As an armchair baseball GM for much of my teenage years and a good chunk of my young adulthood, I loved to over-analyze free agent signings by MLB teams. Some of my favorite deals to tear apart were those that paid many millions of dollars to relief pitchers, who often didn’t pitch more than 50 innings a season. Notably, throughout MLB history, free agent deals given to pitchers often end badly, thanks to pitching being such a strenuous activity and more prone to eventual injury than your average position player.
One of the worst MLB free agent signings I’ve ever witnessed was in December 2013, when the Colorado Rockies gave $16 Million plus to left-handed relief pitcher Boone Logan. Even at the time, I took to my blog and lambasted the Colorado Rockies front office for their signing.
This is what I said on December 13, 2013:
“I would definitely like to know what’s going on inside the minds of the Rockies front office. I do understand why they would like to have Boone Logan as a left-handed specialist in their bullpen. They do have Rex Brothers and Josh Outman from the left side already, both of whom are already pretty tough on left-handers, Brothers, especially.”
I went onto add, however, that Logan was a nice piece to add to any bullpen. He was coming off a four-year stretch with the New York Yankees when he was worth 3.2 WAR. You could even argue he was a bit underrated. But, shelling out $16.5 million for a guy the Rockies didn’t clearly need was a head-scratcher, especially for a team like the Rockies who perpetually seem to be under a tight budget?
However, there is some context that must be explained for this signing to look perhaps a bit less insane. In the early 2010’s, many MLB teams were spending millions on “lefty specialists,” pitchers who threw from the left side that could deal with tough left-handed batters. That’s all well and good, but these pitchers were often used for just one batter in a game. In the years since, MLB instituted a three-batter rule, meaning a pitcher must face at least three batters unless the inning ends or must be removed due to injury. So, lefty specialists are a thing of the past by the 2020’s.
But, at the time, a lefty specialist making over $5 million a year was still pretty absurd. The Rockies needed to get another cheap starter, not a guy who will throw about 150 innings over three years!
“Good for Boone, though,” I said. A couple days later, I realized that maybe the Rockies saw something that didn’t seem obvious. Therefore, I returned to my blog and provided some much more in-depth analysis:
“Boone Logan is a perfectly good left-handed reliever. Yes, he’s really only good against lefties. In his career, lefties have batted only .243/.312/.378 while right-handers have hit .297/.379/.475. Those numbers against right-handed batters are awfully awful. Fortunately, Logan has been even more effective against lefties recently (.221/.274/.377 in 2013). Oddly, he was actually WORSE against lefties in 2011: .789 OPS from left-handed batters and only a .673 OPS from right-handed batters. Even then, he was still effective overall. He’s just been a solid pitcher for the past four seasons with New York.”
With these numbers providing the basis for Logan’s overall value, it now makes sense that a good number of teams had interest in the left-hander. He’d been worth an average of 0.8 Wins Above Replacement over the past four years, and with how the market was valuing players at that point, a deal worth about $8 to $10 million over a couple of years made sense. There was obvious competition for his services, and had he garnered a deal in that range, no one would’ve complained.
But, the Colorado Rockies apparently wanted him more than everyone else, because they threw $16.5 million and three years at him. Ponder that contract for a moment, even in 2022 terms. That is a $5 million plus yearly salary given to a pitcher who would likely throw about 50-60 innings in each of the next three seasons. Yes, he could be worth about 80 percent of that. But, it was more likely the case that Logan could also get smacked around in games at Coors Field and become essentially replacement level.
Despite Logan’s solid career to that point, this guy was never some sort of elite, especially evidenced by his 2011 where he wasn’t even a lefty specialist. Heck, he got more money than Joe Smith, and Smith was, and continued to be, quite a better reliever. Smith was worth 1.4 WAR on average in the same past four seasons. From a WAR to dollars perspective, Smith could actually earn the $5 million a year he was given; in retrospect, 2014 would be his last truly great season, but the contract ended up looking OK. Even without the benefit of hindsight, earning that money would be much more of a stretch for Logan.
As we’d learn in coming days, apparently Rockies director of baseball operations Bill Geivett was indeed intent on signing a left-handed reliever. What’s puzzling, however, is that the Rockies were also in on J.P. Howell, a superior pitcher to Logan at the time. Howell was just as good against lefties and slightly better against right-handers than Logan. Howell was still available at the time Logan was signed, and superior relievers, including fellow lefty specialist Javier Loperz, signed smaller deals. As it would turn out, Howell would sign with the Dodgers, and be rather excellent for the next three years. Had the Rockies instead signed Howell, even for the same money, they would’ve ended up looking like geniuses.
This contract was a major win for Boone Logan and his agent. The Rockies didn’t even seem to need him since they had both Rex Brothers and Josh Outman who were already better than him against lefties. Brothers was actually ridiculous against lefties (career .549 OPS against lefties) and Outman was even better (career .523 OPS against). It was an incredibly curious use of money after signing a bargain relief pitcvher in LaTroy Hawkins and acquiring a high-upside starter in Brett Anderson.
To be fair, it’s probably a good thing that the Rockies signed Logan. Rex Brothers blew up almost immediately, and besides having some good results in 2015, never again pitched in the majors after that. Outman hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014 after having some serious issues with walks. So, the Rockies suddenly needed Logan. How did that work out?
Well, Logan had a very rough 2014. Despite getting plenty of strikeouts, he also gave up a lot of home runs. In 2015, he was at least passable. His 2016, however, was very solid. After posting WAR marks of -0.4 and 0.3 in his first two seasons, he put up 0.8 WAR in 2016. Finally, with Brothers and Outman out of the picture, Logan returned to form in the final year of his contract. Essentially, he was worth 0.7 WAR over 3 seasons. While that’s not terrible for a reliever, especially as just a handful of bad outings tanks your overall value, that’s definitely not worth $16.5 million.
Is the Boone Logan signing one of the worst MLB free agent signings of all time? Well, this wasn’t a very smart move financially. Baseball wise, it wasn’t all too horrible. But, when you take into account that you could have had J.P. Howell for less money, it’s yet another head-scratcher in the annals of Rockies head-scratchers. In any case, it worked out extremely well for Boone Logan!
As for Boone Logan, it’s a good thing he signed that deal. He ended up only pitching about 30 innings over the next two seasons for the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers, earning an additional $6.5 million with Cleveland and another $2.5 million with Milwaukee. He milked that solid 2016 for all it was worth and retired at 34 years old. Today, he owns a ranch in Texas and is enjoying the fruits of his labor.
Talk about cashing in at just the right time. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement, Boone!