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One of the most surprising free agent signings in the winter before the 2008 season was Jose Guillen. The Royals laid out $36 million over 3 years for the outfielder, a big sum for a team operating on a small budget.
There wasn't much in Guillen's history to justify such a large outlay of cash and he didn't change any minds with a poor 2008 season that helped the Royals to another second division finish. It was a move that didn't make sense when it happened and looks no better upon further review.
It's looking like this year's version is going to be Raul Ibanez. Based on the way the market has played out, it's pretty obvious that the Phillies jumped the gun by signing Ibanez for more than $10 million a year. The Phillies may not be the Royals when it comes to budgetary matters, but they did have payroll concerns thanks to the slew of arbitration eligible players this offseason. The last thing you want to do in that spot is overpay for production they could have gotten cheaper.
The Phillies did just that. Entering the offseason there were five notable corner outfielders entering free agency. Ibanez, Bobby Abreu, Milton Bradley, Adam Dunn and the Phillies' own Pat Burrell. Four of the five are awful defenders and Bradley is constantly injured, but all of them can bring thunder with the bat. The glut of similar players meant that it was a buyer's market, especially with salaries already depressed because of the overall economic climate.
The Phillies moved first and snapped up Ibanez, then watched as Bradley and Burrell signed for less money. Burrell is especially painful as he was a key member of a World Series team and signed with Tampa for almost $3 million less per season than Ibanez got from the Phillies. Bradley will be making nearly as much money for the same amount of time, but he's six years younger than Ibanez.
Ibanez is a better player than Guillen, but there's nothing about him that demanded such an aggressive move by the Phillies. It's one thing for the Yankees to outbid the planet for CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. They can afford it and the players justify the boldness of the move, but Ibanez was an ordinary player in this market. Just as the Guillen move came out of nowhere, so did the Phillies' choice to go into business with Ibanez.
When Abreu and Dunn find new homes, the deal will likely look even worse. Ibanez should be more productive than Guillen was for the Royals, but he'll have to be better than all of the other four players the Phillies could have signed to stop this deal from being a massive mistake.