MLB's All-Time Free-Agent Contract Rankings, Position-by-Position

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2017

MLB's All-Time Free-Agent Contract Rankings, Position-by-Position

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    In honor of the hotbed of MLB activity that is the annual winter meetings, we've decided to take an all-encompassing look back at the best free-agent signings in MLB history.

    MLB free agency as we know it today stretches back to Curt Flood challenging the reserve clause in 1969 and pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally becoming the first official free agents after the 1975 season.

    That means there is more than 40 years worth of contracts to sift through in search of the best of all time, and the end goal was to whittle it down to the five best free-agent signings at each position.

    Before we proceed, let's go over the selection process.


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    Tip of the cap to Curt Flood, who's challenging of the reserve clause paved the way for free agency as we know it today.
    Tip of the cap to Curt Flood, who's challenging of the reserve clause paved the way for free agency as we know it today.Anonymous/Associated Press

    With so many contracts to consider, the first step was to narrow the field by setting some parameters for inclusion. Those were as follows:

    • No contract extensions: Contract extensions and players re-signing with the same team in free agency were not considered for inclusion. That means the original six-year deal that Barry Bonds signed with the Giants earns a spot, but the next nine seasons he spent with the team did not factor into his ranking.
    • No one-year deals: Signing someone to a one-year contract is a no-risk move, so ranking them alongside multiyear deals doesn't seem fair. That being said, the best one-year deals still deserved recognition, so the top one at each position was highlighted.
    • No minor league deals: The same applies to minor league deals. It's a no-risk move that really only makes headlines when it goes well.
    • No midseason signings: Midseason signings were also excluded from the conversation. Dave Stewart is one notable example, as he joined the Oakland Athletics after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies in May 1986.
    • No international signings: Posting fees make international signings a different animal than your run-of-the-mill free-agent signing. For that reason, they were also excluded from the rankings.

    From there, the finalists were determined based on the following categories:

    • OPS+, ERA+ and WAR: These were the three main stat categories that were considered since all three are adjusted statistics that serve as a useful tool when comparing players across different eras. WAR totals come via Baseball Reference.
    • Postseason success: Big picture, the point of any free-agent signing is to fill out the roster in hopes of making a playoff run. In a number of cases, the player who helped his team win a World Series title ranked ahead of the player with better individual numbers.
    • Health: Missing significant time to injury over the course of a contract was grounds for exclusion more times than not, though there were a few exceptions.
    • Contract value: Included alongside each player's contract information is a multiplier to show how their salary stacked up to the league-average salary over the course of the deal.

    Now that we're on the same page, let's get started.


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    Ivan Rodriguez
    Ivan RodriguezAssociated Press

    1. Darrell Porter, St. Louis Cardinals (Dec. 7, 1980)

    Contract: Five years, $3.5 million (2.5x league avg)

    AVG stats: 109 OPS+, 16 2B, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 42 R, 2.3 WAR

    Accolades: 2x playoffs, 1x WS win

    Ted Simmons left behind some big shoes to fill when he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers following the 1980 campaign. "Simba" spent 10 seasons as the St. Louis Cardinals starting catcher, earning six All-Star appearances and finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting three times.

    It was Darrell Porter who was tasked with replacing him, signing a five-year deal after making three straight All-Star appearances with the Kansas City Royals. He went on to post a 109 OPS+ over the length of that contract while continuing to play strong defense (4.4 dWAR) as well.

    His defining moment in St. Louis came during the team's World Series run in 1982 when he won NLCS and World Series MVP honors.


    2. Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates (Nov. 30, 2012)

    Contract: Two years, $17 million (2.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 116 OPS+, 20 2B, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 48 R, 4.8 WAR

    Accolades: 2x playoffs

    For a small-market team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, shelling out $17 million over two years to sign Russell Martin was a surprising departure from the shallow end of the free-agent market.

    It proved to be a stellar investment, though. The franchise snapped a 20-year postseason drought in the first year of his contract and returned to the playoffs in his second year.

    Aside from his strong offensive numbers, Martin also racked up 25 DRS behind the plate to establish himself as one of the league's elite defensive backstops. He cashed in with a five-year, $82 million deal from the Toronto Blue Jays after his time in Pittsburgh came to an end.


    3. Carlton Fisk, Chicago White Sox (March 18, 1981)

    Contract: Five years, $2.9 million (2x league avg)

    AVG stats: 114 OPS+, 20 2B, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 67 R, 3.0 WAR

    Accolades: 3x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    Carlton Fisk was entering his age-33 season when signed a five-year deal to join the Chicago White Sox after an 11-year run in Boston.

    Surprisingly, he went on to play 13 more seasons, cementing his place as one of the best offensive catchers in MLB history and an easy choice for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

    His best season during that initial five-year deal pact came in 1983, when he posted a 134 OPS+ with 26 home runs and 86 RBI to finish third in AL MVP voting. The White Sox also reached the postseason for the first time since 1959 that season.


    4. Ivan Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers (Feb. 6, 2004)

    Contract: Five years, $53 million (4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 101 OPS+, 29 2B, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 62 R, 2.7 WAR

    Accolades: 4x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    After leading the Florida Marlins to a World Series title on a one-year deal, Ivan Rodriguez was one of the most coveted free agents on the 2003-04 free-agent market and he eventually inked a five-year contract with the Detroit Tigers.

    He finished 10th in AL MVP voting in the first year of the deal at the age of 32 and went on to earn four All-Star appearances and three more Gold Glove Awards during the life of the contract. That ran his career total to 13—the most ever by a catcher.

    Rodriguez also helped lead the Tigers to the AL pennant in 2006, throwing out 51 percent of base-stealers while anchoring a pitching staff that led the majors with a 3.84 ERA. He was traded to the New York Yankees in the final year of the deal in exchange for reliever Kyle Farnsworth.


    5. Gene Tenace, San Diego Padres (Dec. 14, 1976)

    Contract: Six years, $2.475 million (2.9x league avg)

    AVG stats: 137 OPS+, 14 2B, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 46 R, 3.9 WAR

    Accolades: 1x playoffs, 1x WS win

    Gene Tenace won three straight World Series titles with the Oakland Athletics before eventually departing for San Diego in free agency.

