Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Look Back At A Texas Rangers Free Agency Disaster

On January 16th, 2002 the Texas Rangers signed South Korean right-handed pitcher Chan Ho Park. He became the first South Korean-born player in MLB history when he came on to the scene in 1994. In the winter of 2001, Park was coming off two of the most stellar years in his major league career playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2000, he went 18-10 with a 3.27 ERA while striking out 217 batters in 226 innings pitched. His success carried over into the 2001 season - as he went 15-11 with a 3.50 ERA and punched out 218 batters in 234 innings of work. However, his career took a downward spiral from there. Ironically, he waited until he got a 5-year/$65 million contract from the Texas Rangers to have that downward spiral, as his time in Arlington was a complete disaster. 

On April 1st, 2002 Park made his first start for the Rangers against the Oakland Athletics and struggled badly in his debut. He gave up 9 hits, 2 homers and 6 earned runs in just 5 innings of work. The rest of his time in Arlington was riddled with injuries and he struggled to adjust to the hitter friendly confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Here's a look at his ERA while wearing a Rangers uniform year-by-year:

2002: 5.75 ERA
*2003: 7.58 ERA
2004: 5.46 ERA
2005: 5.66 ERA

*Only pitched 29 2/3 inning due to a season ending back injury

If you ask me, those numbers don't look like they're worth $65 million. Park's struggles to adjust to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was a major disappointment to the Rangers organization. On July 30th, 2005 they finally had enough with Park and traded him to the San Diego Padres. During his time in Arlington he pulled in a total of $48,884,803. I doubt Park's intentions were to burn a hole in Texas' pocket without living up to the big payday, but he certainly succeeded in doing so. In his first full season with San Diego in 2006, he went 7-7 with a 4.81 ERA while striking out 96 batters in 136 2/3 innings - a definite improvement from his days in Arlington. However, given the fact that at the time Park was in a Padres uniform, PetCo Park was an extremely pitcher friendly park, I'd have to say he struggled in San Diego just as bad as he did in Arlington. 

For the rest of his career he was primarily a relief pitcher. He would play for the Mets, sign a minor-league deal with the Astros, make a return to the Dodgers, pitch for the Phillies, Pirates and Yankees before officially retiring from baseball in 2012. In his last MLB game against the Florida Marlins on October 1st, 2010 he pitched 3 shutout innings while striking out 6 batters. In a career full of struggles, that was certainly a great way to walk away from the MLB for Park. He did pitch in Japan in 2011, but injuries derailed his season and limited him to only pitching seven games that year. He also pitched in his homeland of South Korea in 2012 before retiring from baseball, but his success was menial - as he finished with a 5-10 record and 5.06 ERA. His career will most likely be remembered by his inability to live up to the big contract he was given by the Texas Rangers, but he was a pioneer in the Korean baseball community and is the winningest Asian-born pitcher in MLB history (124) . With today's MLB free agency in full swing, it'll be interesting to see if we'll see another contract like this - I'm sure we will. All in all, his time in Arlington was a complete disaster and will probably go down as one of the worst contracts in MLB history.

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