FanPost

You Got to the World Series? HOW?! We'd Like To Know.

So over the last few days, as the Winter Meetings wrapped up, all the talk has been about what the Mariners should do in free agency, what they shouldn't do, what the Angels did, and what it's good for. There's a lot of talk about money, length of contract, and how players will or could decline and become an albatross at some point that will hurt the team more at the end of the deal than it will help them now.

In the end, for me, what it comes down to really is "Will it help you get to the World Series?" That's it. I don't care if the M's sign Prince Fielder or Cecil Fielder as long as they finally end their World Series drought, or at least the playoff drought for a few years and become a competitive and watchable baseball team.

It's not that I want to see the team become a club that regularly finishes below .500 for years without any room to improve because of bloated contracts, but when it's all said and done I just want to see them win a ring. We all do. So I'm setting to find out how important free agency has been to recent winners.

If a guy runs in while I'm in the middle of this long project and yells "Extra! Extra! Mariners sign Prince Fieldah!" then I will be really excited and really confused. Excited because that's a big move. Confused because why is a newsie running into my office? And how did he know this was relevant to me?

I don't know what the following research is going to lead to yet. I'm going to go to Baseball Reference, research the World Series teams, and see where that takes me. I might have some idea of what I'll find, but I really don't know which majority will rule. Big moves in free agency, yay or nay?

Let's see.

2011: Cardinals over Rangers

St. Louis

Key players acquired through free agency:

Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse.

I didn't count players like Jake Westbrook and Matt Holliday, players that were acquired at the deadline and then re-signed through free agency. They could have left, but St. Louis opened the door for them to play for the Cardinals because of trades.

It's hard to believe now that Carpenter was an injury casualty released by the Blue Jays and then signed to a small deal by St. Louis in December of 2002. He didn't pitch in 2003, but helped them win enough games in 2004, before missing their first championship because of injury. We all know how good he has been since, finishing in the top 3 of Cy Young voting three times, but he was a originally a very minor move.

Berkman was also a pretty minor move, signing for a 1 year, $8 million deal after it looked like his career was over.

Lohse signed a minor 1 year deal in 2008 and pitched well, getting himself a 4 year/$41 million deal that looked pretty bad until this season.

How the other key players were acquired:

Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, and Jaime Garcia through the draft. Fernando Salas through international free agency. Edwin Jackson, Westbrook, Holliday, Ryan Theriot, and David Freese through trades. Postseason hero Freese was acquired straight up for Jim Edmonds from the Padres.

Evaluation:

The Cardinals used the draft to find that guy Pujols and also key players that they were able to use as trade bait, like Colby Rasmus for Edwin Jackson. Free agency wasn't minor in that it allowed them to get Berkman, but it wasn't any big free agent move that got them here.

The Cardinals would not be an example of a team that won because of big free agent moves.


Texas

Key players acquired through free agency:

Adrian Beltre, Colby Lewis, Darren Oliver, Yorvit Torrealba.

Beltre is the obvious one and I think we know his story. He signed a 5 year/$80 million contract, which is tied with Michael Young for the largest on the team. Lewis was signed to a phenomenally good 2 year/$5 million contract to return to Texas from Japan and has given them back to back 200-inning seasons of good-to-decent pitching. The third-year option allows Texas to keep him for another year at $3.25 million. Oliver was signed for cheap and has been a key bullpen acquisition.

How other key players were acquired:

Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland, C.J. Wilson through the draft. Alexi Ogando through the Rule 5 draft. Mike Adams, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Mark Lowe, Koji Uehara, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, David Murphy, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus in trades.

The Rangers have gotten key players in the draft and they made one big free agent splash with Beltre, but the World Series appearances were built on genius-looking trades, something helped of course by having a good farm system. Many years ago Young was acquired for Esteban Loaiza. Hamilton for Edinson Volquez. Cruz came over as a throw-in with Carlos Lee. Feliz, Harrison, and Andrus for Mark Teixeira.

Interesting that until they acquired Adams and Uehara this season, the deals were mostly to sell a player rather than buy a player. They were hoping they were getting a good long-term investment with Hamilton, but it was far from a sure thing.

