20th anniversary: greatest free agent signing ever

Twenty years ago today, one of the biggest and best—probably the best—free agent signings of all-time occurred. The Giants inked a deal with left fielder Barry Bonds, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yeah, that was a pretty good deal.

In the 1992-93 offseason, Bonds was as big a free agent as there could be. He’d just won the MVP Award in 1992, his second such trophy in the past three seasons. In between, he’d been runner-up in the 1991 NL MVP voting.

From 1990 through 1992, he was among the league leaders in virtually every offensive category: first in slugging percentage (.566), first in OPS (999), second in on-base percentage (.424), second in runs (308), second in walks (327), third in RBIs (333), tied for fifth in home runs (92), and seventh in stolen bases (134). Oh, and he did it while hitting .301. It’s everything you could want in a player, so it’s not surprising that WAR considers him the best in all the land in those years: 26.0 WAR easily topping runner-up Cal Ripken Jr.

Oh, and Bonds would be just 28 in the upcoming 1993 season, so he still was near the outset of his prime.

The Giants were the team his father, Bobby Bonds, had played and starred for. More importantly, the Giants were the team that opened up its checkbook the widest. They gave Bonds a six-year deal for $43.75 million, a then-record amount, and Bonds was worth every penny and then some.

For starters, Bonds won the NL MVP in 1993, his third in four seasons. It was his best season to date, with 46 home runs, 123 RBIs (both totals led the league) and a .336 batting average, which was fourth in the league. Oh, and he still drew 129 walks and stole 29 bases. And of course, Bonds remained an elite level player for quite some time to come.

In the six years of his contract, Bonds remained the best player in baseball, with 48.3 WAR. Only Griffey was even close, at 43.0 WAR. Jeff Bagwell was third, way back at 38.7 WAR.

From 1993 to 1998, Bonds was first in OBP (.445), first in walks (746), first in runs (692), second in OPS (1062), third in slugging (.617), fifth in homers (235), eighth in RBIs (660), and ninth in stolen bases (194).

Bonds’ performance helped spark an impressive turnaround for the Giants franchise. They’d experienced back-to-back losing seasons in 1991-92, but behind their superstar went 103-59, just missing the playoffs in the last postseason race without a Wild Card. Obviously, Bonds wasn’t the sole reason for that massive turnaround, but he was the most important one.

The Giants’ improvement wasn’t just on the field, either. Over 2,600,000 fans saw the team play that year, which was not only a franchise record, but it smashed the old mark by a half million. The year before, the Giants had finished next-to-last in the NL in attendance, and there had been talk of the team moving. In fact, they very nearly did move to Tampa Bay before a last-minute group swooped in to buy the club, ensuring it stayed put.

In that same season, the Bay Area rival Oakland A’s cratered on the field and in attendance. The A’s fell from 94 wins in 1992 to 96 losses in 1993, ending their Tony LaRussa-era dynasty. In 1993, the Giants topped the A’s in attendance for the first time since 1987, and since 1993 the A’s have never topped the Giants’ attendance total. Though San Francisco didn’t draw as many fans in the mid-to-late 1990s as it did in 1993, San Fran remained safely ahead of Oakland. No one’s talked about moving since then.

Yeah, that was a pretty nice free agent move the Giants made, and they made it 20 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since Jim Pagliaroni, former catcher for the Seattle Pilots, dies. He was also the man on deck when Ted Williams homered in his final career at-bat.

2,000 days since the Orioles fire manager Sam Perlozzo.

2,000 days since Chone Figgins gets six hits in a game for the Angels.

3,000 days since Ichiro Suzuki gets his fourth five-hit game of the 2004 season.

3,000 days since Joe Blanton makes his big league debut.

6,000 days since Zane Smith appears in his final game.

6,000 days since the A’s and Angels combine for a record 16 first-inning runs. The Angels score three and Oakland scores the other 13.

6,000 days since the Tigers clear a hurdle towards getting a new stadium when a court of appeals rules against the Tiger Stadium Fan Club, which challenged the team’s efforts to get a new ballpark.

6,000 days since Darren Lewis reaches base via intentional walk, the only one he ever gets in 4,652 plate appearances. That’s the most plate appearances by anyone with just one intentional free pass since the stat has been kept. This intentional walk loads the bases for Robin Ventura, who promptly doubles. Why anyone would want to let Ventura bat with the bases loaded is beyond me.

8,000 days since baseball star Bo Jackson suffers a career-threatening injury while playing football for the Raiders. It does end his football career, but he’ll stay play baseball, albeit not as well.

10,000 days since the Braves suspend pitcher Pascual Perez for going AWOL.

10,000 days since Oddibe McDowell of the Rangers hits for the cycle.

10,000 days since Orel Hershiser throws a complete-game one-hitter, allowing just a second-inning leadoff single by Jason Thompson.