    He posted a 136 OPS+ with a .403 on-base percentage while averaging 17 home runs, 60 RBI and a 4.9 WAR in four seasons with the Padres before being traded to the Cardinals in an 11-player blockbuster deal.

    While Tenace served as the backup to the aforementioned Porter during the final two years of the contract, his production over the first four seasons at a reasonable price was enough to earn him the final spot in a thin field of catching options.


    Best One-Year Contract: Ivan Rodriguez, FLA (Jan. 28, 2003)

    Salary: $10 million (4.2x league avg)

    Rodriguez had already established himself as one of the best catchers in MLB history during a 12-year run with the Texas Rangers when he hit the open market for the first time following the 2002 season.

    Nevertheless, he still had plenty to prove after averaging just 103 games the previous three seasons while dealing with a fractured hand and herniated disc, among other things.

    The 31-year-old wound up landing in Florida on a one-year deal, where he proved to be the missing piece.

    "Pudge, he's back to his All-Star status again," manager Jack McKeon told Kevin Baxter of the Miami Herald. "He's playing remarkably well. He's been a take-charge guy, a leader of the ballclub."

    Tasked with leading a young pitching staff that included Dontrelle Willis (21), Josh Beckett (23), Brad Penny (25) and Carl Pavano (27), while also hitting third in the lineup, he drove the team to an unlikely World Series title.

First Basemen

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    John Olerud
    John OlerudJOHN FROSCHAUER/Associated Press

    1. Rafael Palmeiro, Baltimore Orioles (Dec. 12, 1993)

    Contract: Five years, $30 million (4.9x league avg)

    AVG stats: 134 OPS+, 32 2B, 36 HR, 111 RBI, 95 R, 4.7 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 2x playoffs

    Rafael Palmeiro set new career highs in OPS (.926), home runs (37), RBI (105), runs scored (124) and stolen bases (22) in a contract year during the 1993 season.

    Despite that, the Rangers opted to sign Will Clark to a five-year, $30 million deal in free agency, and Palmeiro did not take kindly to his former Mississippi State teammate replacing him.

    "That's Will," Palmeiro told reporters at the time (via Chicago Tribune). "He's got no class. Friendship didn't matter to him. He was looking out for himself. I don't think much of Will. He's a lowlife."

    Palmeiro later apologized and he eventually secured an identical five-year, $30 million contract from the Baltimore Orioles. He averaged 40 homers and 119 RBI in the final four years of the deal, following the strike-shortened 1994 season.


    2. Rafael Palmeiro, Texas Rangers (Dec. 4, 1998)

    Contract: Five years, $45 million (4.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 140 OPS+, 29 2B, 43 HR, 122 RBI, 97 R, 4.2 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    The careers of Palmeiro and Clark remained strangely intertwined when both players hit the open market again following the 1998 season.

    Palmeiro opted to return to Texas after his five-year run in Baltimore. Three days after he signed with the Rangers, the Orioles countered by signing Clark to a two-year, $11 million deal to replace him. 

    While he was entering his age-34 season at the start of the deal and his days as a Gold Glove-caliber defender were over, Palmeiro still tallied at least 38 home runs and 105 RBI each year.

    He joined the 500 home run club in the final year of the contract.


    3. John Olerud, Seattle Mariners (Dec. 15, 1999)

    Contract: Three years, $20 million (3.2x league avg)

    AVG stats: 131 OPS+, 39 2B, 19 HR, 100 RBI, 87 R, 4.6 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 2x playoffs

    The 1999-2000 offseason was a busy one for the Seattle Mariners.

    Franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr. was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, yet the team was still looking to contend, so starter Aaron Sele (two years, $15 million) and closer Kaz Sasaki (three years, $14 million) were signed to bolster the pitching staff.

    However, the most impactful move proved to be the addition of John Olerud.

    The 31-year-old went on to hit .296/.399/.467 while averaging 19 home runs and 100 RBI over the initial three-year deal he signed, winning two Gold Gloves and starting the 2001 All-Star Game.

    His 5.2 WAR during the 2001 season ranked fourth on a team that won a record 116 games.


    4. Jason Giambi, New York Yankees (Dec. 18, 2001)

    Contract: Seven years, $120 million (6.7x league avg)

    AVG stats: 143 OPS+, 19 2B, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 74 R, 3.1 WAR

    Accolades: 3x All-Star, 5x playoffs

    After winning an MVP award and hitting .330/.458/.617 while averaging 38 home runs and 127 RBI in his final three seasons in Oakland, Jason Giambi joined the Yankees on a massive seven-year deal.

    He turned in abridged seasons in 2004 (80 games) and 2007 (83 games), but Giambi remained one of the game's most productive sluggers when healthy and the contract largely proved to be a good investment.

    Giambi hit .268/.415/.546 and averaged 37 home runs and 105 RBI in the five seasons he avoided significant time on the disabled list. He also posted a .919 OPS over 127 plate appearances in five trips to the postseason.


    5. Jim Thome, Philadelphia Phillies (Dec. 6, 2002)

    Contract: Six years, $85 million (5.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 141 OPS+, 23 2B, 34 HR, 94 RBI, 86 R, 3.1 WAR

    Accolades: 2x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    Fresh off a 52-homer season and with an impressive 152 OPS+ and 334 career home runs to his credit, Jim Thome was a hot commodity as a 32-year-old free agent following the 2002 season.

    The Philadelphia Phillies signed him in hopes he could provide a veteran presence for a promising young core, and he posted a .967 OPS while averaging 44 home runs and 118 RBI in his first two seasons with the team. However, an elbow injury limited him to just 59 games in 2005.

    In his absence, Ryan Howard won NL Rookie of the Year honors and successfully took over the first base position. Thome was traded to the White Sox that offseason, and he went on to slug 111 home runs with a .950 OPS in three seasons on the South Side to close out the contract.


    Best One-Year Contract: Aubrey Huff, SF (Jan. 10, 2010)

    Salary: $3 million (1x league avg)

    Aubrey Huff watched his OPS plummet from .912 to .694 in 2009, just in time for free agency.

    Not surprisingly, the 33-year-old found limited interest on the open market, and he wound up landing in San Francisco on a one-year deal for a roughly league-average salary.

    That now stands as one of the best signings in franchise history. Huff posted a 142 OPS+ with 35 doubles, 26 home runs, 86 RBI and a 5.7 WAR to help lead the Giants to their first World Series title since 1954.

