Best Free-Agent Contracts <br> of the last 30 years
November 13, 2007
1 of 10Brad Mangin/SI
Barry Bonds, Giants
The Giants paid dearly with this deal before the '02 season. What they got, though, coming off Bonds' 73-homer '01 season, was a slugger who won three straight MVP awards, took the Giants to the '02 World Series and filled the stands at home and on the road. That's worth it even with one year ('05) lost to injury.
2 of 10Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Carlos Peña, Devil Rays
The Rangers, Tigers, A's, Red Sox and Yankees all had given up on the strapping first baseman when he signed a minor league deal with the Rays in February of '07. All he did was lead AL first basemen in homers (46), RBIs (121), on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Fluke or not, the gamble paid off.
3 of 10V.J. Lovero/SI
Cecil Fielder, Tigers
After a disappointing start to his career in Toronto, Fielder wowed Japan with the Hanshin Tigers in 1989. In '90 the Tigers wooed him back (beating out the Red Sox) with this deal. In his first year he crushed 51 homers. In his second he ripped 44. He finished second in the MVP voting both years.
4 of 10John Iacono/SI
Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
A lot of teams were after Vlad in the winter before the '04 season. The Angels were somewhat surprising winners, with a deal that paled to some signed a couple of years earlier. Guerrero, still the lone big bat in the Angels' lineup, produced an MVP in the first year, 131 homers in the first four years and three division titles.
5 of 10V.J. Lovero/SI
Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks
It's a lot of money in 1999, sure. But the Big Unit gave the D'backs four straight years of domination, with four Cy Young Awards, at least 34 starts a year, more than 350 strikeouts a year and, with the World Series win in '01, the first professional sports title in the state's history. (Johnson also earned a World Series co-MVP award.)
6 of 10V.J. Lovero/SI
Terry Pendleton, Braves
In 1990 Pendleton hit .230 in St. Louis, enabling the Braves to sneak in with the steal of the winter in this deal. In '91 the third baseman hit .319 with 22 homers and won the MVP award. The sad-sack Braves went from worst to first, starting a string of 14 straight division titles. Pendleton was MVP runner-up in '92.
7 of 10David E. Klutho/SI
Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Even if you add the $13 million posting fee to this contract it was still a steal. Ichiro won the Rookie of the Year and the AL MVP in '01, had three straight 200-hit seasons, averaged more than 116 runs a year, stole 121 bases and hit .328 over the life of the deal. He also transformed a franchise.
8 of 10Manny Millan/SI
Nolan Ryan, Astros
This was a record contract in the winter of 1979, scandalously high. But Ryan made it pay off immediately, leading the Astros to the first postseason in their history. The Express had a 2.91 ERA from 1980 to '83, went 52-36 and finished in the top five in strikeouts each year. The Astros bought a load of credibility with this deal.
9 of 10Damian Strohmeyer/SI
David Ortiz, Red Sox
When the Twins non-tendered Big Papi in December of 2002 the Sox snapped up the slugger, split his time between first base and DH and began to turn him into a sensation. Ortiz smacked 31 homers and 39 doubles in '03, won two games with walkoffs and hit .364 in extra innings -- a taste of things to come.
10 of 10Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Roger Clemens, Blue Jays
He had started to slide in Boston -- Dan Duquette was right -- but the Rocket reversed course in Canada, leading the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts in both years of the deal ('97-98) and picking up two Cy Young Awards. The Jays couldn't win, but Clemens was 41-13 with a 2.33 ERA. Hard to ask for anything more.
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