Anniversaries

1856 Jack Rowe, who led the NL in triples in 1881, is born.

1879 Jimmy Austin, infielder, is born.

1881 A series of new rules is passed. One causes the creation of a three-foot long corridor on the way to first base. Another says you can’t tag runners returning to base after a foul ball. A third says pitchers won’t automatically be fined for hitting batters.

1887 The American Association doubles its basic admission price from 25 to 50 cents.

1899 The Pirates trade pitcher Happy Jack Chesbro and three others and $25,000 to Louisville for Fred Clarke, Honus Wagner, Tommy Leach, Deacon Phillippe, Rube Waddell, and seven others. Louisville won’t exist next year. This is part of a deal to transfer all their talent to the Pirates. Chesbro will even return there.

1914 The A’s sell Eddie Collins to the White Sox.

1914 The National League votes to create a disabled list.

1928 The Braves purchase Rabbit Maranville from the Cardinals.

1936 Babe Ruth turns down an offer to manage a farm team in Albany.

1936 Brooklyn signs free agent Heinie Manush.

1939 The Braves trades Danny MacFayden to the Pirates for Bill Swift and cash.

1939 The White Sox pull off a pair of trades. They send outfielder Rip Radcliff to the Browns for Moose Solters, and they also send Gee Walker to Washington for Taffy Wright and Pete Appelton.

1941 Ed Brinkman is born.

1941 Baseball owners make a pair of decisions due to the new wartime reality. AL owners had been expecting a proposed move by the Browns to Los Angeles, but that gets nixed due to a recognition that it would cost too much fuel during war. Individually, Cubs owner Phillip K. Wrigley donates the lights he was about to install in Wrigley Field to the war effort. The Browns will stay in St. Louis for 12 more years, and the Cubs won’t get lights for nearly another half century.

1947 The Pirates trade Gene Mauch, Billy Cox, and Preacher Roe to the Dodgers for Vic Lombardi, Dixie Walker, and Hal Gregg.

1951 The American League lifts its ban on Sunday night games.

1951 Bobby Lowe, 19th century infielder, dies at age 86.

1958 Hall of Fame outfielder Tris Speaker dies at age 70.

1958 Bernie Friberg, 1920s NL third baseman, dies at age 59.

1959 The Continental League, a proposed rival to the AL and NL, awards a franchise to Atlanta.

1961 The Cubs sells Richie Ashburn to the Mets, where he’ll end his career.

1966 The Yankees trade Roger Maris to the Cardinals for Charley Smith.

1968 Mike Mussina is born.

1975 The St. Louis Cardinals trade Ken Reitz to the Giants.

1976 Cleveland trades outfielder George Hendrick to the Padres.

1976 Reed Johnson, outfielder, is born.

1977 Boston ownership sale to Haywood Sullivan is held up by AL owners over financing questions.

1977 The Mets, Braves, Rangers, and Pirates engage in a rare four-team trade. Among the key players changing hands, the Pirates land John Milner and Bert Blyleven, Texas gets Al Oliver and Jon Matlack, the Mets receive Willie Montanez, and Atlanta doesn’t get anything worth mentioning.

1977 St. Louis trades Al Hrabosky to the Royals for Buck Martinez and Mark Littell.

1978 The Indians and Rangers swap star infielders: Cleveland gets Toby Harrah and Texas gets Buddy Bell.

1978 Houston trades Floyd Bannister to the Mariners for Craig Reynolds.

1978 The Mets trade Jerry Koosman to the Twins. The Mets will later receive as a player to be named later Jesse Orosco. Koosman was the pitcher on the mound when the Mets recorded the last out in their victorious 1969 World Series. Orosco will be the pitcher on the mound when the Mets record the last out in their victorious 1986 World Series. Those are the only world championships the Mets have.

The batter who made the last out against Koosman in the 1986 World Series was Davey Johnson, who will be Orosco’s manager on the 1986 Mets. Neat.

1978 Vernon Wells is born.

1980 There are several notable pickups in the Rule 5 draft on this day. Toronto takes George Bell from the Phillies, Milwaukee claims Tom Candiotti from the Royals, San Diego gets Alan Wiggins from the Dodgers, and the Cubs get Jody Davis from the Cardinals.

1980 St. Louis can afford to lose Jody Davis, because the Cards pull off a blockbuster trade on this same day. They send Terry Kennedy, Steve Swisher and five others to the Padres for Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace, Bob Shirley, and a player to be named later. Fingers will never appear in a game for St. Louis, as the team also acquires Bruce Sutter this week.

1980 Houston makes a pair of moves. First, the Astros release second baseman Joe Morgan, who had returned to the team he broke in with as a free agent for this one year. Second, the Astros trade longtime starting infielder Enos Cabell to the Giants for Bob Knepper and another player.

1981 The Cubs sign free agent pitcher Fergie Jenkins, allowing him to return to the team he became a star with. With Jenkins in the starting rotation, the Cubs get rid of a starting pitcher on this day, sending Mike Krukow and cash to the Phillies for Keith Moreland and two other players.

