Ranking the 5 Best Moves in Spring Training History
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Every spring training, MLB teams complete moves that have far-reaching consequences. We've identified the five most brilliant decisions and ranked them by cost efficiency and overall value.
Though major transactions often occur over the winter and while the season is in progress, February and March have been hot beds for significant activity, too. Frustrated free agents settle for discounted contracts and shortsighted clubs with last-minute needs can be taken advantage of.
Keep your eyes peeled this spring for moves that could change the competitive landscape.
5. Chicago Cubs Sign Andre Dawson (1987)
Dawson wasn't bound for Cooperstown until he joined the Cubs. Ron Vesely/Getty Images
Free agency wasn't kind to Andre Dawson. Major League Baseball owners colluded to keep him out of work as the 1987 campaign approached.
The 11-year veteran resorted to desperation.
Dawson and agent Dick Moss traveled to Chicago Cubs spring camp in Arizona and presented general manager Dallas Green with a signed blank contract. The two sides eventually agreed to a deal with a $500,000 salary and $250,000 in performance-based incentives.
Despite nagging knee injuries, the right fielder returned to Gold Glove form. He set a franchise record with 49 home runs and led the National League in total bases. The BBWAA rewarded his feel-good story by voting him NL MVP.
Though Dawson's Cubs finished in the NL East cellar that summer, they would return to the postseason in 1989. The future Hall of Famer played in the Windy City through 1992 and made five All-Star teams.
4. New York Yankees Exchange Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle (1972)
Lyle became the first reliever ever to win the AL Cy Young Award. Walter Iooss/SI
It was going to be tough for Danny Cater to find playing time on the 1972 New York Yankees. He had spent the previous season as a corner infielder, but the team believed top draft pick Ron Blomberg was ready to be an everyday first baseman.
The Boston Red Sox, however, had room for him in the lineup.
So they parted with young reliever Sparky Lyle.
Cater got off to a nightmarish start that summer and found himself benched by the second week in May. Though the 32-year-old eventually broke out of the slump, he finished with a career-worst .642 OPS. Boston retained him in a reduced role through 1974, never making the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Lyle immediately made the Red Sox regret their decision. He saved an AL-best 35 games in 1972—four against his former club—and received a first-place vote in MVP balloting.
The lefty became an eccentric star in the Bronx. The Yankees cycled through four managers during his tenure, but each one trusted him as a late-inning workhorse (five seasons over 100 innings pitched).
He stayed through 1978 and won two World Series titles.
3. Detroit Tigers Extend Miguel Cabrera (2008)
Cabrera is arguably the best offensive player in baseball today.
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The Detroit Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera in December 2007 for a package of prospects, most of whom still haven't become impact players. They locked him up the following March with a $152.3 million contract extension.
Even with three years remaining on the deal, it's safe to say that he was worth every penny.
Cabrera, the back-to-back AL batting champion and reigning AL MVP, has succeeded Albert Pujols as the sport's most consistent slugger. He became the first major league player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown by leading his league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.
The Venezuelan native owns a .980 OPS in five seasons with the Tigers and has never spent a day on the disabled list.
Considering all that, they can live with his mediocre fielding.
Most importantly, Detroit is now established as a perennial contender. Entering 2013, the franchise should be heavily favored to finish atop the AL Central.
2. New York Yankees Get Cuban Defector Orlando Hernandez (1998)
Hernandez was a terrific bargain for New York.
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Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez is too often overlooked when discussing the best postseason pitchers in baseball history. He was an integral member of six New York Yankees squads, including five pennant winners and three world champions.
He defected from Cuba as a 32-year-old and negotiated a four-year, $6.6 million contract with the Bombers.
The deal was completed barely a week prior to Opening Day in 1998. With the starting rotation already set, Hernandez began in the minor leagues.
However, the Yankees found space for him in June and used him every fifth day through season's end.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, El Duque provided 17.9 WAR during his time in New York—and that's before taking his October awesomeness into account. He won eight straight playoff decisions in 1998, 1999 and 2000, routinely lasting deep into games.
Hernandez's high leg kick will live on in our memories forever.
1. Philadelphia Phillies Trade for Steve Carlton (1972)
Carlton won four NL Cy Young Awards during his Phillies career. Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Understandably, Steve Carlton was disgruntled in 1972. The 20-game winner and ace of the St. Louis Cardinals deserved a significantly higher salary—or at least the opportunity to negotiate with other teams.
He wouldn't cooperate with owner Gussie Busch, prompting the club to move him elsewhere. St. Louis traded Carlton for right-hander Rick Wise, who had comparable stats through that point of his career.
The next 14 years played out very differently for these starting pitchers.
Wise spent just two seasons with the Cardinals before being dealt again. Both times, his team finished around the .500 mark. He retired in 1982.
On the other hand, Carlton developed into the consensus top pitcher in the league and one of the greatest southpaws ever. He averaged 18 victories per season from 1972 and 1984, helping the Philadelphia Phillies franchise to its first World Series title. As a washed-up 41-year-old, he finally changed uniforms.