Anibal Sanchez’ new contract recalls memories of some of the most overpaid players in Detroit Tigers team history

If remembered for nothing else, the 2012 Major League Baseball off-season will be looked back upon as the winter in which general managers whipped out their checkbooks at a torrid pace, possibly anticipating the fiery wrath of 12/21/12, and thus fearing no repercussions.

Declining veterans like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino are being handed $14 million per year deals. Unproven middle relievers like Brandon League are running as fast as they can to the bank with $22 million, three-year contracts. And Zack Greinke, the owner of a solid, at best, 3.77 career ERA, made us all do a quadruple-take when the Los Angeles Dodgers made him the second highest-paid pitcher in baseball history, inking him to a six-year contract that could eclipse $158 million if incentives kick in. It’s pandemonium, this “end of the world” stuff.

But perhaps no off-season acquisition left more heads raw from scratching than did that of your Detroit Tigers’ signing of Anibal Sanchez. $80 million over five seasons is what general manager Dave Dombrowski figured the former undrafted Venezuelan product was worth. Although his career ERA is a tad bit lower than Greinke’s (3.75), Sanchez has only surpassed the ten win plateau twice in his seven-year career, and has yet to log 200 innings in any season. His deal could really tie the hands of the Tigers brass in the coming seasons, especially when Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera come calling for new contracts.

Sanchez’ new deal has caused quite a stir in the Detroit media over the past week, which rekindles some not-so-fond memories of the most bloated, inexplicable contract signings by the Tigers in recent history. Here are some names that come to mind:

Mike Moore, SP - three years, $10M - 1993

This one is a little before my time, sure, and the numbers might not look too gaudy on the surface, but a little over $3.3 million per year was pretty damn pricey back in 1993. Moore was coming off of back-to-back 17 win seasons for a perennial World Series-contending Oakland Athletics team, and Jerry Walker, the Tigers General Manager for only one year (I wonder why), decided Moore was the guy that would anchor their pitching staff. Well, he held them down alright. After counting his cash, Moore promptly put up season ERA’s of 5.22, 5.42 and 7.53, respectively, before bowing out of the game in 1995. Thanks for the memories, Mike.

Bobby Higginson, OF -  four years, $36M - 2001

Ah yes, Bobby Baseball. The quintessential average Major League player, Higginson was in the right place at the right time when longtime GM Randy Smith extended his contract in 2001. A hard-working fan favorite, Higginson’s then-career averages of 21 homeruns and a .273 batting average per season apparently deemed him a $9 million per year player. It didn’t hurt that he put up career numbers across the board in 2000 (30 homers, 102 RBI), suckering owner Mike Illitch into signing the dotted line after an obvious anomaly of a season. Higginson proceeded to drive in no more than 71 runs in a season over the next four years, while topping the 15 homerun mark only once. He retired following an injury-riddled 2005 season. No word yet as to whether or not the Tigers plan to construct a statue of Higgy out in center field at Comerica Park.

Nate Robertson, SP - three years, $22M - 2008

Real smooth, Dave Dombrowski. You narrowly avoided arbitration in 2008 by bagging up a career fourth starter in Nate Robertson for over $7 million per season. At least Higginson won multiple “Tiger of the Year” awards! Now, before you crucify me for coming down too hard on "Nate Dogg", know this: his pinnacle as a starting pitcher came in 2006 when he went 13-13 with a 3.84 ERA and a putrid 1.31 WHIP. When the Tigers advanced to the World Series that year, he did shutout the Oakland A’s in Game One of the ALCS. But if that's all it takes to land you $22 million, then sign me up, I’ll take my chances against Nick Swisher in the playoffs! Nate last pitched in 2010, for like, twelve different teams.

[caption id="attachment_370" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Dontrelle Willis won only two games in three seasons as a member of the Tigers. (Photo credit: Keith Allison, Flickr)"]Dontrelle Willis[/caption]

Dontrelle Willis, SP - three years, $29M - 2007

A lot of Detroiters seem to overlook the outrageous extension that Dombrowski handed "The D-Train” in 2007, most likely because he was a part of the Miguel Cabrera trade with Florida, and Cabby has gone on to achieve a modest level of success as a Tiger. But it’s plain to see that Dombrowski was striking out a hell of a lot more than the batters who would face Dontrelle in Detroit would, for the simple fact that Willis was coming off of a

two-year span in which he registered ERA’s of 3.87 and 5.19, respectively. Willis wasn’t just bad in Detroit---he was downright awful. So awful, in fact, that his ERA during his first two years as a Tiger (9.38 and 7.49) was higher than the amount of games that he pitched in during those two seasons (8 and 7). After failing to regain the magical form that won him the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2003, Willis bounced around from team to team until this year, when he decided to call it quits at a cool, 30 years of age.

It's not to say that Sanchez is destined to be a bust during his tenure in Motown, as he did show a lot of promise by allowing only four runs in three playoff games this past October. But he will definitely have to be more consistent than he has been to this point in his career, and even put up borderline All-Star numbers in order to justify the kind of money he was awarded. Also, he'll surely want to succeed to keep his name from gracing the next one of these botched Tiger contract lists.

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