Every MLB Team's Best Free-Agent Signing of the 2000s

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2022

Every MLB Team's Best Free-Agent Signing of the 2000s

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    Boston Globe/Getty Images

    As the MLB lockout rolls on, we continue our stroll down memory lane with a look back at the best free-agent signings for each team during the 2000s.

    The decade brought a new boom in spending, highlighted by Alex Rodriguez inking a record-breaking 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers.

    That's not to say there weren't still bargains to be found after the top tier of free-agency talent, and the following is a good mix of megadeals that worked out and more under-the-radar signings that exceeded expectations.

    There were no strict parameters for inclusion, though we did try to avoid including one-year deals whenever possible. That said, some teams simply were not active enough for there to be any impactful multiyear contracts, and in those cases a one-year deal wound up being the pick.

    Off we go!

AL East

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    A.J. Burnett
    A.J. BurnettTONY GUTIERREZ/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: SS Miguel TejadaSix years, $72 million

    Two years after winning AL MVP in Oakland, Tejada signed a six-year deal with the Orioles. He had a huge 34-homer, 150-RBI season in his first year and was productive throughout his time in Baltimore with a 124 OPS+ and 20.1 WAR in four seasons before he was traded to Houston. He won two Silver Sluggers and was a three-time All-Star with the Orioles.

           

    Boston Red Sox: LF Manny Ramirez—Eight years, $160 million

    This contract checked in at No. 3 in our countdown of the 10 most successful free-agent signings ever back in August. Ramirez hit .312/.411/.588 with 274 home runs and 868 RBI during his time with Boston, piling up 33.2 WAR while also consistently shining under the bright lights of October. He hit .321/.422/.558 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI in 43 postseason games and won rings in 2004 and 2007.

           

    New York Yankees: SP Mike Mussina—Six years, $87 million

    A division rival for 10 years as the ace of the Orioles staff, Mussina joined the Yankees ahead of his age-32 season and continued to pitch at a top-of-the-rotation level. The Hall of Famer tacked another two-year, $22.5 million extension onto the end of his initial six-year deal, and all told he logged 20.2 WAR with 123 wins and a 3.88 ERA in 1,553 innings in pinstripes.

          

    Tampa Bay Rays: 2B/3B Akinori Iwamura—Three years, $7.7 million

    After nine seasons with the Yakult Swallows in the Japanese League, Iwamura joined the Rays as a 28-year-old during the 2006-07 offseason. He hit .281 with a .354 on-base percentage and 6.6 WAR in three seasons in Tampa, and he was the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter for the Rays team that reached the World Series in 2008.

           

    Toronto Blue Jays: SP A.J. Burnett—Five years, $55 million

    Burnett actually spent just three seasons in Toronto, exercising an opt-out in his contract after going 18-10 with an AL-leading 231 strikeouts in a career-high 221.1 innings in 2008. All told, he had a 3.94 ERA, 112 ERA+ and 9.0 K/9 in 522.2 innings with the Blue Jays. The Yankees gave him a five-year, $82.5 million deal in free agency after he opted out.

AL Central

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    Ivan Rodriguez
    Ivan RodriguezEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Chicago White Sox: RF Jermaine DyeThree years, $16.5 million

    Dye helped the White Sox win a World Series title in his first year with the team, posting a 118 OPS+ with 31 home runs during the regular season before winning World Series MVP honors. The following year, he hit .315/.385/.622 with 44 home runs and 120 RBI to finish fifth in AL MVP voting. His 164 home runs in five seasons on the South Side rank eighth in White Sox history.

           

    Cleveland Guardians: DH Ellis BurksThree years, $20 million

    A dynamic 30/30 threat during his prime with the Colorado Rockies, Burks was coming down the homestretch of his career when he came to Cleveland for his age-36 season. His speed and defense were no longer an asset, but he could still hit, and he posted a 133 OPS+ over the life of the contract. That included a 32-homer, 91-RBI season in 2002.

           

    Detroit Tigers: C Ivan Rodriguez—Five years, $50 million

    Fresh off a World Series title on a one-year deal with the Florida Marlins, Rodriguez helped turn the tides in Detroit after years of losing. They went from a 119-loss team the year before he arrived, to playing in the World Series by the third year of his contract. He made four All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, and compiled 14.2 WAR before he was traded to the Yankees midway through the final year of his deal.

