The Best & Worst Free Agent Signings in Padres’ History

Credit: John Iacono

The Major League Baseball “Hot Stove” seems to be in a deep freeze (unless you are in Milwaukee), as many free agents remain unsigned. This includes one Eric Hosmer. I am not going to dive into that as that dead horse (no offense to Mr. Hosmer, I mean the subject) has been beaten over and over again.

Instead, let’s look back on Padres’ history to see where things have gone right in free agency, and also where things went horribly wrong. The Padres actually have had some productive signings. Most of what makes the fans’ eyes roll are the consistent trading of players who later become All-Stars. Free agents have been a mixed bag, but some good has come of it.

Let this be a cautionary tale of signing big free agents like Hosmer. It doesn’t always work out.

Let’s start with the five worst free agent signings in Padres’ history.

  1. Marcus Giles, 2007

Marcus Giles was signed in the winter before the 2007 season to a one year, $3.75 million contract. This was an exciting time for Padres fans. The Friars were fresh off of two consecutive National League West titles and it didn’t look like they were going to slow down in 2007.

Giles was a local kid from Granite Hills High School in El Cajon. Plus, the Padres brought him home to be in the same lineup as his brother, Brian. It seemed like a win for everyone. Except it wasn’t. Giles played 116 games for the Padres that season, hitting a meager .229 with an abysmal 69 OPS+. Even his slugging percentage (.317) would barely pass for a decent on-base percentage.

He was coming off of a solid career with the Braves which included an All-Star appearance in 2003. His average dipped 33 points with fewer than half the home runs as the previous season. He didn’t play as much down the stretch, even as the Padres were pushing towards another playoff berth. He only lasted one season and the Padres did not pick up his club option for 2008. He didn’t play in the big leagues again.

  1. Bobby Jones, 2001

2001 was smack in the dark days of the Padres. They were in between a great run in the mid-90s and a big fire sale a few years before. Jones was brought in from the Mets. He had a decent track record as, if anything, an innings eater with the occasional brilliant start. He was only a few seasons removed from an All-Star appearance in 1997 when he won 15 games. The Padres brought him on for two years at about $4.5 million.

He then proceeded to lead the entire league in losses with 19 as well as post a regrettable 78 ERA+. He had a 5.12 ERA with a National League leading 37 home runs allowed as well. The next year was his most expensive year and also his worst in his brief career with the Padres. In 2002, he had a 5.50 ERA with a 68 ERA+. He had a 74 ERA+ in his two years in San Diego.

  1. Oscar Gamble, 1978

Unfortunately, I was making this list before hearing of his passing on Wednesday. He had a pretty good career overall. Just not with the Padres. San Diego Padres’ owner Ray Kroc wanted to make a splash and signed Oscar Gamble to a $2.85 million contract over five seasons. This brought much excitement since Gamble was fresh off of a career-high 31 home runs and a .297 average, complimented by a 162 OPS+.

He only played 126 games for the Padres in that one season. Just one year of that contract was spent in San Diego. Although he had a 120 OPS+ with a respectable .275 average in 1978, his home run total plummeted from 31 to 7. He hit just 25 extra-base hits all year. After a disappointing season, he was shipped off to the Rangers. He then, of course, became a good hitter again.

Credit: AP
  1. Orlando Hudson, 2011

Hudson was signed to a two-year contract worth $11.5 million. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. He was a two-time All-Star with four Gold Gloves. He was familiar with the division since he played for the Diamondbacks and Dodgers previously. It made sense. Until the 2011 season started. He hit .246 with seven home runs and 19 stolen bases. The problem was this former Gold Glover also posted a -8 Defensive Runs Saved at second base. He also posted a below-average 94 OPS+ after being north of 100 four of the past five seasons.

The bottom fell out in his second and final year with the team. He didn’t even make it through May of the 2012 season. After batting .211 with a 62 OPS+, the Padres said enough is enough and released Hudson.

  1. Josh Johnson, 2014-2015

Like many free agent signings, at first this looked like a great idea. Is it a bit harsh to call Johnson the worst signing in team history? Maybe. However, at least guys like Gamble and Hudson actually took the field in a Padres uniform and even contributed to a few wins every now and then. Johnson was signed to an $8 million contract for the 2014 season. He was recovering from Tommy John surgery after the 2013 season in Toronto. That should have been a red flag.

Johnson never took the field for the Padres. He strained his right elbow in the spring and then it turned out he needed a second Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire 2014 season. He battled back and the Padres gave him another $1 million to come back in 2015. Much of the same happened and he required a third major surgery. He would never play in the big leagues again.

It’s a bummer because Johnson had the stuff to be great. He finished fifth in Cy Young voting in 2010 when he had a 2.30 ERA and 180 ERA+ with the Florida Marlins. He could never quite get healthy and string seasons together smoothly. The Padres paid Johnson $9 million to never throw a pitch for the team during the season.

Honestly, if this is the worst the Padres have done, it isn’t too bad. There are teams in far worse positions today. The Padres have never been ones to dish out big-time contracts, thus they haven’t been weighed down too often. Even a guy like James Shields, who could have been on this list, provided some value and eventually turned into a trade for Fernando Tatis Jr., whom we all hope is the franchise shortstop in waiting.

(Dis)honorable Mentions: Jaret Wright (8.37 ERA, 48 ERA+), Mark Prior (see Josh Johnson), Brandon Morrow

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.

This article has 4 Comments

  1. Good article. My only beef is no Rickey Henderson. Even though this was toward the end of the year, he still had an OBP of .399 in 2.5 seasons, with a 4.1 WAR. He also set the MLB record for most runs scored as a Padre. Yes, Garvey had his dramatic ’84 home run, but pound for pound, Rickey’s signing was better.

    1. I agree, Greg. Rickey was great. I just gave the nod to Garvey just for that home run honestly. Could’ve gone either way.

  2. Hosmer is a BELOW the mean for first basemen. The Padres apparently are wanting to make him the worst FA signing in Padre history. SEVEN YEARS!?

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