Second Basemen

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    Roberto Alomar
    Roberto AlomarJohn Reid III/Getty Images

    1. Roberto Alomar, Cleveland Indians (Dec. 1, 1998)

    Contract: Four years, $32 million (4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 123 OPS+, 34 2B, 18 HR, 90 RBI, 109 R, 5.2 WAR

    Accolades: 3x All-Star, 2x playoffs

    Roberto Alomar appeared in nine consecutive All-Star Games and won seven Gold Gloves during that same span before joining the Cleveland Indians. That shored up a second base position that had been in flux since the departure of Carlos Baerga.

    Alomar may be wearing a Blue Jays hat on his Hall of Fame plaque, but his best seasons came in his time with the Indians. His three-year stretch from 1999 to 2001 goes down as one of the best ever by a second baseman.

    • '99: 140 OPS+, 40 2B, 24 HR, 120 RBI, 138 R, 37 SB, 7.4 WAR
    • '00: 114 OPS+, 40 2B, 19 HR, 89 RBI, 111 R, 39 SB, 5.6 WAR
    • '01: 150 OPS+, 34 2B, 20 HR, 100 RBI, 113 R, 30 SB, 7.3 WAR

    He was dealt to the New York Mets for outfielder Matt Lawton and top prospect Alex Escobar in an eight-player deal prior to the final year of the contract, and his production dropped off dramatically (90 OPS+) following the trade.


    2. Bobby Grich, California Angels (Nov. 24, 1976)

    Contract: Five years, $1.5 million (2.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 128 OPS+, 18 2B, 16 HR, 58 RBI, 57 R, 4.1 WAR

    Accolades: 2x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    Bobby Grich's time with the California Angels got off to a bumpy start. He played in just 52 games in his first season with the team and then posted a pedestrian 98 OPS+ the following year.

    However, over the next three years, he put up a 140 OPS+ and averaged 22 doubles, 22 home runs, 75 RBI and 5.2 WAR.

    He was a two-time All-Star and won the Silver Slugger in 1981, when he led the AL in home runs (22), slugging (.543) and OPS+ (165) during a strike-shortened season.

    All told, Grich played 10 seasons with the Angels and he was the first player inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 1988.


    3. Roberto Alomar, Baltimore Orioles (Dec. 21, 1995)

    Contract: Three years, $18 million (4.7x league avg)

    AVG stats: 122 OPS+, 34 2B, 17 HR, 70 RBI, 94 R, 4.1 WAR

    Accolades: 3x All-Star, 2x playoffs

    Prior to joining the Indians, Alomar spent three seasons in Baltimore, where he shared the infield with fellow All-Stars Cal Ripken Jr. and Rafael Palmeiro.

    The Orioles made the playoffs twice during his time with the team, including a 98-win season and an AL East title in 1997. However, they were ousted in the ALCS both years.

    Alomar added two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger to his trophy case during his time in Baltimore, and he was also voted to start the All-Star Game all three years.


    4. Jay Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks (Nov. 17, 1997)

    Contract: Five years, $34 million (3.6x league avg)

    AVG stats: 104 OPS+, 23 2B, 18 HR, 61 RBI, 72 R, 1.9 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 2x playoffs, 1x WS win

    Known as a decent hitter with a good glove early in his career, Jay Bell posted a 115 OPS+ with 21 home runs and 92 RBI for the Royals in 1997 to send his free-agent stock soaring.

    The day before the 1997 expansion draft, the Arizona Diamondbacks officially made him the first member of their fledgling roster, signing him to a five-year deal.

    After a solid 1998 season, he exploded for a 140 OPS+ and 38 home runs in 1999—far and away the best offensive season of his career.

    His production diminished from there, but he was still a steady contributor as a 35-year-old when the D-backs won the World Series in 2001.


    5. Jeff Kent, Houston Astros (Dec. 18, 2002)

    Contract: Two years, $17.5 million (3.7x league avg)

    AVG stats: 121 OPS+, 36 2B, 24 HR, 100 RBI, 86 R, 3.4 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    The final spot here came down to two different two-year deals signed by Jeff Kentone with the Houston Astros and one of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    • HOU (2/$17.5M): 121 OPS+, 24 HR, 100 RBI, 3.4 WAR
    • LAD (2/$17M): 127 OPS+, 22 HR, 86 RBI, 2.2 WAR

    He made one playoff appearance and one All-Star appearance each during those two contracts. While the Dodgers deal was a little better bargain relative to the average salary, the sizeable difference in WAR wound up being the tiebreaker.


    Best One-Year Contract: Bret Boone, SEA (Dec. 22, 2000)

    Salary: $3.25 million (1.5x league avg)

    Despite a reputation as a strong defender and averages of 21 home runs and 77 RBI the previous three seasons, Bret Boone had to a settle for a one-year deal when he reached free agency ahead of his age-32 season.

    That made him one of the biggest steals in recent memory, as he posted a 153 OPS+ with 37 home runs and an AL-high 141 RBI to finish third in AL MVP voting for a Mariners team that won 116 games.

    Seattle then brought him back on a four-year, $34 million deal.

Third Basemen

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    Adrian Beltre
    Adrian BeltreTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    1. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (Jan. 5, 2011)

    Contract: Six years, $96 million (4.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 132 OPS+, 32 2B, 28 HR, 94 RBI, 86 R, 6.3 WAR

    Accolades: 3x All-Star, 4x playoffs

    Whenever a good player has a poor walk year, the idea of signing a one-year contract to rebuild some value is worth exploring.

    Adrian Beltre is the perfect example of that approach paying off.

    After a disappointing five-year stint with the Mariners, Beltre posted 7.8 WAR on a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. He was then able to parlay that into a six-year contract from the Rangers.

    On top of his impressive offensive numbers, Beltre also tallied a whopping 61 DRS and won three Gold Glove Awards during his first six years in Texas (before reupping for another two years).

    He's now cemented his place as a future Hall of Famer and may go down as the best player in Rangers history before all is said and done.


    2. Bill Mueller, Boston Red Sox (Jan. 10, 2003)

    Contract: Three years, $6.7 million (0.9x league avg)

    AVG stats: 119 OPS+, 35 2B, 14 HR, 68 RBI, 76 R, 3.4 WAR

    Accolades: 3x playoffs, 1x WS win

    The 2002-03 offseason will forever be remembered as the winter the Red Sox took a chance on a non-tendered slugger named David Ortiz.

