The other day in the comments, the mysteriously-monikered "X" said this:
"I can't think of any STUDS (don't Todd Walker me - please) who have wanted to come to this team since [Andre] Dawson left a signed contract with the amount blank on the GM's desk. I'm sure there are some - I just can't think of them off the top of my head."
That sounded like a call for me to waste some time at work. Of course, it's next-to-impossible to determine which players might have "wanted" to cme to the Cubs -- all we can really do is examine who actually did come.
So I hit Baseball Reference, and took a look at the free agents the Cubs have signed since 1987, and leaving aside the fact that he originally got Dawson's first name wrong (hey, if he's gonna post anonymously, I'm not going to feel to bad about giving him a hard time), 'X' raises an intersting point. In general, the Cubs have not sparkled on the free agent market. With all signs pointing to the Cubs having some money to throw around in what's shaping up to be a disappointing free agent market, it's instructive to look back on how the Cubs have fared in past off-seasons. Jim Hendry's tenure as G.M. only goes back to 2002, but I'm going back further because how many chances do I get to write about Danny Jackson? The pre-Hendry moves probably don't mean a whole lot these days, but they're still interesting to reminisce about.
If I had only listed players who could be considered "studs" it would be a short list. So instead here's a list of significant free agents the Cubs signed between Dawson and Walker:
* Danny Jackson
, 1991. Two years removed from a 23-win season, he signed with the Cubs for 2Y-$5.25M back when that was a lot of money. He was the Cubs' Opening Day starter, but got hurt in his third start and missed two months. He came back, got hurt again, came back again, lost his rotation spot, and while he was a bit better in 1992, the Cubs eventually traded him for Steve Buechele.
* George Bell
, 1991. On the downslope of his career, but only 3 years removed from an MVP 47/134 season. His 1991 numbers were his best since '87, but the best thing he did in a Cubs uniform was get traded for Samy Sosa.
* Dave Smith
, 1991. Also on the downslope of his career, a fact that should have been obvious based on his age (36) but which may have been obscured by six straight 20+ save seasons. Pitched a total of 47 1/3 innings for the Cubs, and got paid $4.4M for them
* Mike Morgan
, 1992. Apparently undeterred by the Jackson debacle of the previous season, the Cubs gave Morgan a multi-year deal and it worked out a bit better. Morgan threw 200+ innings in both 1992 and 1993, but got hurt in '94 on his way to going 2-10, and the next year was traded for Todd Zeile. Reacquired at the 1998 trade deadline from the Twins, he did his best to keep the Cubs out of the playoffs (a 7.15 ERA in 22 2/3 innings) but they managed to sneak in anyway.
* Jose Guzman
, 1993. 4Y-$14.25M. Had one decent year, got hurt at the beginning of year two, and never pitched again. Nicely done.
* Randy Myers
, 1993. 3Y-$11.7M. Saved 112 games over three years, kept a grenade in his locker, took down a guy who rushed onto the field during a game. What's not to love?
* Candy Maldonado
, 1993. Only lasted 70 games (during which he hit 186/260/286) before being traded for Glenallen Hill, who hit a ball onto the roof of a building across Waveland. So this signing wasn't a *total* loss.
* Jaime Navarro
, 1995. The Cubs' first significant post-strike foray into the free agent market turned out pretty well. Navarro signed for less than he had been making with Milwaukee due to injury concerns, went 29-18 in his two years on the north side, and then went across town for $20M and never had another winning season.
* Terry Mulholland
, 1997, 1998, 1999. Mulholland's 1997 deal was for over $2M, and though he pitched OK the Cubs let him get claimed on waivers by the Giants. He was back, and effective out of the bullpen, in '98, and spent some time in the rotation in '99 before being traded for three guys who didn't amount to much. Total investment: just under $6M.
* Mel Rojas
, 1997. 3Y-$13.75M but by mid-season Terry Adams was doing better for less money and Rojas found his way to the Mets in a deal that send almost $9M in salary and netted The One Dog, Manny Alexander, and a surprisingly good Mark Clark.
* Kevin Tapani
, 1997. 3Y-$11M and worth it. The follow-up contract, not so much.
* Jeff Blauser
, 1998. Ouch.
* Rod Beck
, 1998. 1Y-$3.6M and worth it. The follow-up contract, not so much. Was later traded for Mark Guthrie, who was traded for Brant Brown, who dropped the ball.
* Gary Gaetti
, 1998. Got picked up in August, had a great month-and-a-half, got re-signed for 1999, and sucked. Replace "1999" with "2005" and who do you have?
* Benito Santiago
, 1999. Signed at a discount to prove he was healthy after a serious car accident. He was, and for once the Cubs were smart enough to not re-sign him.
* Ricky Gutierrez
, 2000. The Cubs paid almost $6M for the two best years of Gutierrez' career, which isn't saying a whole lot.
* Tim Worrell
, 2000. Easily the best in-season free-agent pickup the team has made. The Cubs paid him the league minimum, he threw 62 innings of 2.47 ERA relief, and the next year they traded him for Bil Mueller.
* Julian Tavarez
, 2001. Again, more useful for who he fetched in trade (Matt Clement) than what he did in a Cubs uniform (pissed me off).
* Jeff Fassero
, 2001. Two years for an old reliever? If it was the first time the Cubs had done it, I'd dismiss it, but looking over this list it appears to be the sixth. Two of them (Myers and Beck) panned out, the rest did not. That's not a good return.
* Tom Gordon
, 2001. Make it seven, and we can put him in the "win" column if we ignore the size of the contract.
* Jason Bere
, 2001. Wasn't as bad in 2002 as his 1-10 record would suggest. Then again, wasn't as good in 2001 as his 11-11 record would suggest, either.
* Todd Hundley
, 2001. I just threw up in my mouth again.
* Moises Alou
, 2002. The only bonafide offensive force on this list. And I mean offensive at least two different ways.
* Mike Remlinger
, 2003. Guess what? That was
too much money to spend on a relief pitcher.
* Ramon Martinez
, 2003. The first of Dusty's Guys to show up, He wouldn't be the last.
* Shawn Estes
, 2003. The closer we get to the present, the more it hurts to type these names.
* LaTroy Hawkins
, 2004. See what I mean?
* Todd Hollandsworth
, 2004. Now we're recent enough that we can actually look at what I wrote about these moves at the time. When Holly was signed, I said: "Nice pickup for the Cubs. Getting a league-average player who can fill in at all three outfield spots and act as lefty power off the bench for a million bucks is a pretty good deal." I was right -- I just wish they hadn't re
-signed him last
winter. When they did that, I said, "Iíd really like to see the Cubs install DuBois or Kelton in left and keep Holly where he belongs, which is on the bench as a pinch-hitter and spot starter in right." Hey, look, I was right again!
* Glendon Rusch
, 2004. Turned out to be a pretty good scrap-heap pickup.
I hope you enjoyed this forced march down memory lane. I left off quite a few other, more minor, signings, but I think we've seen enough. It's not a pretty picture. With the exception of Moises Alou, the Cubs haven't signed a bona fide star since, well, Dawson. And remember that Dawson only signed with the Cubs because of collusion between the MLB owners. Given this track record, I don't have high hopes for a guy like Rafael Furcal to find his way to Wrigley next year.