Evaluation:

One key free agent move in the offseason that helped them win this year, but the Rangers were built through the farm system and trades.

2010: Giants over Rangers

San Francisco

Key players acquired through free agency:

Jeremy Affeldt, Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Edgar Renteria, Aaron Rowand, Andres Torres, Juan Uribe, Barry Zito, Santiago Casilla.

The Giants won largely because of players they acquired in free agency. Burrell, Torres, Huff, and Renteria helped push the Giants over the top from a good team to a championship team. None of those guys were good again in 2011, but all that matters is that they helped the Giants win it all in 2010 when nobody expected them to. The funny thing is that their biggest free agent signings were Zito, Rowand, and they even gave Mark DeRosa a 2-year/$12 million deal and he hit .194 in 93 at-bats. Their big free agent signings were bad, their minor ones worked out perfectly.

How other key players were acquired:

Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo through the draft. Cody Ross off waivers. (Burrell was released outright and signed as FA midseason. He could have gone to any team I believe.) Pablo Sandoval through IFA. Freddy Sanchez through trade.

Evaluation:

Unlike the Rangers, the Giants didn't work many trades. They drafted well, nailing their high first round picks and finding gems past the 20th round in Wilson and Romo. They screwed up their big free agent signings and found key players amongst the scrap heap. The Giants would not be an example of a team that won because of a big free agent signing.

Texas

The difference between then and 2011:

Mike Napoli was not there. Ogando pitched only 41.2 innings. Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero were there. We know how the Rangers acquired Lee, again proving that they were using trades to better themselves. Vlad signed a one-year deal with Texas and finished 11th in MVP voting.

2009: Yankees over Phillies


New York

Key players acquired through free agency:

I almost don't even want to talk about New York. They're not an example of a real baseball team. We know how they win and they don't have a budget. Teixeira, Sabathia, taking on A-Rods contract and then giving him another massive one, Pettitte, Matsui, Burnett... Not all contracts turn out good but a couple of bad ones doesn't even come close to crippling them. They've been better recently of building up a good farm system and then holding onto those players. The Yankees aren't a model of anything unless you all of a sudden have a metro population of 10 million people and then you can start building a team like the Yankees.

I guess if they ARE a model of something, its that buying a World Series can work. It's worked before and it will work again. You can buy up just enough players to put yourself in the playoffs every year before the whole thing becomes a crap shoot. But there's a lesson in there that all of those free agents and billions spent has amounted to one World Series win in the last decade. We'd take just one in a decade, but we didn't get hit by a car by Steinbrenner and wind up in a Blank Check scenario.

Philadelphia

Key players acquired through free agency:

Pedro Feliz, Raul Ibanez, Jamie Moyer, Chan Ho Park, Jayson Werth, Pedro Martinez.

Werth was a castoff of the Dodgers signed to a minor deal. Pedro pitched some key innings down the stretch. Ibanez was the biggest free agent move and it wasn't that big of a move.

How other key players were acquired:

Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Ryan Howard, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Madson in the draft. Brad Lidge, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton through trades. Shane Victorino was a rule 5 pick, first by San Diego who returned him to the Dodgers and then later the Phillies picked him up. Carlos Ruiz through IFA.

Evaluation:

Hamels-Lee-Happ-Blanton-Moyer = World Series appearance. Hamels-Lee-Halladay-Oswalt-Blanton = 0 for 1. Of course, the Phillies had a great year, just interesting.

The Phillies got to the WS for a 2nd straight year through a big midseason trade, key minor moves in Werth and Victorino, but mostly through patience of building an awesome lineup with Howard, Rollins, and Utley.

2008: Phillies over Ray
Philadelphia

The difference between then and 2009:

Pat Burrell, a former #1 overall draft pick by Philadelphia, hit 33 HR and went to the Rays in free agency the next year, which is where Ibanez comes in. Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton started a combined 49 games and Happ started 4. Lidge pitched a lot better.

There wasn't much of a difference outside of Lee not being there, and they won mostly the same way.