    However, that was far from their only move. Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Mike Timlin, Bronson Arroyo and Todd Walker were also added to the mix that offseason.

    The fact that Mueller was able to secure a three-year deal was surprising after he posted a pedestrian 98 OPS+ and 1.7 WAR the previous season. However, he won the AL batting title (.326 BA) in his first year in Boston and was a steady contributor throughout his time with the team.


    3. Terry Pendleton, Atlanta Braves (Dec. 3, 1990)

    Contract: Four years, $10.2 million (2.5x league avg)

    AVG stats: 111 OPS+, 31 2B, 17 HR, 76 RBI, 74 R, 3.4 WAR

    Accolades: 3x playoffs, 1x MVP, 1x All-Star

    Terry Pendleton was good for 15.0 WAR in his first six seasons in the majors, but he struggled to a 65 OPS+ during the 1990 season and eventually lost his starting job in St. Louis to rookie Todd Zeile.

    The Atlanta Braves took a chance on him regaining that previous form when he hit free agency, and it proved to be a franchise-altering move.

    In his first season with the team, the Braves reached the World Series for the first time since 1958 and Pendleton took home NL MVP honors. He won the batting title (.319 BA) while posting a 139 OPS+ with 34 doubles, 22 home runs and 86 RBI.

    He was terrific again the following season before his production tailed off at the back end of the contract, but he played a pivotal role in kicking off a 14-year run of division titles.


    4. Wade Boggs, New York Yankees (Dec. 15, 1992)

    Contract: Three years, $11 million (3.3x league avg)

    AVG stats: 119 OPS+, 22 2B, 6 HR, 59 RBI, 73 R, 4.3 WAR

    Accolades: 3x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    After Charlie Hayes was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 1992 expansion draft, the Yankees were left with a void to fill at third base and took a chance on longtime rival Wade Boggs.

    Set to enter his age-35 season, Boggs was coming off the worst season of his storied career after hitting just .259 with a 96 OPS+ during the 1992 campaign.

    "I just got a hunch that maybe he is the best buy we've had in a long time," owner George Steinbrenner told reporters. "I think he'll hit .300 next year. I'm not prepared to believe that Wade Boggs isn't still Wade Boggs."

    Sure enough, he batted .302 in his first season in the Bronx and went on to post a .320/.404/.416 line over the life of the contract. Afterward, he reupped for two more seasons and won the only World Series title of his career in 1996.


    5. Robin Ventura, New York Mets (Dec. 1, 1998)

    Contract: Four years, $32 million (4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 114 OPS+, 24 2B, 26 HR, 90 RBI, 72 R, 3.7 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 3x playoffs

    Robin Ventura was largely underrated during his time with the White Sox, but that didn't stop him from cashing in when he finally hit the open market.

    His first season with the Mets was arguably the best of his career. He hit .301/.379/.529 with 38 doubles, 32 home runs and 120 RBI en route to a 6.7 WAR, and while he failed to match those numbers the next two seasons, he remained a productive middle-of-the-order presence.

    Ventura was eventually traded to the Yankees ahead of the final year of his contract in exchange for outfielder David Justicewho was then promptly shipped to Oakland for pitchers Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates.


    Best One-Year Contract: Adrian Beltre, BOS (Jan. 4, 2010)

    Salary: $10 million (3.3x league avg)

    We've already touched on how Beltre gave his free-agent stock a shot in the arm with a quick pitstop in Boston and that deal is an easy choice for the best one-year contract among third basemen.

    The 31-year-old hit .321/.365/.553 with 49 doubles, 28 home runs and 102 RBI to earn his first career trip to the All-Star Game and a ninth-place finish in AL MVP voting.


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    Alex Rodriguez
    Alex RodriguezCHRIS CARLSON/Associated Press

    1. Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers (Jan. 26, 2001)

    Contract: Seven years, $185.45 million (10.8x league avg)

    AVG stats: 154 OPS+, 29 2B, 47 HR, 130 RBI, 125 R, 8.0 WAR

    Accolades: 7x All-Star, 3x MVP, 4x playoffs

    Technically, Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers.

    However, he opted out of the final three years to sign a fresh 10-year, $275 million extension, so we're only taking into account seven years worth of that original contract.

    And what an impressive seven years it was.

    Rodriguez led the AL in home runs in each of his three seasons in Texas and won AL MVP honors in 2003 despite playing for a 91-loss team. He was then traded to the Yankees in exchange for Alfonso Soriano.

    From there, he went on to win two more MVP awards with the Yankees and hit .304/.400/.591 with 329 home runs and 908 RBI over the course of what was, at the time, the richest contract in MLB history.


    2. David Eckstein, St. Louis Cardinals (Dec. 23, 2004)

    Contract: Three years, $10.25 million (1.3x league avg)

    AVG stats: 91 OPS+, 22 2B, 4 HR, 38 RBI, 72 R, 1.8 WAR

    Accolades: 2x All-Star, 2x playoffs, 1x WS win

    David Eckstein takes the No. 2 spot over Miguel Tejada thanks to the overall value of his contract and his postseason success.

    The 5'6" sparkplug made a name for himself during the 2002 World Series with the Angels, and the Cardinals were willing to give him a three-year contract, despite a career 87 OPS+.

    He continued to hit for a solid average (.297) with decent on-base numbers (.357) in St. Louis, though his lack of power limited him to a 91 OPS+.

    Still, he memorably swung a hot bat in the 2006 World Series and etched his place in Cardinals history, going 8-for-22 with three doubles to win World Series MVP honors.


    3. Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles (Dec. 8, 2003)

    Contract: Six years, $72 million (4.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 117 OPS+, 38 2B, 22 HR, 97 RBI, 90 R, 4.0 WAR

    Accolades: 5x All-Star

    Another financial casualty of the small-market A's, Miguel Tejada posted a 115 OPS+ and averaged 34 doubles, 30 home runs and 116 RBI in his final four seasons in Oakland before departing for greener pastures.

    He ended up in Baltimore on a six-year deal, giving the team the long-term answer they had been searching for at shortstop since Mike Bordick departed.

