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Baseball's biggest free agents, team by team

Saturday - 2/15/2014, 9:11am  ET

NOAH TRISTER
AP Baseball Writer

Spring training is starting, and it's time for Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo and a number of other big names to suit up for new teams. Free agent signings are the lifeblood of baseball's offseason, helping fans stay engaged during the cold of winter.

With that in mind, The Associated Press presents this list of the most significant free agent acquisitions in the history of each major league franchise -- one entry per team. The definition of "significant" is subjective, of course, but these free agents were all memorable for one reason or another. Some were bargains, others were busts. Some signed record-setting contracts, and a few weren't highly pursued at all.

There were only a couple ground rules for this exercise:

1. Each free agent featured was an established pro. In other words, teenagers signed out of obscurity didn't count.

2. Only free agents who switched teams were eligible. We were looking for moves from one club to another -- not players who signed big deals to stay in one place.

The list is presented chronologically, and it spans free agency's entire history -- from the mid-1970s all the way though this offseason:

CLEVELAND INDIANS: WAYNE GARLAND (NOVEMBER 1976)

Garland was coming off a 20-win season in Baltimore when the Indians signed him to a 10-year, $2.3 million deal -- a move that quickly became a cautionary tale on the risks of long-term contracts. Amid shoulder problems, Garland went 13-19 in his first season with Cleveland and never amounted to much with the Indians. He was released after the 1981 season, having won only 28 games in his entire tenure with Cleveland. Nowadays, the idea of a 10-year contract for any pitcher seems almost preposterous.

NEW YORK YANKEES: REGGIE JACKSON (NOVEMBER 1976)

The Yankees have certainly signed their share of big-name free agents, including Dave Winfield, CC Sabathia and Mike Mussina. But Jackson's impact still resonates all these years later. After signing a $3 million, five-year contract, Mr. October led the Yankees to World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. Jackson's three-homer game against the Los Angeles Dodgers capped a tumultuous 1977 season and remains part of World Series lore.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: PETE ROSE (DECEMBER 1976)

After losing in the NL championship series three straight seasons, the Phillies lured Rose away from Cincinnati with a $3.2 million, four-year deal. He delivered, hitting .331 in 1979 and helping the Phillies beat Kansas City in 1980 for their first World Series title.

SAN DIEGO PADRES: STEVE GARVEY (DECEMBER 1982)

Garvey was 34 when he began playing for San Diego at the start of the 1983 season, but he still had a few hits left in his bat. In 1984, the Padres won the NL West, and Garvey's homer off Lee Smith of the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS remains a signature moment in franchise history.

CINCINNATI REDS: DAVE PARKER (DECEMBER 1983)

Parker was five years removed from an MVP award when the Reds landed him, and he hit a career-high 34 homers with 125 RBIs for Cincinnati in 1985. The man they called "Cobra" was a two-time All-Star with the Reds, and when he was traded to Oakland after the 1987 season, Cincinnati got Jose Rijo in return. Rijo would lead the Reds to a victory over the Athletics in the 1990 World Series.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS: DAVE STEWART (MAY 1986)

Most significant free agents are signed during the offseason -- some after protracted bidding wars. Stewart, however, was picked up by the A's amid little fanfare after Philadelphia had released the journeyman. In 1987, Stewart reached the 20-win mark for the first of four consecutive seasons, emerging as an ace on a staff that would help Oakland reach the World Series three straight years from 1988-90.

CHICAGO CUBS: ANDRE DAWSON (MARCH 1987)

Amid the collusion scandal of the 1980s, Dawson left the Montreal Expos, famously signing a blank contract with Chicago during spring training. The Cubs went with an amount of $500,000, making Dawson one of the lowest-paid regulars on the team. He hit 49 home runs that year to win MVP honors and later helped Chicago to an NL East title in 1989.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS: KIRK GIBSON (JANUARY 1988)

Darryl Strawberry and Kevin Brown are among the stars who have signed with the Dodgers over the years, but it's hard to top Gibson's immediate impact. The fiery outfielder was declared a free agent in an arbitrator's collusion ruling and left the Detroit Tigers for Los Angeles at a time when the Dodgers were coming off back-to-back 73-win seasons. Gibson won the MVP in 1988 and helped Los Angeles to a World Series title with his unforgettable home run off Oakland's Dennis Eckersley.

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