           

    Kansas City Royals: 2B Mark GrudzielanekOne year, $4 million plus player option

    Aside from the five-year, $55 million deal given to Gil Meche in 2006, the Royals rarely handed out multiyear deals. Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek signed a one-year deal with a player option on Dec. 16, 2005, and he was ultimately re-signed to another one-year deal with an option that was exercised. In those three years with the team, he hit .300 with 8.3 WAR and won a Gold Glove in 2006.

           

    Minnesota Twins: RP Dennys ReyesOne year, MiLB deal plus August extension

    This one is a stretch, but the Twins simply were not an active team in free agency during the 2000s. Reyes signed a minor league deal prior to the 2006 season and then promptly posted a 0.89 ERA in 66 appearances. The 29-year-old signed a two-year, $2 million extension that August, and he finished with a 2.14 ERA in 191 games in his three seasons with the team.

AL West

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    Ichiro Suzuki
    Ichiro SuzukiDAN LEVINE/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: SP Andy PettitteThree years, $31.5 million

    This signing set in motion the move to lure Roger Clemens out of retirement on a one-year deal, and while Pettitte missed half of his first season recovering from elbow surgery, he returned strong the following year. He went 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA in 222.1 innings to finish fifth in NL Cy Young voting, and the trio of Clemens, Pettitte and Roy Oswalt helped lead the Astros to the World Series.

           

    Los Angeles Angels: RF Vladimir GuerreroSix years, $85 million

    Guerrero won AL MVP honors in his first season in Anaheim, hitting .337/.391/.598 with 39 home runs and 126 RBI for a division-winning Angels team. All told, he hit .319/.381/.546 for a 141 OPS+ with 173 home runs and 22.8 WAR over the life of the six-year contract to help solidify his Hall of Fame case.

            

    Oakland Athletics: DH Frank ThomasOne-year, $500,000 plus incentives

    At 37 years old and coming off an injury-plagued final season with the White Sox where he hit .219 in 34 games, Thomas was a total wild card in free agency. The Athletics gave him a one-year, incentive-laden deal, and he posted a 140 OPS+ with 39 home runs and 114 RBI to finish fourth in 2006 AL MVP balloting. A healthy, productive season ended up earning him $3.1 million with incentives.

          

    Seattle Mariners: RF Ichiro SuzukiThree years, $14.088 million

    Despite a .353 career average and 1,278 hits with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan, there were questions about how Ichiro's game would translate since he was the first position player to make the leap from the Japanese League. He answered those questions in resounding fashion by winning AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP honors in his stateside debut, and he was one of baseball's biggest stars during the 2000s.

            

    Texas Rangers: SS Alex Rodriguez10 years, $252 million

    The Rangers went a combined 216-270 in the first three years of this record-setting contract before cutting their losses and shipping Rodriguez to the New York Yankees in exchange for Alfonso Soriano and prospects. Despite the lack of team success, A-Rod did his part with 25.5 WAR, 156 home runs and 2003 AL MVP honors during his time in Arlington.

NL East

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    Carlos Beltran
    Carlos BeltranAl Bello/Getty Images

    Atlanta Braves: SP John ThomsonTwo years, $7 million

    Two days after cutting off negotiations with longtime ace Greg Madduxwho eventually signed with the Chicago Cubsthe Braves found his replacement. In his first season in Atlanta, Thomson went 14-8 with a 3.72 ERA in 198.1 innings, and the Braves won 96 games while keeping their streak of NL East division titles alive.

            

    Miami Marlins: 1B Carlos Delgado—Four years, $52 million

    One of the most productive sluggers of his era, Delgado hit .301/.399/.582 with 41 doubles, 33 home runs and 115 RBI to finish sixth in 2005 NL MVP voting in what would be his lone season with the Marlins. The cost-cutting Marlins shipped him to the New York Mets for a package of three players, including Mike Jacobs, who took over at first base and had a 32-homer season in 2008.

           

    New York Mets: CF Carlos BeltranSeven years, $119 million

    The Mets reached the postseason just once during Beltran's time with the team, and his tenure is perhaps best remembered for getting buckled by an Adam Wainwright curveball to end the 2006 NLCS. That said, with 149 home runs, 100 steals, five All-Star selections and 31.1 WAR, he more than lived up to his contract. The fact that he was flipped for Zack Wheeler in the final year of his contract is also a bonus.

            

    Philadelphia Phillies: 1B Jim ThomeSix years, $87 million

    Thome was not part of Philadelphia's perennial postseason teams of the late 2000s, but this signing signaled a shift from afterthought to contender. He had huge seasons in 2003 (154 OPS+, 47 HR) and 2004 (144 OPS+, 42 HR) before an elbow injury limited him to 59 games in 2005. He was then traded to the White Sox with three years left on his deal in exchange for Aaron Rowand and prospects.

