Ty Wigginton, who turns 41 on Thursday, was signed to a two-year deal before the 2013 season to provide some hits off the bench. He lasted until July 9, when the Cardinals released him after a 9-for-57 performance. His free-agent signing was among the team's worst under chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. (1996-2018). Columnist Ben Frederickson takes a look at other free-agent signings that didn't exactly make the cut.
His five-year deal from the Cards before the 1996 season, worth an estimated $33 million, was the first multi-year contract of the 30-year-old's career. "It's been a long time coming," the left fielder said at the time. "I've put up a lot of good numbers in the major leagues."
The good numbers dipped. Injuries and strikeouts increased. He hit .246 and knocked 30 homers in 1996, but struck out a career-high 162 times in 1997, and his role was decreased in 1998. After he was traded to Philadelphia, Gant voiced his opinion that Mark McGwire batting third fouled up the Cards' lineup.
"That lineup worked for Ray Lankford and Brian Jordan and Delino Deshields and J.D. Drew in his few games in September, " manager Tony La Russa shot back. "The only one it didn't work for was Ron Gant. It was whiff, whiff, whiff."
After a 15-year career that spanned seven teams, the six-time All-Star was ready for retirement until the Cards called heading into the 2001 season. Injuries, most notably the hampered left hamstring during spring training that helped a young Albert Pujols make the roster, caught up with the 38-year-old switch-hitter who was supposed to be the club's top pinch-hitter during his one-year deal worth $900,000. Instead he hit .213 with 12 extra-base hits in what became his final season.
Signed to a three-year, $21 million deal before the 2002 season, the 34-year-old who faced the tall task of replacing Mark McGwire spent two slump-prone years in St. Louis before the club traded him to Tampa Bay to free up first base for Albert Pujols.
Martinez hit .267/.345/.434 during his two seasons with the Cards. His 36 combined home runs were two more than he hit as a Yankee in 2001. And he was a no-show in the 2002 postseason, where he went two for 25. He later pushed back against the "malcontent" and "cancer" labels applied by media and fans.
The Cards won the World Series in 2006, but the 29-year-old righty didn't do much to help them get there. After signing a one-year deal worth $1 million, Ponson rarely lasted longer than five innings yet pushed back the notion of a move to the bullpen.
He had a 4-4 record and 5.24 ERA in 14 appearances when he was designated for assignment. He was released and agreed to a deal with the Yankees — the same day his T-shirt debuted in the Cards' team store.
Randy Hendricks, Wells' representative, had this to say about the one-year deal worth $4 million that his client signed before the 2007 season: "If Kip does what we and the Cardinals hope, he will be worth a lot more after 2007. So we are betting on each other and the future."
Former Cards pitching coach Dave Duncan had a knack for reviving veteran arms, but his magic didn't work on the righty starter.
The 30-year-old started 26 games, and the Cardinals lost 20 of them. He was demoted to the bullpen at one point and finished the season with a 7-17 record and 5.70 ERA.
The Cards selected the second baseman 20th in the 1997 draft, and he made his major league debut with the club in 1999 before he was traded to Anaheim in the deal that sent Jim Edmonds to St. Louis.
Kennedy, the 2002 AL Championship Series MVP, came back to his first club for the 2007 season thanks to a three-year deal worth $10 million. It wasn't a happy homecoming for the 31-year-old, and it ended early thanks to an unconditional release. He hit .219 during an injury-shortened first season, then requested a trade after his playing time dropped off.
The 32-year-old righhanded starter hit the first grand slam of his career on May 21, 2010. The back injury that caused his exit in the same inning ended his only season with the Cards.
Signed to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million, Penny made nine starts (3-4) and pitched 55.2 innings (3.23 ERA) before the injury that was expected to heal in a few weeks turned into the pitcher sitting the rest of the 2010 season.
The Cards thought the veteran infielder might have starter potential after they signed him to a one-year deal worth $1.15 million before the 2013 season. Less than two months later, the 30-year-old was off the roster via unconditional release. The reason? Pete Kozma beat him out. Ouch.
