For the last several offseasons, big money teams have thrown millions of dollars to high-priced free agents. They have also signed players on their rosters to extensions and traded for high-priced players. All of these moves were made with a simple idea in mind. These teams felt like the piece their team was missing was either a front-line starter or middle of the order bat. By spending large sums of their profits to bring in this All-Star caliber player, these teams have felt it was the missing piece to much future success.
That has to be the reason. It wouldn’t make sense for it to be any other way. That’s why the Texas Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez $252 million in 2001. That’s the reason the Angels gave Albert Pujols $240 million in 2012 and why the Mariners gave Robinson Cano the same last off-season.
Of the 20 largest contracts ever given to free agents in baseball history to change teams, only four players have won rings with that team: Manny Ramirez, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Barry Zito. The Red Sox handed Ramirez a $160 million deal in 2001, and three years later, he helped the Sox break “The Curse of the Bambino” to finally win the World Series and then won again in 2007. By the end of the contract, Manny was being Manny too often and he left Boston. Considering the recent history of large contacts, however, this was the clear winner as the most successful free agent signing in the last 15 years.
The Yankees gave Sabathia $161 million and Texieira $180 million in 2009 and it paid immediate dividends, as they led the Yankees to their 27th title that season. Sabathia was their ace for the next four years, but has struggled the last three seasons. Teixeira also had good seasons through 2012, and then struggled in 2013 and 2014 like Sabathia. In a tragic turn of events, Sabathia has checked himself into rehab for alcohol and his future is in doubt. Teixeira had a Comeback Player of the Year worthy season in 2015, and now heads into the final year of his contract with some hope.
The Giants gave Zito $126 million back in 2007. For the first four seasons, Zito was widely considered by fans in the Bay Area to be a terrible signing and when the team went to the post-season in 2010, he wasn’t included on the playoff roster. Now as any Giants fan will let you know, Zito’s pitching performance in the 2012 post-season wiped all the bad thoughts and all the bad seasons. However, this also shows just how unlikely it is for your team’s big free agent signing being the missing link.
Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke, who signed with the Nationals and Dodgers, respectively, as free agents, just had Cy Young–caliber seasons in 2015. Scherzer is in the first season of his mega-deal while Greinke, who signed for $147 million in 2013, has an opt-out in the contract that allows him to become a free agent again this year. Scherzer certainly wasn’t the problem in Washington, and his contract still has time to be “worth the price”. Greinke helped the Dodgers win the National League West three straight seasons, something the Dodgers had never done before. However, by opting out this year, and because the Dodgers didn’t win a World Series in that short time, was Greinke’s signing worth it?
Prince Fielder helped lead the Detroit Tigers to the World Series in 2012, the same year he signed with the Tigers for $214 million. However, he is already an ex-Tiger, helping lead the Texas Rangers now.
Carl Crawford was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 2011 and quickly traded to the Dodgers along with Adrian Gonzalez and others. That trade helped shaped the 2013 Red Sox that won the World Series, but it was their much more affordable replacements that helped David Ortiz lead the Sox that year.
Alex Rodriguez signed his $275 million extension in 2008 and Derek Jeter signed his $189 million deal in 2001. Both were on the 2009 Yankees that won the World Series with Sabathia. A-Rod and Jeter were already Yankees at the time, but they are also the only players among the top 10 contracts to win a ring during their deal.
The Yankees 2009 team had a payroll of more than $220 million according to Baseball Prospectus. Adding Sabathia and Teixeira to a team that already had Jeter and Rodriguez is something that only the Yankees could have afforded at the time. The Dodgers, among others, are now willing to outspend the Yankees and it has led to bloated contracts being given out to players outside of the Bronx. Outside of that 2009 team the Yankees bought, there has been very little success from buying players in free agency.
Buster Posey signed a $167 million extension in 2013 and the Giants won a third World Series championship in 2014. That seems to be the smarter play for teams looking to shell out huge dollars for players. Matt Cain‘s extension came in 2012 for $127.5 million and he led the Giants staff that season. However, Cain’s struggles since that year because of injuries and inconsistency show how fragile these signings can be.
For a team like the Giants, Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox, the teams are able to withstand the blow more than others. With no salary cap in baseball, teams can spend whatever money they have, based on their profits and the revenue sharing rules that have been recently added. That revenue sharing has helped teams that don’t have the same profits as some of the larger market teams, but it hasn’t allowed them to overpay for multiple free agents. It also hasn’t allowed them to re-sign their own for the price players can earn on the free agent market. We are seeing this now with International signings as well, as the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and others are battling for all of the top players.
Giancarlo Stanton will begin playing under his record-setting $325 million contract next year. Will the Marlins win a third World Series during the 13 years of the contract? Will Stanton opt out the way Greinke has this off-season, and pursue a larger deal after the 2020 season? Or will Stanton be traded by 2018, when his contract bumps up to $25 million a season?