         

    Washington Nationals: 1B/OF Adam DunnTwo years, $20 million

    Dunn delivered as expected at the plate in his two seasons with the Nationals, posting a 141 OPS+ with 76 home runs and 208 RBI. His poor defense in left field drained his overall value during his first year and actually made him a negative-WAR player, but he had no business playing anywhere but first base at that point.

NL Central

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    Francisco Cordero
    Francisco CorderoAl Behrman/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: LF Moises AlouThree years, $27 million

    Alou hit .283/.353/.484 for a 116 OPS+ with 5.3 WAR in three seasons with the Cubs, making him one of the organization's few free-agency success stories prior to Theo Epstein coming aboard. He was an All-Star in his final year with the team in 2004, hitting .293/.361/.557 with 39 home runs and 106 RBI.

            

    Cincinnati Reds: RP Francisco CorderoFour years, $46 million

    At the time, this was one of the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher. Cordero saved at least 30 games in each of his four years with the Reds, and he nailed down 150 of 174 save opportunities with a 2.96 ERA in 283 total appearances. His 150 saves rank second in franchise history to Danny Graves (182).

           

    Milwaukee Brewers: CF Mike Cameron—Two years, $16.25 million

    One of the most underrated players of the 2000s, Cameron possessed a rare mix of power, speed and elite center field defense. He helped the Brewers reach the playoffs for the first time in 26 years in his first season with the team in 2008 with a 25-homer, 17-steal, 3.1-WAR season. His club option was exercised, and he posted similar numbers the following year.

           

    Pittsburgh Pirates: RF Reggie SandersOne year, $1 million

    The Pirates were busy during the 2002-03 offseason, signing veterans Kenny Lofton, Matt Stairs and Jeff Suppan to one-year deals, along with the addition of Sanders. The 35-year-old outfielder had a 131 OPS+ with 31 home runs, 87 RBI and 3.1 WAR in 130 games.

           

    St. Louis Cardinals: SP Chris Carpenter—One year, $300,000 plus club option

    After posting a 5.28 ERA in 13 starts with the Blue Jays in 2002 before undergoing shoulder surgery, Carpenter declined a minor league assignment and became a free agent. He spent 2003 recovering and had his 2004 club option declined, but he was then re-signed to a new one-year, $500,000 contract with another option year. He went 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 182 innings in '04, and his career took off from there.

NL West

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    Derek Lowe
    Derek LoweJon Soohoo/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: 1B Mark GraceTwo years, $6 million

    After 13 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Grace joined a D-backs team on the rise for the 2001 season. The 37-year-old hit .298/.386/.466 for a 113 OPS+ with 31 doubles, 15 home runs and 78 RBI in his first year in the desert, and he won his first and only ring that October.

             

    Colorado Rockies: 3B Vinny CastillaOne year, $2.1 million plus mutual option

    Castilla rattled off five straight 30-homer seasons and won three Silver Slugger Awards with the Rockies during the 1990s. He then bounced around in the early 2000s before returning to Colorado in 2004. It proved to be more than just a nostalgia signing, as he posted a 109 OPS+ with 43 doubles, 35 home runs and an NL-leading 131 RBI. That earned him a two-year, $6.2 million deal from the Nationals in free agency.

           

    Los Angeles Dodgers: SP Derek LoweFour years, $36 million

    An All-Star as a closer and a starter for the Red Sox, Lowe was an innings-eating workhorse during his four seasons with the Dodgers. He made 135 starts and chewed through 850.1 innings in his four years with the club, posting a 3.59 ERA and 120 ERA+ along the way. What more can you ask from a starter?

           

    San Diego Padres: 2B Mark LorettaOne-year, $1.25 million

    After bouncing around the Milwaukee infield early in his career, Loretta was given the everyday second base job in San Diego in 2003 and hit .314/.372/.441 for a 120 OPS+ in his first year with the Padres. He was brought back on a two-year deal and posted even better numbers the following year with a .335/.391/.495 line, 65 extra-base hits and a career-high 6.0 WAR.

          

    San Francisco Giants: RP Jeremy AffeldtTwo years, $8 million

    Affeldt posted a 1.73 ERA with 33 holds in 74 appearances during his first season with the Giants in 2009, and he was an integral part of their bullpen contingent for a trio of World Series winners in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Aside from his reliable regular-season work, he had a 0.69 ERA with two wins and four holds in 26 playoff appearances with the Giants. 

            

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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