1983 The Dodgers trade Sid Fernandez to the Mets.

1983 The Yankees trade Steve Balboni to the Royals.

1983 Bobby Brown, a former infielder, is named AL president, succeeding Lee MacPhail.

1983 Texas trades Jim Sundberg to the Brewers for Ned Yost and a minor leaguer.

1984 Oakland trades reliever Bill Caudill to the Blue Jays for Dave Collins, Alfredo Griffin, and cash.

1985 Bill Wambsganss, second baseman who pulled off an unassisted triple play during the 1920 World Series, dies at age 91.

1987 Atlanta trades shortstop Rafael Ramirez to the Astros.

1987 The Reds trade Dave Parker to the A’s for Jose Rijo and another player.

1987 The Cubs make a terrible trade, sending Lee Smith to the Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi. Smith will be an effective closer for nearly a decade more, while Nipper and Schiraldi don’t do squat. To solve their closer hole, a year later the Cubs eventually will trade Rafael Palmeiro and Jamie Moyer to the Rangers for Mitch Williams.

1987 The Phillies sign centerfielder Bob Dernier as a free agent.

1988 The Reds trade Lloyd McClendon to the Cubs.

1991 The Reds trade relief ace Randy Myers to the Padres for Bip Roberts and a minor leaguer.

1991 The Phillies trade Von Hayes to the Angels.

1992 The White Sox sign free agent pitcher Dave Stieb.

1992 Florida signs free agent pitcher Charlie Hough. He’ll end his career with the Marlins.

1992 Kansas City signs free agent pitcher David Cone.

1992 Toronto signs free agent Dave Stewart. They also trade Kelly Gruber to the Angels on this same day.

1995 The Cubs sign starting pitcher free agent Jaime Navarro.

1997 The Indians have a busy day of wheeling and dealing. First, they sign free agent Dwight Gooden. The Indians also sign Kenny Lofton, returning him to the club after one year away. Also, they trade Marquis Grissom and another guy to the Brewers for Ron Villone, Mike Fetters, and Ben McDonald. Finally, they take Fetters—just nabbed from Milwaukee—and immediately flip him to the A’s for Steve Karsay.

1997 Toronto signs infielder Tony Fernandez. It’s one of several times he returns there.

2000 Arizona signs free agent first baseman Mark Grace, ending his career with the Cubs.

2000 Colorado signs free agent Andres Galarraga.

2000 The Giants sign free agent veteran Shawon Dunston.

2004 Florida signs free agent starting pitcher Al Leiter.

2004 Philadelphia signs free agent Jon Lieber.

2005 Boston trades Edgar Renteria and cash to the Braves for Andy Marte.

2005 The Texas Rangers make a terrible trade. They send Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and Armando Galarraga. Soriano will have a career year in Washington, Wilkerson will be terrible in Texas and the others are fungible. Making it even worse, Texas received Soriano in a previous trade with the Yankees for Alex Rodriguez. Thus, in two trades, Texas turns A-Rod into Brad Wilkerson. Ouch.

2006 Oakland signs free agent catcher Mike Piazza, where he’ll end his career.

2006 Jose Uribe, 1980s/90s Giants infielder, dies at the shockingly young age of 47.

2006 The Royals sign free agent Octavio Dotel.

2006 The Dodgers sign free agent Luis Gonzalez.

2006 Free agent Andy Pettitte signs with the Yankees.

2009 The Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers make a trade that sends Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, with Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy going to the Diamondbacks, and Detroit landing Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke, and Austin Jackson.

2009 Seattle signs free agent Chone Figgins.

2010 Free agent Carlos Pena signs with the Cubs.

2010 Kansas City signs free agent Jeff Francoeur.

2011 James Loney is arrested on suspicion of DUI after a collision in his Maserati.

2011 The Angels sign Albert Pujols. Oh, and they land C.J. Wilson, as well.

2011 The Cubs trade Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to Colorado for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers. The Rockies get the better end of this deal.

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Comments

  1. Ian R. said...

    Personally, I’d nominate Mike Hampton for the worst free agent signing of all time. After the Rockies made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, he went on to average 111.1 innings of below-average pitching for the next eight seasons, including missing 2006 and 2007 entirely. He really only had one good year in the mix (2003 with the Braves), a couple of other somewhat decent years (2001 and 2004), one terrible year (2002) and a couple of partial seasons (2005, when he was really good when he did pitch, and 2008, when… not so much).

    That said, Vernon Wells can be glad he wasn’t actually a free agent when he signed, or he’d win easily.

  2. Chad said...

    The other guy in the Grissom trade was Jeff Juden. For the record Ben Mcdonald never played another game after that trade. He was traded back for Mark Watson.

  3. Dennis Bedard said...

    Nice post Chris.  But for the many amongst us who like to follow fire trucks and police cars on their way to a disaster, what was the worst free agent signing ever?

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