He was solid in 2008, but he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in August, necessitating Tommy John surgery that sidelined him the rest of the season (they finished one game out of the wild card, losing on the season’s final day) and almost all of 2009. The Mets then made a deal with the Red Sox, netting back 2 minor leaguers. Wagner pitched 17 games with the Mets and Red Sox but did not have a save in the final year of his contract.
When considering Papelbon’s performance strictly on the field, it’s hard to deny he was a successful signing for the Phillies, even though he never pitched a postseason inning with the club. The question is how successful he was when you consider that he signed the largest free-agent contract for a reliever at the time of his deal.
Among relievers to pitch at least 150 innings from 2012-2016, the time Papelbon was pitching on his free agent contract, he ranked 18th in ERA+ (150) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.3).
Robertson left the Yankees after a 39-save season in 2014 (the Yankees’ first post-Mariano Rivera season). In two seasons with the White Sox, he has 71 saves (34 and 37), but he’s also blown 14 (one shy of the MLB high of 15 by Santiago Casilla). Robertson’s numbers declined in 2016, particularly with regard to strikeouts and walks. He’s reportedly on the trade block as the White Sox are in the midst of a full-scale rebuild.
History suggests, however, that doing so might lead to bad things for those teams. Sometimes these mega deals work out, but sometimes they backfire significantly. Below are a few examples of long deals given to free-agent closers and how they worked out. We’ll look at these deals mostly through a traditional lens of valuation while also considering win probability added (WPA).
As the going rate for closers only seemed to rise, the Dodgers appeared in a position to have to choose between Turner and Jansen after re-signing Hill last week. Now they might get all three; Turner is close to a deal as well.