MLB 2024: The worst free agent signings in recent history

The Astros are walking away from $30.8 million left on Jose Abreu's deal. How does his contract compare to other regrettable free agent deals? Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros had little choice in releasing first baseman Jose Abreu given his horrendous start this season, but it's still a decision teams are reluctant to make: Eating a big chunk of money, $30.8 million in this case. Signed as a free agent before the 2023 season, Abreu was hitting .124 in 35 games and the Astros had given the 37-year-old former MVP 120 plate appearances to see if he had anything left; he didn't. Given that they are six games under .500 and their offense ranks just seventh in the American League in runs, the Astros couldn't wait any longer.

It's an ignominious ending for Abreu, the 2020 American League MVP and a two-time RBI champ. It's not overstating things to suggest that Abreu, who was 27 when he signed with the Chicago White Sox in 2014 after defecting from Cuba, would be a potential Hall of Famer if he had gotten to the majors sooner. He joined the Cuban professional league when he was just 16, hit .337 at age 18 and was the best hitter in the league in his 20s.

In his first season with the White Sox, he hit .317 with 36 home runs, leading the AL in slugging percentage and adjusted OPS. He drove in 100 runs in five of his first seven seasons, missing only in 2018 (when he missed 34 games) and the shortened 2020 season (when he led the majors with 60 RBIs in 60 games).

We could attempt to backfill some of Abreu's missing major league seasons to create an estimated career WAR. In his first four seasons with the White Sox, he averaged 4.3 WAR, with a high of 5.8 in that first season. His first huge offensive season in Cuba came when he was 22, so that's five seasons we can assume he would have played at an elite level. Let's say he averaged 4.5 WAR over those five seasons and averaged 2.5 WAR from ages 19 to 21. That's an additional 30 WAR on top of the 30.3 during his MLB career, a total of 60.3 that compares favorably with some other Hall of Fame first baseman/slugger types such as Harmon Killebrew (60.3), Willie Stargell (57.3), David Ortiz (55.3), Tony Perez (53.9) and Fred McGriff (52.6).

He has 263 home runs and 960 RBIs in the majors. Give him a conservative estimate of 200 additional home runs and 700 RBIs and you're looking at impressive career totals of 463 home runs and 1660s RBIs. That's a potential Hall of Famer.

None of that covers up what a disastrous deal this has been for the Astros, however. At the time of the signing, I gave it a B+ grade, mostly because Abreu projected as a nice upgrade at first base over Yuli Gurriel, who had struggled in 2022 at minus-0.2 WAR. Abreu was coming off a .304 season with the White Sox, but with just 15 home runs -- perhaps the warning sign that his game was starting to slip. It's also a signing that former GMs Jeff Luhnow or James Click wouldn't have made. Luhnow preferred to make trades for marquee players -- see Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke -- rather than sign free agents, let alone 36-year-old free agents to three-year deals. Owner Jim Crane struck the deal in the interim between parting ways with Click after the 2022 World Series title and the hiring of Dana Brown.

Now the Astros are stuck paying out the rest of Abreu's contract. It's the kind of deal that explains why some teams can be reluctant -- as we saw this past offseason -- to dip into free agency, especially for players in their 30s. So many of them end up backfiring. Abreu's release got me thinking of five other bad deals from recent offseasons.