Ranking Max Scherzer and MLB’s 10 Most Successful Free-Agent Signings Ever

Bleacher Report

In the final season of a seven-year, $210 million contract, Max Scherzer has already earned a place among the greatest free-agent signings in MLB history.

But where does he rank?

That's the question we set out to answer, combing through free-agent signings dating back to the start of free agency as we know it in 1976.

A few quick notes on which contracts were considered for spots in the rankings before we get started:

The individual's production over the life of their contract was an important factor in determining where they landed in the rankings, but so was postseason success. The goal when spending big money on a free agent is to have them lead the team to a World Series, and the success or failure in achieving that goal has to be taken into account as well.

Make sense?

Off we go.

No contract extensions: Contract extensions and players who re-signed with their teams in free agency were not considered for inclusion. Those are not true free-agency deals in the sense of players changing teams.

No one-year deals: Signing someone to a one-year contract is a no-risk move for a front office. That makes it difficult to compare them to players who sign multiyear deals, so no one-year pacts were eligible.

 

Honorable Mentions

Before we get started, here are a few free-agent signings that didn't make the cut but are still worth remembering:

SP: Kevin Brown (FLA), David Cone (KC), Zack Greinke (LAD), Orlando Hernandez (NYY), Mark Langston (CAL), Al Leiter (FLA), Mike Mussina (NYY), Nolan Ryan (HOU), CC Sabathia (NYY)

RP: Rollie Fingers (SD), Rich Gossage (NYY)

C: Carlton Fisk (CWS), Russell Martin (PIT), Darrell Porter (STL), Ivan Rodriguez (DET)

1B: Jose Abreu (CWS), Jason Giambi (NYY), John Olerud (SEA), Rafael Palmeiro (BAL), Rafael Palmeiro (TEX), Pete Rose (PHI)

2B: Roberto Alomar (BAL), Roberto Alomar (CLE), Jay Bell (ARI), Bobby Grich (CAL), Daniel Murphy (WAS), Ben Zobrist (CHC)

3B: Wade Boggs (NYY), Bill Mueller (BOS), Terry Pendleton (ATL)

SS: David Eckstein (STL), Alex Rodriguez (TEX), Miguel Tejada (BAL)

OF: Carlos Beltran (NYM), Johnny Damon (BOS), Jermaine Dye (CWS), Vladimir Guerrero (ANA), Dave Henderson (OAK), Torii Hunter (LAA), Larry Walker (COL), Dave Winfield (NYY)

DH: Nelson Cruz (SEA), Chili Davis (MIN), Victor Martinez (DET), Paul Molitor (TOR)

 

10. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs

Date: Dec. 15, 2014

Contract: Six years, $155 million

This is the move that set the wheels in motion for the Chicago Cubs' 2016 World Series title.

Jon Lester was on the cover of Sports Illustrated shortly after picking the Cubs over several other suitors during the 2014 winter meetings, and the article teaser perfectly framed the importance of the signing: "The Lester Factor: On Oct. 30, Vegas had the Cubs at 50 to 1 to win the 2015 World Series. After signing the big lefty, Chicago is sitting at 12 to 1."

After a forgettable first season with the North Siders, Lester delivered on expectations the following year by posting a 2.44 ERA in 202.2 innings to finish second in National League Cy Young Award voting. He was even better in October, making five starts and pitching three innings of relief in Game 7 of the Fall Classic, logging a 2.02 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 35.2 innings to lead the Cubs to the long-awaited championship.

His production dropped off over the final two years of the contract, but he still finished 77-44 with a 3.64 ERA and 115 ERA+ in 1,002.2 innings. He was an All-Star in 2016 and 2018, and he had a 2.44 ERA in 70 postseason innings with the Cubs.

Beyond the on-field numbers, the Lester signing marked the moment the Cubs flipped the page from rebuilding to contending.

 

9. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

Date: Jan. 5, 2011

Contract: Six years, $96 million

After a lackluster five-year run with the Seattle Mariners, the 31-year-old Adrian Beltre hit the free-agent market for the second time following the 2009 season.

He signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox.

He hit .321/.365/.553 with 49 doubles, 28 home runs and 102 RBI in a 7.8-WAR season, successfully boosting his stock and parlaying that performance into a six-year contract with the Texas Rangers.

His average season over the life of that deal speaks for itself:

A three-time All-Star in that stretch, Beltre also finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting four times and won three Gold Glove Awards while tallying an impressive 44 defensive runs saved at third base.

Already 13 years into his MLB career when he joined the Rangers, Beltre with Texas cemented his status as a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest third basemen in history.

148 G, 132 OPS+, .308/.358/.516, 176 H, 32 2B, 28 HR, 94 RBI, 6.0 WAR

 

8. Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees

Date: Nov. 29, 1976

Contract: Five years, $2.9 million

Reggie Jackson was one of the first superstars to find a new home by way of free agency, signing a five-year deal with the New York Yankees in 1976 following nine years with the Oakland Athletics and a year with the Baltimore Orioles.

With six All-Star selections, three World Series rings and 1973 AL MVP honors on his resume, Jackson was already on a Hall of Fame trajectory when he came to the Bronx for his age-31 season.

The bright lights of New York suited him well.

He was an All-Star in each of his five seasons, posting a 148 OPS+ with 144 home runs during the regular season. However, he carved out his enduring place in franchise lore in the postseason.

He went 9-for-20 with five home runs during the 1977 World Series, which featured his memorable three-homer performance in the clinching Game 6, and the "Mr. October" nickname was born.

All told, he slugged 12 home runs in 34 postseason games with the Yankees and won a pair of World Series titles.

#baseball, #professional

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