Many of you may recall that a few weeks ago I posted a Thursday Thinker asking you to name the destinations of all of MLB Trade Rumors' Top 50 free agents. With some help from around the SB Nation network, that pretty quickly became my most popular Sporcle quiz of all time: It's been taken 1,860 times as of this writing. I've also kept it updated, if you'd like to go take it again. Take it now, if you haven't, because this post will spoil it for you.
One side effect of a popular quiz is that it gives us a pretty fair representation of which transactions fans remember, and which ones they don't. 99% of quiz participants, for example, knew that Robinson Cano is a Mariner now. Over 95% also correctly identified Jacoby Esllbury and Brian McCann as Yankees and Shin-Soo Choo as a new Ranger.
On the other end of the spectrum, though, we have the moves I'm interested in: The signings that most baseball fans have already forgotten. What follows is a list of the quiz's five least popular correct answers:
MLBTR rated Smith as the winter's #44 free agent, but a pretty significant number of fans may never have heard of the righty reliever with the anonymous-sounding name. Smith has a career 2.97 ERA over seven seasons as a member of the Mets and Indians, but has never been an All Star or even a closer (three career saves, all in 2013).
What Smith has been, though, is one of baseball's most reliable relievers over the last three seasons. He made 70 or more appearances for the Indians in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and has a 2.42 ERA over that time, striking out 152 batters in 197 innings. That was enough to get him a three-year, $15.75 million contract from the Angels.
McLouth is a name you probably recognize, as he was an All Star and won a Gold Glove with the Pirates in 2008, hitting 26 home runs and leading the NL with 46 doubles. You may have forgotten he's still around, though, because his star dimmed a bit after that. He fell into part-time duty and bounced around between the Pirates, Braves, Pirates again and Orioles from 2009-12, hitting just .235/.332/.381 and averaging less than 100 games per season.
2013 was McLouth's age 31 season and his first full time opportunity since 2008, however, and he responded by hitting .258/.329/.399 in 146 games, primarily in left field. He'll have to move back to part-time duty with the Nationals, where he's unlikely to unseat Bryce Harper, Denard Span or Jayson Werth from their starting roles. Washington gave him two years and $10.75 million, though, so they must anticipate getting him some work.
Mujica transitioned from "veteran journeyman" to "proven closer," in a hurry in 2013, recording 37 saves in his first full season as a member of the Cardinals. Before that he had saved just four games over seven seasons with the Indians, Padres and Marlins. He's always had very good control, walking just 1.4 batters per nine innings over 381 MLB appearances.
Mujica was an All Star for the first time in 2013, a pretty nice turnaround for a guy who's been designated for assignment and traded for cash in his career. He has a sub-3.00 ERA over the last three seasons but still carries a 3.75 mark for his career and gives up 1.2 homers per nine innings. The Red Sox will owe him $9.5 million plus incentives over the next two years.
Jason Vargas, Royals, 38.5% correct
The Royals should win some kind of prize for spending the most money on a transaction most fans didn't remember. Vargas will get $32 million over the next four seasons to pitch in Kansas City after spending 2013 with the Angels.
Before going to Los Angeles Vargas was a pretty reliable innings-eater for the Mariners, making 96 starts and pitching 611 innings between 2010-12 with a 3.96 ERA. He was limited to 24 starts in 2013, though, after a blood clot was discovered in his armpit. He had a 4.60 ERA over his last ten starts to finish the season, and will turn 31 in February.
Joaquin Benoit, Padres, 38.5% correct
Joining Mujica on the "first-time closers cashing in" list is Benoit, already a veteran of 12 MLB seasons with the Rangers, Rays and Tigers. Benoit had a very good season as a 35-year-old with the Tigers in 2013, posting a 2.01 ERA over 66 appearances and recording 24 saves, the first time he's ever had more than six.
His age would suggest that Benoit should be slowing down a bit, but his fastball actually averaged 94 mph in 2013 for the first time in his career. The Padres opened up the checkbook to give him two years and $15.5 million, with a vesting option for 2016. If he pitches three years in San Diego, he'll be 39 years old when he's a free agent again.
The other free agent signings less than 50% of fans remembered are as follows:
|Player||New Team||Correct %|
* - Crain had not yet signed when the quiz was originally posted.