    Tejada led the AL with 150 RBI in his first year with the Orioles and had a 124 OPS+ overall in his four seasons with the team before he was traded to the Astros for five players.

    While his power numbers declined following the trade, he was still good for 3.8 WAR over the final two years.


    4. Mike Bordick, Baltimore Orioles (Dec. 13, 1996)

    Contract: Four years, $12 million (1.9x league avg)

    AVG stats: 87 OPS+, 28 2B, 12 HR, 64 RBI, 74 R, 2.9 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 2x playoffs

    Heading into the 1997 season, the Orioles found themselves in need of a shortstop for the first time in roughly 16 years after Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. was moved to third base.

    Slick-fielding veteran Mike Bordick was signed to fill the void after putting up 10.5 WAR in seven seasons with the Athletics.

    Following a forgettable first season (59 OPS+, 0.9 WAR), he tapped into some unexpected power, posting a 95 OPS+ and averaging 31 doubles, 14 home runs and 69 RBI over the next three years.

    He was an All-Star in 2000 and the O's sold high, flipping him for a four-player package that included Melvin Mora, only to re-sign him for another two years in the offseason.


    5. Orlando Cabrera, Los Angeles Angels (Jan. 12, 2005)

    Contract: Four years, $32 million (2.9x league avg)

    AVG stats: 88 OPS+, 35 2B, 8 HR, 68 RBI, 90 R, 2.7 WAR

    Accolades: 3x playoffs

    Orlando Cabrera joined the Red Sox in 2004 in the three-team deal that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs, and his play over the final two months of the season helped Boston win a World Series title.

    It also helped earn him a four-year, $32 million contract from the Los Angeles Angels, who had just lost Eckstein to the Cardinals less than a month earlier.

    While he never hit for much power, Cabrera was a valuable catalyst atop the lineup, averaging 90 runs and 22 stolen bases while also providing plus defense. He was traded to the White Sox after three years in exchange for right-hander Jon Garland.


    Best One-Year Contract: Stephen Drew, BOS (Dec. 26, 2012)

    Salary: $9.5 million (2.8x league avg)

    The choices here were few and far between.

    Stephen Drew wasn't necessarily a bargain on a one-year, $9.5 million deal, but he did contribute to a World Series-winning team in Boston.

    The 30-year-old had a 111 OPS+ with 29 doubles, 13 home runs and 67 RBI for a 3.1 WAR. That performance earned a qualifying offer that would result in him going unsigned until May of the following season.


7 of 10

    Reggie Jackson
    Reggie JacksonMarty Lederhandler/Associated Press

    1. Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox (Dec. 19, 2000)

    Contract: Eight years, $160 million (8x league avg)

    AVG stats: 158 OPS+, 34 2B, 36 HR, 115 RBI, 97 R, 4.6 WAR

    Accolades: 8x All-Star, 5x playoffs, 2x WS win

    During the same offseason that Alex Rodriguez signed a record 10-year, $252 million deal, Manny Ramirez signed a hefty contract of his own to move from the Indians to the Red Sox.

    While he may not have been a perennial 8-plus WAR player like Barry Bonds, leading the Red Sox to a pair of World Series titles is enough to land Ramirez in the No. 1 spot among outfielders.

    Aside from racking up 274 home runs and 868 RBI during the regular season in Boston, he also hit .321/.422/.558 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI in 43 postseason games.

    Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers in the final year of the deal in a three-team blockbuster that brought Jason Bay to Boston.


    2. Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants (Dec. 8, 1992)

    Contract: Six years, $43 million (6x league avg)

    AVG stats: 182 OPS+, 30 2B, 39 HR, 110 RBI, 115 R, 8.2 WAR

    Accolades: 6x All-Star, 1x MVP, 1x playoffs

    Making the playoffs just once in six years cost Bonds the top spot, but it's impossible to drop him any lower on the strength of his individual production.

    Still just 28 years old and already a two-time MVP when he hit the open market for the first time, he was paid accordingly with a six-year, $43 million deal that was at the time the largest in MLB history.

    He nearly won the Triple Crown in his first year in San Francisco, leading the NL in home runs (46) and RBI (123) while finishing fourth in batting average (.336), earning another MVP trophy in the process.

    In all, he hit .307/.445/.617 with 235 home runs and 194 stolen bases during his first six seasons in San Francisco. He'd spend nine more seasons with the team, and it's not until after his first contract expired that questions started to arise about the legitimacy of his performance.


    3. Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees (Nov. 29, 1976)

    Contract: Five years, $2.9 million (4.7x league avg)

    AVG stats: 148 OPS+, 23 2B, 29 HR, 92 RBI, 76 R, 3.4 WAR

    Accolades: 5x All-Star, 4x playoffs, 2x WS win

    Reggie Jackson was one of the first superstars to change teams in free agency, and he was right at home in the bright lights of New York.

    Already a six-time All-Star with two World Series rings and 1973 AL MVP honors to his credit, Jackson sported a 150 OPS+ with 281 home runs and 824 RBI when he joined the Yankees prior to his age-31 season.

    He's best remembered for his three-homer performance during the clinching Game 6 of the 1977 World Series—a series that saw Jackson go 9-for-20 with five home runs to earn the "Mr. October" moniker.

    The Yankees repeated as World Series champions in his second season, and in his five years with the team, he slugged 144 regular-season home runs with another 12 in 34 playoff games while posting a 1.090 OPS.


    4. Dave Henderson, Oakland Athletics (Dec. 21, 1987)

    Contract: Three years, $1.925 million (1.3x league avg)

    AVG stats: 123 OPS+, 30 2B, 20 HR, 79 RBI, 81 R, 5.1 WAR

    Accolades: 3x playoffs, 1x WS win

    While this selection may come as a surprise, Dave Henderson proved to be one of the best bargains in MLB history when he signed a three-year, $1.925 million deal with the A's.

    Oakland reached the World Series each year during that contract, and on a roster loaded with superstar talent, it was Henderson who led the team in WAR during that span:

    • Dave Henderson: 15.4
    • Rickey Henderson: 15.0
    • Jose Canseco: 14.9
    • Dave Stewart: 13.5
    • Mark McGwire: 12.0

    Aside from his tremendous regular-season value, he also posted an .899 OPS with nine doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI in 24 postseason games.