"It wasn't fair to drag him on," Cards manager Mike Matheny said at the time. At least Cedeno got about $284,050 for his spring-training stint.
The former All-Star (2010) wasn't supposed to be The Man, but he was expected to offer a veteran bat off the bench when he was signed to a two-year deal worth $5 million before the 2013 season. The 35-year-old went 9 for 57 with 19 strikeouts and no homers before the club gave him an unconditional release after only 47 appearances.
He exited with class. "I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the Cardinals," he said.
The addition of the 37-year-old second baseman before the 2014 season made enough sense. Here was an older yet still reliable infielder who could back up Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong.
The one-year deal worth $5.25 million turned out to be a bad investment. Ellis, a .265 hitter during his 11-year career before joining the Cardinals, hit a career-low .180. At one point he went 29 games without an RBI. He also set career lows in home runs (zero), runs (15) and RBI (12). He announced his retirement in February.
There are bad deals. Then there are the worst kind of deals, the ones that end when a club not only raises a white flag, but decides to throw money overboard in the process. The Cardinals don't do this often. Especially when there are multiple years left on the dud player's deal. But they decided it was the only answer with Leake, whom they signed to a five-year, $80 million deal in December 2015, then traded to the Mariners in August of 2017, chipping in some $17 million along with $750,000 of international signing-cap space in exchange for ... a minor league infielder named Rayder Ascanio.
Leake, who landed the largest contract value of any free-agent starting pitcher in Cardinals history, posted a 16-24 record in 56 starts with the Redbirds. He departed with a 4.46 ERA. He was especially terrible against the National League Central; he went 5-14 with a 5.04 ERA in 27 starts against division foes. Leake lost 10 of his last 12 decisions as a Cardinal and posted a 6.94 ERA in his last 10 starts. A nasty battle with a case of the shingles impacted Leake's first season. The poor fit with his new team lingered long beyond that. Would things have turned around if the Cardinals gave him more time? We'll never know.
Cecil is two years into a four-year, $30.5 million contract, and to say things have not gone well is an understatement.
In 2017, the lefty reliever let a career-high number of inherited runners score (40.6 percent). Left-handed hitters averaged .343 and slugged .539 against him. In 2018, Cecil struggled with injuries and command all season, ringing up an eye-popping 6.89 ERA while allowing 39 hits and 20 unintentional walks in just 32⅔ innings. Again, he had problems with left-handed hitters, who had a .310 average against him.
Holland came to St. Louis as an All-Star closer, signing a one-year, $14 million deal hours before the 2018 regular season started. He left St. Louis by the end of July, never able to find command of his fastball or his slider, considered his specialty.
The right-hander had no saves, a 7.92 ERA and walked an astonishing 22 batters in 25 innings. Shortly after leaving the Cardinals, he signed with the Nationals, allowing just two runs and nine hits in 21⅓ innings, which only worsened the sting of this stinker of a signing.
TO BE DETERMINED: DEXTER FOWLER
After an all-star season playing center field with the World Series-winning Cubs, Fowler signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Cardinals after the 2016 season. Fowler, who turned 31 shortly before opening day in 2017, was expected to be the long-term answer in center field in St. Louis.
His first season with the Cardinals wasn't awful, but certainly nowhere near what the team hoped for, given the big salary. His second season, 2018, was awful. After 12 games, he was hitting only .152 (7 for 46), and after April 15, Fowler's batting average never rose above .200 all season, finishing at .180 on Aug. 3, the last game he played. He also posted negative defensive runs saved metrics.
Fowler should get another chance to redeem himself, with three years and $49.5 million remaining on his deal.
THE FLIP SIDE: BEST FREE-AGENT MOVES
Will the Cardinals make a move in free agency this offseason?
While we wait to find out, columnist Ben Frederickson reviews some of their best signings — from Carp and a catcher, to Berkman, Beltran and beyond: