8 of the worst contracts in Detroit Tigers history

Jordan Zimmermann #27 and Mike Pelfrey during Spring Training. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Jordan Zimmermann #27 and Mike Pelfrey during Spring Training. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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It is a time of optimism for Detroit Tigers fans.

Sure, Major League Baseball is currently in the midst of a lockout. And the Detroit Tigers have the second-worst winning percentage in baseball over the past five years. But the 2021 season was undeniably a step in the right direction.

The Tigers have their manager in place. They’ve overhauled their player development system. Their young pitchers all showed positive signs in 2021, and their top two hitting prospects look like potential impact players as soon as this season.

Yes, it’s a good time to be a Detroit Tigers fan. So let’s remember some terrible contracts.

Look, lockouts don’t provide a ton of content. And perhaps remembering some terrible deals from the past can help warn us about ugly deals in the future. If this is all too negative for you, feel free to look at our piece from last year on the best free-agent signings in Detroit Tigers history.

We settled on the year 2000 as a starting point for this piece, but beyond that we don’t have any strict criteria. Some of these deals are very long and expensive, while others are short and mostly forgettable. The only common thread is they just didn’t work out for the Tigers.

Let’s begin.

Detroit Tigers 8th Worst Contract – Joe Nathan

Detroit Tigers
Joe Nathan looks to first base. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Tigers actively tried to compete from roughly 2004 to 2017. But, through a remarkable mix of poor decisions, bad luck, and seemingly divine punishment, they rarely managed to field a reliable closer. This run of calamity began with veteran Troy Percival, who nearly made this list, and ends with veteran Francisco Rodríguez. But Joe Nathan’s failure was perhaps the most disappointing.

It retrospect, it seems crazy for the Tigers to have committed $20 million over two years to a closer heading into his age-39 season. There were a few indicators of what was to come — namely diminished velocity and his highest walk rate in a decade — but Joe Nathan was coming off a spectacular season in which he earned 43 saves and posted a 1.39 ERA and a  2.26 FIP. And over the previous decade he was quite literally the best reliever in baseball this side of Mariano Rivera. Joe Nathan’s career numbers are worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but in Detroit he stumbled to a 4.81 ERA in 2014. Then in 2015 he hurt his elbow after just four pitches, and his Tigers career was finished.