    5. Johnny Damon, Boston Red Sox (Dec. 21, 2001)

    Contract: Four years, $31 million (3.3x league avg)

    AVG stats: 108 OPS+, 34 2B, 14 HR, 75 RBI, 115 R, 4.1 WAR

    Accolades: 2x All-Star, 3x playoffs, 1x WS win

    Johnny Damon gets the nod over a pair of MVP winners—Larry Walker (Colorado) and Vladimir Guerrero (Anaheim)—for his role in bringing a World Series title to Boston.

    Sluggers Ortiz and Ramirez grabbed most of the headlines during his time with the Red Sox, but Damon was an invaluable catalyst atop the lineup and a big part of the locker room culture.

    Damon hit .295 with a .362 on-base percentage in his four years with the team and his 461 runs scored during that span trailed only Albert Pujols (517) and Alex Rodriguez (485).

    In the same offseason that saw the rival Yankees give Giambi a seven-year, $120 million deal, Damon proved to be just as impactful for a fraction of the price.


    Next five

    6. Larry Walker, COL (April 8, 1995—4 years/$22.5 million)

    7. Vladimir Guerrero, ANA (Jan. 14, 2004—6 years/$85 million)     

    8. Jermaine Dye, CWS (Dec. 9, 2004—3 years/$16.5 million)  

    9. Torii Hunter, LAA (Nov. 22, 2007—5 years/$90 million)

    10. Dave Winfield, NYY (Dec. 15, 1980—10 years/$23 million)


    Best One-Year Contract: Andre Dawson, CHC (March 9, 1987)

    Salary: $700,000 (1.7x league avg)

    Owner collusion following the 1986 season put Andre Dawson in a tough spot as he looked to move away from the artificial turf of Olympic Stadium in Montreal for the sake of his knees.

    The 32-year-old famously signed a blank contract that wound up being worth $500,000 in base salary and included a $150,000 bonus if he avoided a stint on the disabled list in the first half and another $50,000 bonus if he made the All-Star team.

    Not only did he stay healthy and earn a starting spot on the NL squad, he also took home NL MVP honors, posting a 130 OPS+ while leading the NL in home runs (47) and RBI (137).

Designated Hitters

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    Chili Davis
    Chili DavisBob Galbraith/Associated Press

    1. Paul Molitor, Toronto Blue Jays (Dec. 7, 1992)

    Contract: Three years, $13 million (3.9x league avg)

    AVG stats: 128 OPS+, 33 2B, 17 HR, 82 RBI, 90 R, 3.5 WAR

    Accolades: 2x All-Star, 1x playoffs, 1x WS win

    The Blue Jays signed a 36-year-old Paul Molitor to replace Dave Winfield at DH after they won the World Series in 1992.

    As good as Winfield was in his one season with the team, Molitor was even better. He put together arguably the best season of his career in 1993, hitting .332/.402/.509 with 211 hits, 37 doubles, 22 home runs, 111 RBI and 22 stolen bases to finish second in AL MVP voting.

    That performance carried over the postseason, where he went a ridiculous 21-for-47 (.447 BA) with four doubles, three triples, three home runs and 13 RBI in 12 games. He was named World Series MVP in the same game that Joe Carter was carried off the field.

    Molitor went on to hit .341/.410/.518 during the strike-shortened season the following year and he closed out his time in Toronto with an impressive 10.6 WAR.


    2. Chili Davis, Minnesota Twins (Jan. 29, 1991)

    Contract: Two years, $4.5 million (2.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 136 OPS+, 30 2B, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 74 R, 2.6 WAR

    Accolades: 1x playoffs, 1x WS win

    The Minnesota Twins won the 1991 World Series after finishing 74-88 the previous season, and the addition of Chili Davis was a big reason why.

    The 31-year-old led the Twins in OPS+ (141), on-base percentage (.385), doubles (34), home runs (29) and RBI (93) during the regular season, and he hit two home runs in the World Series.

    Davis rejoined the Angels after his two seasons with the Twins came to a close, but he made a lasting impression on the organization.


    3. Kendrys Morales, Kansas City Royals (Dec. 16, 2014)

    Contract: Two years, $17 million (2.1x league avg)

    AVG stats: 119 OPS+, 32 2B, 26 HR, 100 RBI, 73 R, 1.6 WAR

    Accolades: 1x playoffs, 1x WS win

    Kendrys Morales was signed to replace homegrown star and fan-favorite Billy Butler.

    At the time, his two-year, $17 million contract looked like a risky investment for the small-market Royals. While he had put up impressive power numbers in the past, he was coming off a dismal 2014 season that included a 75 OPS+, .218 batting average and just eight home runs in 401 plate appearances.

    The signing proved to be a stroke of genius, though. The Royals won a World Series title in 2015 with Morales leading the club in OPS+ (127), doubles (41) and RBI (106) while also tying for the team lead in home runs (22).


    4. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (Nov. 26, 2010)

    Contract: Four years, $50 million (3.7x league avg)

    AVG stats: 138 OPS+, 36 2B, 19 HR, 96 RBI, 77 R, 3.3 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 3x playoffs

    Victor Martinez was good enough during the three seasons he stayed healthy that he earns a spot on this list even after missing the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL.

    He finished fourth in the AL batting title race in his first season, hitting .330 to go along with 40 doubles, 12 home runs and 103 RBI, and he returned strong from the ACL injury in 2013 to play an impressive 159 games and post a 113 OPS+.

    However, it's the 2014 season that really pushed him over the top. That year, he led the AL in on-base percentage (.409) and OPS (.974) while slugging a career-high 32 home runs, driving in 103 and hitting .335 to finish second in AL MVP voting.

    He re-signed with Detroit on a four-year, $68 million deal that has not gone quite as well.


    5. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays (Dec. 16, 2010)

    Contract: Two years, $5.5 million (0.9x league avg)

    AVG stats: 133 OPS+, 30 2B, 30 HR, 82 RBI, 82 R, 3.0 WAR

    Accolades: None

    Edwin Encarnacion's eligibility for a spot on this list is a bit convoluted, so let's break it down.

    EE was originally traded to the Blue Jays at the deadline in 2009 for Scott Rolen and he spent the entire 2010 season in Toronto as well, so on the surface, this would appear to be a re-signing that would render him ineligible.

    However, he was actually claimed off waivers by the Athletics on Nov. 12, 2010, and then non-tendered less than a month later. That time spent with another organization—no matter how briefis enough to make him eligible under our guidelines.

