boston Red Sox, 8 year contract, $160 million

Like Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez left a team coming off success—his Indians had been in the playoffs three of the previous four years—and found that, while his personal accomplishments continued, bringing the rest of the team with him was harder.

His first season at Fenway Park, Ramirez had, by his standards, a down offensive year, hitting “only” .306 with 41 home runs. He also missed nearly 20 games due to injury. Nonetheless, his performance was still good enough to earn him a top-ten place in the MVP voting, and better things were yet to come.

(5) Miguel Cabrera,2008, Detroit Tigers, 8 year contract, $152 million

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

Unlike the other names on this list so far, Cabrera did not choose Detroit; he was sent their as part of a seven-player trade that also netted the Tigers Dontrelle Willis. After his arrival, however, Cabrera put down roots in the Motor City, signing this massive contract extension.

Though he did lead the American League with 37 home runs, his first year in Detroit was otherwise disappointing. The Tigers quickly decided the increasingly large Cabrera could not handle third base, and he posted a good but not great .887 OPS after averaging a .970 the three years prior. As a team, the Tigers also struggled, finishing with 88 losses.

(6) Johan Santana, 2008 New York Mets, 6 year contract, $137 million

If one were to do this list next year, this spot would belong to Carl Crawford. But until 2011 plays out, how Crawford’s first season in his new home goes will remain an educated guess at best. For Santana, his first year with the Mets was, like many on this list, mixed.

His personal statistics were terrific, as he went 16-7 and led the league in ERA and innings pitched. In the bigger picture, Santana did all he could to drag the Mets to the playoffs, including pitching a shutout on short rest in the season’s penultimate game, but the team would fall just a game short.

(7) Alfonso Soriano, 2007 Chicago Cubs, 7 year contract, $136 million

This is a contract that—because of its length, dollars and results the last couple of years—has come to be seen as a mistake from day one. And while that might be true, it isn’t because of Soriano’s performance his first year.

It is true that Soriano did not match his form of 2006, when he hit 40 home runs and 40 doubles while stealing 40 bases for the Washington Nationals. Soriano also did miss almost 30 games over the course of the season, and a plan to play him in center field quickly fell apart. But Soriano had his second-best year since leaving the Yankees after the 2003 season, and he did help take the Cubs to a division title.

(8) Barry Zito, 2007 San Francisco Giants, 7 year contract, $126 million

Zito is tied, if you’re curious, with Jayson Werth’s new contract in this spot. If Soriano’s deal is seen wrongly as a bust from the beginning, Barry Zito’s is rightly regarded as such. Coming off a good season in Oakland (16-10, 3.83) Zito signed with their cross-bay rivals.

Despite his massive contract—at the time the largest ever given for a pitcher—Zito was mediocre at best his first season. He pitched fewer than 200 innings for the first time since his rookie year, and had a worse-than-average ERA. For their huge outlay, the Giants received Zito’s worst season to date. That’s a bad deal.

Looking at this list, it is perhaps not surprising that those players who are given mega-deals manage to perform well, at least in their first year. So long as I can avoid a Zito-like debacle, that gives me great hope moving into my new place.

Finally, this will be my last column of the year. As ever, I am incredibly grateful to all of you who read here. Without an audience, it is just shouting into the wind. Thank you, and I will see everyone from my new apartment in 2011.

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