MLB Free Agency: 5 Best Out-of-Nowhere Deals This Offseason

Ben ShapiroAnalyst IIIFebruary 21, 2012

MLB Free Agency: 5 Best Out-of-Nowhere Deals This Offseason

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    Sometimes free agents telegraph their intent. The teams pursuing them are transparent. The player's desire to sign with that team is somewhat overt as well. Was anyone really that shocked when former Met shortstop Jose Reyes inked a big money free-agent deal with the Miami Marlins? 

    If there were surprised parties then that's a result of their own willful lack of attention. Reyes had been courted by the Marlins for weeks in advance of his eventual signing.

    There are plenty of times when a free agent appears headed to one destination only to at the last minute make a dramatic shift in plans. This is of course more dramatic for those who follow baseball with an obsessive intensity.

    No surprise of course that the past offseason featured numerous free-agent signings. Some such as the above-mentioned Reyes signing were fairly predictable. Others fell into the other more "out of nowhere" category.

    Some of the past offseason's more memorable shockers... 

Albert Pujols to the Angels

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    The biggest shock of the offseason also just so happened to be the biggest deal of the offseason. 

    On Wednesday night, December 7th, 2011, Albert Pujols, the biggest prize of the 2011 free-agent class and one of the biggest free-agent prizes in baseball history, was thought to be a near lock to be either wearing a Marlins' jersey or his familiar Cardinal jersey in April of 2012. 

    What a difference a night makes. 

    On Thursday morning, the Angels announced that Albert Pujols was headed west to become a member of the Los Angeles Angels. The deal was for 10 years and $254 million. It was a big deal, a big surprise and a big day in Los Angeles.

    The Angels were not a complete and total dark horse in the Pujols sweepstakes. The team's name had been mentioned as a potential destination. In fact, even last fall when some columnists were certain that Pujols would eventually return to St. Louis, the specter of the Angels swooping in to sign him was one of the few compelling logical scenarios in which he would leave St. Louis.

    By early December, the Angels just weren't one of the teams being mentioned with nearly as much frequency as the Miami Marlins.

    The Marlins fresh off the Jose Reyes signing were clearly on a mission to make a big splash. Before the actual signing was announced, there was plenty of chatter that Pujols was headed to Florida.

    It didn't happen though. Pujols inked that big deal with the Angels, He grabbed headlines all over the nation, and now with pitchers and catchers in camp, the clock is ticking on his rapidly approaching debut in southern California. At this point, it's expected and anticipated. Back in early December, it was pretty shocking.  

Yoenis Cespedes to the Oakland A's

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    Albert Pujols isn't the only big-name player who many people thought would eventually end up wearing a Miami Marlins jersey in 2012. 

    Yoenis Cespedes was supposed to be South Florida bound too or at least that's what many people thought would happen. It didn't happen though.

    Last week, Cespedes signed with the Oakland A's—a team that many people probably assumed would be non-factors in many free-agent pursuits. Instead of sitting idly by, the A's offered up a compelling four-year, $36 million offer to Cespedes, and he was happy to accept it.

    The A's had been right in the middle of a good old-fashioned purging of nearly all of their contractual obligations. Then, they re-signed Coco Crisp, then they inked Bartolo Colon, yesterday they decided to plunk down a few hundred-thousand dollars for the services of Manny Ramirez.

    The Cespedes deal still seemed a bit odd. It's for four years, and it's not super pricey in the same vein as Pujols' deal, but it's not dirt cheap either.

    If Cespedes turns into a superstar, then it's going to look pretty cheap in a few years.   

Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies

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    It wasn't a total shock that Papelbon went to Philadelphia. It also wasn't a huge surprise that he left Boston. 

    The timing was pretty shocking though. Papelbon basically became a free agent, and just a few days later without so much as a negotiation with the Red Sox, he was gone—off to Philadelphia for the largest contract ever signed by a closer. 

    Four years and $50 million. A somewhat-risky contract to lavish on a closer who is over 30 years old and has six years of experience on his resume. Then again, it's an impressive six-year resume. Either way, it's unlikely that Papelbon cares too much. If he did, then he's had plenty of time to adjust. It's been almost four months since he jumped ship in Boston. 

Ryan Madson to the Reds

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    The instant that Jonathan Papelbon inked his deal with the Phillies the Ryan Madson closer era in Philadelphia was officially over. The only remaining question was "where would Madson end up?"

    His eventual landing in Cincinnati wasn't a huge shock but the length and monetary value of his deal; one year at $6 million with a mutual option for 2013 was not what anyone would have expected. Not with Papelbon inking a historically large deal, not with Heath Bell singing for three years and $27 million with Miami. 

    Madson didn't have the resume of those two players but surely he and many baseball fans expected an eventual free agent windfall which never really materialized. 

    The deal itself wasn't "out of nowhere" but the terms were. 

Roy Oswalt to Nowhere in Particular

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    If there had been a betting pool on various free-agent happenings in the offseason similar to that which Super Bowl fans have access to, there probably would have been a "last prominent free agent to sign with a team" pool. 

    Someone out there would have chosen Roy Oswalt and made a ton of money. 

    That's because Roy Oswalt was a decent starting pitcher in a sport that craves pitching in an offseason in which there really wasn't that much good starting pitching available. 

    So why is it that on February 21st, 2012, Roy Oswalt is still unsigned? 

    If this is in fact a circumstance that Oswalt isn't thrilled with, then there's plenty of blame to go around. Oswalt can of course start with himself. Being picky about where you want to play is a game that only a few athletes can play without some consequences. 

    Oswalt apparently doesn't want to play in Boston. That eliminates a major bidder for his services, and perhaps, that's why he hasn't received deals that he's found satisfactory from other teams he has not been as negative about playing for such as St.Louis and Texas. 

    Oswalt probably didn't anticipate the market being so dramatically split. This past offseason has been one of overwhelming riches for only the very best of the best.

    Papelbon, Fielder, Pujols, Reyes all signed very large deals.

    The only high-priced, high-risk signing was Yu Darvish by the Texas Rangers. The bulk of the rest of the free-agent contracts awarded were fairly low-cost or short-term deals. Oswalt can probably thank his agent for that misreading of the market.

    Eventually, Oswalt will sign with a team probably for a short-term deal and probably not for big bucks. That signing won't "come out of nowhere," but his availability at this late date sure did.