MLB Free Agency: The Most Fawned over Free Agents of the Last 20 Years

Robert Knapel@@RobertKnapel_BRCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2012

MLB Free Agency: The Most Fawned over Free Agents of the Last 20 Years

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    Each year, there are a number of MLB free agents that draw a lot of attention from a number of teams.

    Teams either get into bidding wars over these players, or the players and their agents have discussions with a number of teams in the league.

    These players are usually the best ones that are available on the market. Other times, they are players that intrigue teams with their potential and abilities.

    This list looks at the past 20 years and identifies the free agent that was most fawned over by MLB teams in each of those offseasons.

1993: Greg Maddux

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    Following a year in which he won the NL Cy Young Award as a member of the Chicago Cubs after going 20-11 with a 2.18 ERA, Greg Maddux hit the free-agent market.

    Chicago was originally interested in retaining Maddux, but it made the decision to pursue other free agents.

    A number of teams went after Maddux, and the Atlanta Braves eventually signed him to a five-year deal worth $28 million.

1994: Rafael Palmeiro

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    The 1993 season was the start of a power surge that Rafael Palmeiro had for the rest of his career.

    It came at a great time for Palmeiro, as he became a free agent after that year.

    That season, Palmeiro drove in 105 runs and hit 37 home runs while batting .295. His production earned Palmeiro a five-year, $30 million deal from the Baltimore Orioles.

1995: Hideo Nomo

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    Prior to the 1995 season, there was just one Japanese player to play in the major leagues, and Mansanori Murakami had only spent parts of two years in the states.

    After pitching well in Japan, Nomo decided to retire so that he would be free to sign with any major league team. A lot of teams were intrigued by Nomo's potential and were interested to see what he could do in the United States.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers were able to sign Nomo to a fairly team-friendly contract.

1996: Al Leiter

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    Although most of Al Leiter's success came toward the later part of his career, he was a fairly sought-after free agent following the 1996 season.

    The Florida Marlins signed him, and he became an important part of their team.

    Leiter helped lead the Marlins to their first World Series title in the team's history.

1997: Albert Belle

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    While he may have had a number of issues off the field and in the clubhouse, Albert Belle was an outstanding baseball player.

    For that reason, teams were willing to give him big money when he hit the free-agent market following the 1996 season.

    Belle was coming off an insane season in which he hit 48 home runs, drove in an AL-leading 148 runs and had a .311 batting average. The Chicago White Sox rewarded him for his success with a two-year, $20 million deal.

1998: Andres Galarraga

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    Even though he was 36 years old, Andres Galarraga was able to put up an outstanding season in 1997. He hit .318 with 40 home runs, and he led the NL with 140 RBI.

    Despite his age, Galarraga was highly sought after on the free-agent market. The Atlanta Braves won out and were able to sign Galarraga to a three-year deal that was worth $25 million.

1999: Kevin Brown

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    It should be incredibly surprising that the answer to the question, "Who is the first baseball player to sign a deal worth $100 million?" is Kevin Brown.

    He certainly did not justify that contract after he signed it.

    Brown was coming off of two top-three finishes in the NL Cy Young voting when the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him prior to the 1999 season. L.A. outbid the Padres by over $40 million to acquire Brown's services.

2000: John Olerud

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    John Olerud was part of what was arguably one of the best defensive infields of all time with the New York Mets.

    He was also able to produce at the plate and averaged 21 home runs and 97 RBI to go along with a .315 batting average during his three years with the Mets.

    As a result of his success, a number of teams were interested in signing him once he became a free agent.

    He joined the Seattle Mariners on a three-year deal worth $20 million and was an important part of the Mariners' 116-win team.

2001: Alex Rodriguez

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    Only the big-market teams had a chance at Alex Rodriguez following the 2000 season. He was looking for a huge deal, and he eventually got one.

    The New York Mets were very interested in Rodriguez, but his price tag and the fact that they did not want to have a 24-plus-1 situation in their locker room scared them away.

    The Texas Rangers offered Rodriguez a 10-year, $252 million deal, then the richest in sports history.

2002: Jason Giambi

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    The New York Yankees have no problem spending money on big-time free agents, and George Steinbrenner opened up his checkbook for Jason Giambi prior to the 2002 season.

