In Honor of Ed Reed: The Worst Free-Agent Signings in Houston Sports History
So Ed Reed's gone. It seems like just yesterday that Bob McNair was flying Reed around the country on McNair's private jet. But now, unwanted by the Texans, Reed finds himself playing for the Jets. Don't cry for Reed, though, because while he barely played for the Texans, he collected nearly six million dollars from the Texans, and he now finds himself on the roster of a team that amazingly is in the playoff hunt.
Reed was a pretty damn big free agent bust, but hard as it might be to believe, Reed's hardly the biggest free agent bust in Houston sports history. So I decided I'd provide some of my suggestions for biggest flops. The list is far from exhaustive, so feel free to leave a few names of your own.
Clancy was a semi-decent mid-rotation starter for the Toronto Blue Jays during the 1980s. He compiled a 128-140 record over 12 years, with a decent AL ERA of 4.10. He also had the luck of becoming a free agent following the 1988 season, the luck arising from the fact that the Astros had decided not to re-sign Nolan Ryan. Needing a new member for the starting rotation, the team signed Clancy to a three-year $3.4 million contract.
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Clancy's first Astros start was against the San Diego Padres. He pitched 8.1 innings, gave up only two runs, six hits, and struck out eight as the Astros got the 6-2 win. That was the highlight of Clancy's Astros career, as he finished the 1989 season with a 7-14 record and 5.08 ERA. The 1990 season was even worse, as he went 2-8 with a 6.51 ERA. He split 1991 between the Astros and the minors, between the rotation and the bullpen, before being dealt late in the season to the Atlanta Braves where he actually got to pitch in the World Series.
Pippen technically wasn't a free agent acquisition. The Rockets instead acquired him in a 1999 trade with the Chicago Bulls, who had signed the free agent Pippen to a five-year, $67 million contract, then flipped him to the Rockets for the immortal Roy Rogers and a second-round draft pick. The sign-and-trade allowed the two teams and Pippen to play around with salary cap loopholes. But that's about all that Pippen played around with that season since he was just never able to mesh with Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley.
Pippen and Barkley clashed, with Pippen going off on Barkley at the time he was traded. Pippen averaged just 14.5 points a game for the Rockets while shooting only 43 percent from the field and dishing out 5.9 assists a game. And his tenure was further marked by a DUI arrest that ended up doing more for the career of attorney Rusty Hardin than it did for Pippen.
The Texans were in desperate need of a running back who could carry a heavy load, help take some pressure off of the passing game and provide some legitimacy to Gary Kubiak's offense. He was heavily recommended by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who had been Green's head coach at Green Bay. So Green signed a four-year, $23 million deal, with between $6 million and $7 million of the contract guaranteed.
Green ended up being the offensive version of Ed Reed, injured for most his play, clashing with general manager Rick Smith and playing just 14 games in his two seasons with the team. The end of his tenure was ugly, as was Reed's, and many, many fans (and team management) thought that Reed was faking his injury issues.
Rick Barry is one of the greatest players ever to hit the NBA court, having led teams in the NBA and the ABA to the championships. But he was on the downside of his career when he signed a big free agent contract with the Rockets for the 1978-79 season. Barry, a shooting forward with a beautiful jump shot, found himself playing more point forward since his role clashed with that of team legend Rudy Tomjanovich. He lasted one more season, retiring after a 1979-1980 season that found him spending more and more time on the bench.
The worst part of the Barry signing, what puts him on this list, is that at the time, the NBA awarded compensation to teams that lost their players as free agents. So as compensation for losing Barry to the Rockets, the Golden State Warriors received Rockets point guard John Lucas. The Rockets struggled for years to find a point guard after losing Lucas, and Barry as point forward was just not the same thing
Drayton McLane wanted to make a big splash after purchasing the Astros, so he decided to go big in the free agent market. He made two signings, former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek and former Cleveland Indian/Cincinnati Red/Texas Longhorn pitcher Greg Swindell. Swindell's deal was for four years and $17.5 million, and Swindell just wasn't good, going 30-54 over his four years, finishing up in the bullpen and never coming close to living up to the contract.
McLane swore off big-name free agents for a while after that, not going deep into the market again until after the team moved to Minute Maid Park. And Swindell continued pitching for many years, floating from club to club in a bullpen role, and being a key contributor the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks' World Series championship.
HONORABLE MENTION: Carlos Lee, Kazuo Matsui, Woody Williams, Doug Drabek, Jeremy Lin
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