3. Kei Igawa
Maybe the news cycle just didn’t dig as deeply in those pre-Twitter days? Maybe we just didn’t have access to enough information, as fans?
But when Kei Igawa came over from the Hanshin Tigers at the tail end of the 2006 season, accepting a $26,000,194 (the last three numbers representing his strikeout total) bid and a five-year, $20 million contract, he was thought of as not quite Hideo Nomo, but still someone who could make a meaningful and immediate contribution to the back end of a big-league rotation.
Did we not know his elite-level performance had declined significantly in 2004 and 2005 overseas? He posted ERAs of 3.73 and 3.86 after winning the MVP and Cy Young equivalent back in 2003. Hell, he’d even been exiled to the Japanese minor leagues for a stretch in ’05, which we’re pretty sure would never happen to Mike Trout if he had a tough few weeks.
When Igawa left Japan, he’d been the target of significant fan criticism, and unfortunately brought his regression with him to the Yankees. In late April of 2007, he broke out, replacing an injured Jeff Karstens with six innings of brilliant relief against the Red Sox in a 3-1 win.
That was as good as it got. He finished 2007 with a 6.25 ERA in 12 starts, then “finished” 2008 with a 13.50 ERA in just two short outings (13 hits allowed in four innings).
Yes, Igawa was mostly paid to pitch and live in Scranton until his Yankees contract ran out — though he actually reportedly blocked two Brian Cashman attempts to sell him back to Japan, so that was partially his choice.
What a life.