May 22, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view as fans watch fireworks after the game between the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Davis – Closer
Mark Davis is one of the biggest free-agent busts in baseball history, and he played for our own Kansas City Royals from 1990-92.
In 1990, Royals aged owner Ewing Kauffman was trying to win one last title before he passed away. Trying to build upon a 1989 team that won 92 games, he opened the vault to sign free-agents in a spending spree that the franchise has never seen.
Kauffman pushed the Kansas City Royals payroll to $20 million, which was the highest in major-league baseball 25 years ago. He brought in former 20-game winner Richard Dotson, 19-game winner Storm Davis (yes, that was considered an important measure of pitcher skill at the time), and signed 1989 National League Cy Young award winner Mark Davis to a three-year, $9.3 million deal.
What made the deal so puzzling, is the KC Royals already had solid back-end relievers in Steve Farr and Jeff Montgomery. I suppose we can consider signing Mark Davis Kansas City’s first attempt at building a three-headed bullpen monster, but it was an abject failure because Davis immediately turned into a pumpkin.
Mark Davis went 2-7, with a 5.11 ERA and four blown saves in 10 chances. He notched a mere six saves for KC after 44 the year before with the Padres as his walks per nine innings (BB9) zoomed from 3.0 in 1989 to 6.8 in 1990.
In 1990, umpires used to be attached to each league. Thus, you had American League and National League umpires who called a somewhat different strike zone. Davis struggled to adjust, and he never really recovered even after returning to the NL later in his career.
Mark Davis quickly lost his closer job in favor of Jeff Montgomery, who went on to earn a spot in the Kansas City Royals Hall-of-Fame as the franchise’s all-time saves leader. Mark Davis improved a bit to a 4.45 ERA in 62.2 innings in 1991, but he still wasn’t anything close to worth his salary. Davis then imploded the next season, opening the 1992 season with a 7.18 ERA in 36.1 innings before the Royals dealt him to Atlanta at the trade deadline.
Mark Davis might not have been a clubhouse cancer like Juan Cruz, or a defective human being like Ambiorix Burgos, but he was the worst free-agent Kansas City Royals history.