    After a so-so first season during that new two-year deal, he exploded for a 153 OPS+ with 42 home runs and 110 RBI in 2012. That's enough to earn him the No. 5 spot.


    Best One-Year Contract: Dave Winfield, TOR (Dec. 19, 1991)

    Salary: $2.3 million (2.2x league avg)

    Hear me out, Red Sox fans.

    There were actually five terrific candidates for this spot:

    • Dave Winfield (TOR, 1992): 138 OPS+, 26 HR, 108 RBI, 4.1 WAR
    • David Ortiz (BOS, 2003): 144 OPS+, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 3.4 WAR
    • Frank Thomas (OAK, 2006): 140 OPS+, 39 HR, 114 RBI, 3.2 WAR
    • Milton Bradley (TEX, 2008): 162 OPS+, 22 HR, 77 RBI, 5.2 WAR
    • Nelson Cruz (BAL, 2014): 137 OPS+, 40 HR, 108 RBI, 4.6 WAR

    The deciding factor? Winfield won a World Series, while Ortiz didn't win his first ring until his second season in Boston and the other three players moved on to other teams after failing to win a title on their one-year deals.

Starting Pitchers

9 of 10

    CC Sabathia
    CC SabathiaKathy Willens/Associated Press

    1. Greg Maddux, Atlanta Braves (Dec. 9, 1992)

    Contract: Five years, $28 million (4.8x league avg)

    AVG stats: 197 ERA+, 18-7, 2.13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 177 K, 231 IP, 7.8 WAR

    Accolades: 4x All-Star, 3x Cy Young, 4x playoffs, 1x WS win

    This is the best free-agent signing in MLB history.

    Fresh off a Cy Young performance with the Cubs and entering his age-27 season, Maddux is the best pitcher to ever hit the open market and the five seasons he put together under this contract represent one of the best five-year runs in MLB history.

    • '93: 20-10, 2.36 ERA (170 ERA+), 1.05 WHIP, 3.7 WAR
    • '94: 16-6, 1.56 ERA (271 ERA+), 0.90 WHIP, 7.0 WAR
    • '95: 19-2, 1.63 ERA (260 ERA+), 0.81 WHIP, 8.1 WAR
    • '96: 15-11, 2.72 ERA (162 ERA+), 1.03 WHIP, 5.2 WAR
    • '97: 19-4, 2.20 ERA (189 ERA+), 0.95 WHIP, 6.0 WAR

    He took home Cy Young honors in '93, '94 and '95 and also won the only World Series ring of his career in '95.

    It's fun to imagine how different the MLB landscape would have looked if he had taken the five-year, $34 million offer that was on the table from the Yankees.


    2. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks (Dec. 10, 1998)

    Contract: Five years, $68.4 million (6.6x league avg)

    AVG stats: 175 ERA+, 17-7, 2.66 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 308 K, 229 IP, 8.0 WAR

    Accolades: 4x All-Star, 4x Cy Young, 3x playoffs, 1x WS win

    For as spectacular as Maddux was over the course of his five-year deal, Randy Johnson was arguably even better in the first four seasons he spent with the Diamondbacks.

    • '99: 17-9, 2.48 ERA (184 ERA+), 1.02 WHIP, 9.2 WAR
    • '00: 19-7, 2.64 ERA (181 ERA+), 1.12 WHIP, 8.1 WAR
    • '01: 21-6, 2.49 ERA (188 ERA+), 1.01 WHIP, 10.0 WAR
    • '02: 24-5, 2.32 ERA (195 ERA+), 1.03 WHIP, 10.9 WAR

    This signing officially made the D-backs a World Series contender, and aside from leading the team to a title in '01, Johnson also won four Cy Young Awards while racking up 300-plus strikeouts in four straight seasons.

    Knee surgery limited him to just 18 starts and a 4.26 ERA in the final year of the deal, but it still ranks as one of the best signings of all time.


    3. Kevin Brown, Florida Marlins (Dec. 22, 1995)

    Contract: Three years, $12.6 million (3.3x league avg)

    AVG stats: 172 ERA+, 17-9, 2.33 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 207 K, 242 IP, 7.8 WAR

    Accolades: 3x All-Star, 2x playoffs, 1x WS win

    There's a reason Kevin Brown became the first $100 million player in MLB history, and it's because of this three-year stretch with the Marlins and Padres.

    He deserved 1996 NL Cy Young honors (17-11, 1.89 ERA, 159 K, 233 IP, 8.0 WAR) but lost out to John Smoltz (24-8, 2.94 ERA, 276 K, 253.2 IP, 7.3 WAR) by a wide margin.

    After that, he led the Marlins to a World Series title in 1997 and returned to the Fall Classic with the Padres in 1998 after he was traded during the offseason for a package built around top prospect Derrek Lee.

    That impressive run earned him a seven-year, $105 million deal from the Dodgers.


    4. Roger Clemens, Toronto Blue Jays (Dec. 13, 1996)

    Contract: Four years, $40 million (6.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 149 ERA+, 17-8, 3.12 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 228 K, 223 IP, 6.9 WAR

    Accolades: 2x All-Star, 2x Cy Young, 2x playoffs, 2x WS win

    For as good as he was throughout his career, Roger Clemens was not at his best in his final two seasons with the Red Sox, going 20-18 with a 3.83 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.

    That left him with a chip on his shoulder as he entered free agency for the first time, and he quickly proved he was still one of the game's elite after joining the Blue Jays on a four-year deal.

    Already 34 years old at the time of the signing, he went a combined 41-13 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 20.1 WAR to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards in his two seasons in Toronto.

    After that, he was traded to the Yankees for David Wells, Graeme Lloyd and prospect Homer Bush, and he won back-to-back World Series titles to finish out the contract.


    5. David Cone, Kansas City Royals (Dec. 8, 1992)

    Contract: Three years, $18 million (5.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 143 ERA+, 15-9, 3.31 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 171 K, 218 IP, 7.0 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 1x Cy Young, 1x playoffs

    David Cone was the one that got away.

    A Kansas City native and a third-round pick by the Royals in the 1981 draft, Cone was traded to the Mets at the age of 24, only to emerge as a 20-game winner two years later.