    Giambi was two years removed from being the AL MVP, and he finished second in the voting in the year before he hit the open market.

    At that point in time, Giambi was a legitimate Triple Crown contender. The Yankees signed him to a seven-year deal worth $120 million.

2003: Jim Thome

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    Before Ryan Howard was the big bopper at first base for the Philadelphia Phillies, the team had Jim Thome there. He was the most sought-after free agent the year that the Phillies signed him.

    Thome was coming off a year in which he slugged 52 home runs and batted over .300 when he hit the free-agent market.

    The deal Thome signed was worth $85 million over six seasons.

2004: Vladimir Guerrero

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    Even though Vladimir Guerrero suffered a back injury the year before he became a free agent, he was still fawned over.

    A number of teams were interested in him, with the New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels being the most serious contenders.

    The Mets dropped out after they had concerns about Guerrero's back. Los Angeles signed Guerrero to a five-year deal that was worth $70 million.

    The Angels were rewarded with an MVP season from Guerrero during his first year with the team.

2005: Carlos Beltran

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    Carlos Beltran put up good numbers during the regular season, but what really got teams interested in him was his performance in the 2004 playoffs.

    Over the course of 12 games, Beltran earned himself tens of millions of dollars by hitting eight home runs, driving in 14, stealing six bases and posting a .435 batting average.

    The New York Mets wanted Beltran and were going to make sure that they signed him. Other teams, including the New York Yankees, were interested, but they never had a chance.

    Beltran signed a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets.

2006: Roger Clemens

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    This selection may be a bit biased, as Suzyn Waldman did more fawning than anyone else over Roger Clemens and had a memorable call of his return to the Bronx.

    The New York Yankees signed Clemens to a prorated deal that was worth $28,000,022 million. He received $18.7 million for the season since he signed the contract in May of that year. 

2007: Daisuke Matsuzaka

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    As with Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki years earlier, major league teams were very intrigued by what Daisuke Matsuzaka could offer them following a solid career in Japan.

    The Boston Red Sox beat out the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and New York Mets by bidding $51,111,111.11 for Matsuzaka during the posting process.

    Boston then signed him to a six-year, $52 million deal, bringing its total investment to just over $103 million.

2008: Alex Rodriguez

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    Twice over the past 20 years, Alex Rodriguez has been the free agent that has generated the most attention on the free-agent market.

    He opted out of his deal following the 2007 season and became a free agent.

    While other teams were certainly interested in signing the superstar, they never had much of a chance. Just a few weeks after opting out, Rodriguez signed a deal worth $275 million over 10 years with the Yankees.

2009: CC Sabathia

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    As in Blackjack, aces are also very valuable in baseball, and teams are willing to pay a lot to acquire them.

    After CC Sabathia's outstanding run with the Milwaukee Brewers after the team acquired him from the Cleveland Indians, there was no doubt that he was an ace.

    A number of teams expressed interested in Sabathia, but in the end, it was the one with the most cash that won out.

    He signed a seven-year, $161 million deal, the largest ever for a pitcher at that time, with the New York Yankees.

2010: Matt Holliday

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    The St. Louis Cardinals picked up free-agent-to-be Matt Holliday during the 2009 season, and he helped lead the team into the playoffs. He then hit the market, and a number of teams were interested.

    Ultimately, the Cardinals won out, and they signed Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million deal.

    Along with Albert Pujols, he would help the Cardinals have a formidable middle of the batting order.

2011: Cliff Lee

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    Cliff Lee bounced around to four teams in the two years before he became a free agent, and it was not because of a lack of ability.

    Lee was establishing himself as an elite pitcher during that time period, and teams wanted him.

    Once he became a free agent, it was once again obvious how popular he was. Lee eventually joined the Philadelphia Phillies, signing a five-year deal worth $120 million.

2012: Albert Pujols

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    By the time his new deal is complete, Albert Pujols could be the greatest player in MLB history.

    Therefore, it should be no surprised that there were a number of teams interested in him.

    The St. Louis Cardinals wanted Pujols to be a Cardinal for life. The Miami Marlins wanted him to be the big name that helped them usher in a new era. The Los Angeles Angels were ultimately the ones that signed him.

    Pujols turned down more money from the Marlins to sign a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels.