Skip Schumaker and the Reds: MLB Worst Free Agent Signings

On November 18, 2013, Cincinnati Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty made one of the strangest free agent signings I’ve ever seen with the signing of Skip Schumaker. While it certainly doesn’t go down as an all-time front office misstep, it certainly had a pretty bad ending to a respected role player’s career.

Here’s what I had to say about it at the time:

“While the terms are not yet disclosed for this contract, I would like to point out that giving a two-year deal to a player who was worth 1 win BELOW replacement level last season is not exactly a wise decision. This is not to say that Skip Schumaker is a terrible player. He’s not terrible against right-handed pitching and has consistently posted good OBP numbers. But, he lacks power and while he technically plays a bunch of different positions, he doesn’t play any of them particularly well.

On the plus side, there is hope for him. He had a couple of good years with the Cardinals (2008 and 2009) where he was pretty much an everyday player and his .360 or so OBP over almost 600 PA a season provided most of his value. He’s actually okay as a corner outfielder defensively, so if you desperately needed someone to just get on-base that won’t butcher in the field, he’s your guy. But I’m not sure a two-year contract made sense. It will be interesting to see how new Reds manager Bryan Price handles him and maybe this deal works out, especially since it’s probably not for a ton of money.

Still, two guaranteed years for him seems a bit odd to me, though we know that Reds GM Walt Jocketty – who originally had him when he was with the Cardinals – really likes him. This is a wait-and-see that could pan out okay if he’s limited to the corner outfield for the most part and only faces right-handed pitching.

The contract was only for $5 million total, a reasonable sum for a veteran role player. Skip Schumaker was coming off of a very bad year after previously being reasonably useful, playing all three outfield positions. He was perfectly average defensively as either a left fielder or right fielder, although he was quite below average as a center fielder (-10 Defensive Runs Saved per 1200 innings) in very limited time at the position. So, while this move caused head-scratching at the time, it just seemed like a strange use of resources more than anything else.

The Reds also deployed Schumaker in the way that I suggested in my commentary: mostly in the corner outfield and rarely against left-handed pitching. Despite this, Schumaker continued to play below average defense and couldn’t hit a lick. In 2014, he was “worth” -1.2 WAR in only 83 games! The fact that they even played him that much when it was clear he was ineffective still baffles me to this day. Yes, the 2014 Reds were terrible, and Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce weren’t even average regulars during that disaster year.

Most sane people would agree it would have been fine to release him and let him walk away with the other $2.5 million. But, no, they played him even more in 2015! I’m sure Skip is a really nice guy and they wanted to keep him around the clubhouse, but playing a guy who’s “worth” negative 1.1 WAR in 131 games is simply not good baseball. He wasn’t even a good pinch hitter! It’s not as if Schumaker was ever going to put up good enough stats to be a useful fantasy sports bench option, but he wasn’t cutting it on either defense or offense to even be worth the roster spot on a bad team!

To put this in context, being worth a negative WAR number means you actually cost your team roughly 10 runs over the course of a full season, either by being deficient with the bat or costing your team runs defensively in the field. You could have taken the average minor league ballplayer and he likely would’ve actually saved you a win! Granted, those Reds teams weren’t good, but the point of the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) metric is to show that just about anyone could have done better. You don’t develop better teams by playing someone who’s clearly no longer in their prime and would serve you better as a coach – definitely no foreshadowing here.

Basically, the Reds played Schumaker because they didn’t want to own up to the fact that they made a bad signing. They actually did have better options. Bruce turned things around enough to be a fringe fantasy team option with his HR and RBI versus right handed pitching. Heck, even journeyman outfielder Marlon Byrd performed OK in comparison. In retrospect, they should’ve just played Adam Duvall more, someone whose home-run power would end up making him a strong reserve outfielder for multiple teams, including the 2021 World Champion Atlanta Braves.

Schumaker retired as a member of the San Diego Padres during Spring Training 2016, at that point outright admitting that he couldn’t catch up to a 95-mph fastball anymore. You could never blame the guy for not trying, as he certainly did do his best. But, the aches and pains just caught up to him sooner than expected, a sad eventuality that ends many sporting careers prematurely. It’s sad that he had to go out like that, with three very poor seasons on his record which gave him a total career WAR mark of just 1.2.

The good news is that he was able to retire comfortably from his playing career, joining the Padres as a coach in 2018 and actually returning to St. Louis as the bench coach for the Cardinals in 2022. Still, to this day, this is one of Walt Jocketty’s worst signings, and one of the worst ends to a career that we’ve seen in a while. It’s a happy thing to see Schumaker return to where he won his only World Championship ring and hopefully his coaching career continues for years to come.

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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