    It was no surprise then that the front office jumped at the chance to right that wrong when he reached free agency six years later. His three-year, $18 million deal made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball and included a then-record $9 million signing bonus that was paid in full up front.

    Cone went 27-19 with a 150 ERA+ the first two seasons, winning AL Cy Young honors in 1994 before he was traded to the Blue Jays for three prospects. He was traded again at the deadline to the Yankees, who had pursued him aggressively two years prior.


    Next five

    6. CC Sabathia, NYY (Dec. 20, 2008—3 years/$60 million)

    7. Zack Greinke, LAD (Dec. 10, 2012—3 years/$70 million)

    8. Mike Mussina, NYY (Dec. 7, 2000—6 years/$87 million)

    9. Al Leiter, FLA (Dec. 14, 1995—3 years/$8.6 million)

    10. Mark Langston, CAL (Dec. 1, 1989—5 years/$16 million)


    Best One-Year Contract: Jack Morris, MIN (Feb. 5, 1991)

    Salary: $3.7 million (4.3x league avg)

    The Twins signed Jack Morris to a one-year deal to be the ace of a young rotation that also featured Scott Erickson (23) and Kevin Tapani (27).

    He was that and more, going 18-12 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 246.2 innings while tossing 10 complete games and two shutouts.

    The 36-year-old then went 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in three World Series starts—including a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 that goes down as perhaps the greatest individual pitching performance in MLB history.

Relief Pitchers

10 of 10

    Joe Nathan
    Joe NathanRichard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    1. Rich Gossage, New York Yankees (Nov. 22, 1977)

    Contract: Six years, $3.6 million (3.4x league avg)

    AVG stats: 183 ERA+, 25 SV, 2.10 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 84 K, 86 IP, 3.1 WAR

    Accolades: 4x All-Star, 3x playoffs, 1x WS win

    Bullpens were constructed a bit differently back when the Yankees signed Rich Gossage.

    Take his first season with the team, for example.

    While he led the AL with 27 saves, he also compiled a 10-11 record and finished fourth on the team with 134.1 innings pitched, despite not starting a single game.

    At any rate, he was the game's most dominant bullpen force during his time in pinstripes, posting an 18.7 WAR in his six seasons with the team and winning a World Series title in 1978.


    2. Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox (Dec. 18, 2012)

    Contract: Two years, $9.25 million (1.3x league avg)

    AVG stats: 232 ERA+, 24 SV, 1.75 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 90 K, 69 IP, 2.6 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 1x playoffs, 1x WS win

    Koji Uehara came to the big leagues as a 34-year-old with 10 seasons in the Japanese League, and he was 38 by the time he joined the Red Sox in 2013.

    Originally slotted in a middle-relief role, he took over as the team's closer midway through his first season and went on to convert 20 of 22 save chances with a 0.41 ERA and 0.36 WHIP the rest of the way.

    He wrapped up the 2013 regular season with an outrageous 101-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 74.1 innings and then worked 10.2 scoreless innings while converting all five save chances in the ALCS and World Series to help the team win a title.

    He was terrific again the following season and ended up signing another two-year deal with the Red Sox once his contract was up.


    3. Rollie Fingers, San Diego Padres (Dec. 14, 1976)

    Contract: Six years, $1.6 million (1.9x league avg)

    AVG stats: 127 ERA+, 28 SV, 2.77 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 75 K, 97 IP, 1.9 WAR

    Accolades: 3x All-Star, 1x Cy Young, 1x MVP, 1x playoffs

    An integral part of the Athletics teams that won three straight World Series titles from 1972 to 1974, Rollie Fingers joined the Padres following the 1976 season.

    In his four seasons in San Diego, he tallied 108 saves with a 3.12 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, making the All-Star team once and leading the league in saves twice.

    Following the 1980 season, he was traded to St. Louis and then again to Milwaukee where he helped the Brewers to what were their only two postseason appearances up until the 2008 season.

    He won AL Cy Young and MVP honors in 1981 with a league-leading 28 saves and a 1.04 ERA. Unfortunately, a back injury sidelined him during the team's run to the World Series in 1982—perhaps things would have gone differently in a seven-game series loss to the Cardinals.


    4. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers (Nov. 21, 2011)

    Contract: Two years, $14.75 million (2.2x league avg)

    AVG stats: 204 ERA+, 40 SV, 2.09 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 76 K, 64 IP, 2.6 WAR

    Accolades: 2x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    One of the game's elite closers during his time with the Twins, Joe Nathan had 261 career saves when he joined the Rangers as a 37-year-old.

    He had missed the 2010 season with Tommy John surgery and still wasn't himself in 2011 when he posted a 4.84 ERA, but he returned to elite form in Texas.

    Nathan was an All-Star in both seasons with the team, converting 80 of 86 save chances with a 2.09 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings before moving on to Detroit.


    5. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays (Jan. 4, 2012)

    Contract: Two years, $4.25 million (0.6x league avg)

    AVG stats: 202 ERA+, 42 SV, 1.91 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 79 K, 71 IP, 2.1 WAR

    Accolades: 1x All-Star, 1x playoffs

    The Tampa Bay Rays have made a living building their bullpen out of spare parts plucked from the scrapheap and that's exactly what Fernando Rodney was.

    The team needed a closer, and Rodney had a 37-save season prior to a forgettable two-year run with the Angels that made him a bargain.

    He was nothing short of brilliant in his first season, converting 48 of 50 save chances with a pristine 0.60 ERA and 0.78 WHIP to finish fifth in AL Cy Young voting. He followed that up with a 37-save season, then signed a far more lucrative two-year, $14 million deal with the Mariners.


    Best One-Year Contract: Billy Wagner, ATL (Dec. 2, 2009)

    Salary: $7 million (2.3x league avg)

    Looking to bridge the gap to prospect Craig Kimbrel in the closer's role, the Braves signed veteran Billy Wagner and his 385 career saves to a one-year deal.

    The 38-year-old was limited to just 17 games the previous season while he recovered from Tommy John surgery, but he was back to 100 percent in Atlanta.

    Wagner ended up converting 37 of 44 save chances with a 1.43 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 13.5 K/9, posting a 2.4 WAR and making the All-Star team for the seventh and final time before retiring at the end of the season.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, while contract information came from a wide variety of sources, including Baseball Prospectus, Spotrac and old news articles.