Tampa Bay

Key players acquired through free agency:

Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske, Carlos Pena, Troy Percival.

We all know how this works. It's the anti-Yankees. Pena was a key acquisition for them but it was a mostly unnoticed move at the time unless you follow prospect busts.

How other key players were acquired:

Akinori Iwamura was purchased from Japan. Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, David Price, James Shields, and Andy Sonnanstine were drafted. Grant Balfour, Matt Garza, JP Howell, Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, Dan Wheeler, Willy Aybar, Jason Bartlett, Gabe Gross, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist were traded for.

Evaluation:

The Rays acquired a lot more key players through trades than I had originally realized. It seems like they do it all through the draft, but they built that bullpen, 3/5ths of their rotation, and 4/5ths of their infield through trades and free agency. Pretty impressive for the smallest market club.

2007: Red Sox over Rockies
Boston

Key players acquired through free agency:

J.D. Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka (I guess this is where Dice-K belongs, but I'm not sure how much different a high profile name like his is from a player like Iwamura.) Julio Lugo, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Julian Tavarez, Hideki Okajima, Tim Wakefield.

Boston was the eighth team for Tavarez. Lugo signed a large four-year deal with Boston for over $9 million per year. Manny Ramirez signed a contract that's total value ended at 10 years and $200 million in 2001 and he really was a game-changer for Boston. It's not that the Red Sox were a bad team, the went to the playoffs in 1995, 1998 and the ALCS in 1999. But between 2003 and 2009 they went to the playoffs six times and won two World Series. It's not that Manny did it all on his own, but the acquisition of Manny from Cleveland worked out great.

Ortiz was a minor acquisition that turned into a major one. Wakefield was released by the Pirates in 1995 and signed with Boston. Seriously? 1995? Jesus. Drew is a good player but I wouldn't say it was the best deal ever.

How other key players were acquired:

Josh Beckett, Coco Crisp, Mike Lowell, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek werer traded for. Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury were drafted.

Evaluation:

There's a good mix of things in Boston in 2007. They can't get where they are if they don't sign Manny to a big deal and Ortiz to a minor one. They can't do it if they don't trade Hanley Ramirez for Beckett and Lowell. Or if they don't acquire Schilling. Or if they don't draft Papelbon, Pedroia, and Youkilis. Key players came from every area, and there's an example of giving someone a 10 year contract at $20 million annually that doesn't suck. Ramirez was 29 years old in his first year in Boston.

Colorado

Key players acquired through free agency:

Yorvit Torrealba, Josh Fogg, Latroy Hawkins.

Another Torrealba sighting! There's really not much to see here. I'm noticing that the Rockies pitching staff accumulated 8 WAR per B-Ref compared to 22 WAR for the Red Sox pitching staff.

How other key players were acquired:

Garrett Atkins, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Brad Hawpe, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Chris Iannetta, Ryan Spilborghs, Troy Tulowitzki were drafted. Manny Corpas, Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales came through IFA. Jeremy Affeldt (more Giants!), Taylor Buchholz, Brian Fuentes, Jason Hirsh, Jorge Julio, Rodrigo Lopez, Willy Taveras were traded for. Jamey Carroll was purchased from the Nationals.

Evaluation:

The Rockies built a team through the draft and international free agency and a couple of decent trades. I can't help but remember how much of a miracle it was that the Rockies made it to the playoffs. Still, it worked for them that year.

Conclusion:

It doesn't seem like major free agent contracts, outside of the Yankees and Manny Ramirez deal, have had a positive impact on winning or reaching the World Series.

The draft is key, but also making minor moves that turn into really successful ones is an ongoing trend of seeing surprise teams reach the World Series. We know how the Yankees and Red Sox will operate, but for most everyone else, what's the key? It's not just drafting, it's just as important to make trades and sign free agents that are being undervalued. Where would the Giants have been without Cody Ross? Where would the Red Sox be without David Ortiz? Where would the Rays have been without Pena, Bartlett, Garza, the bullpen?

What's interesting is the lack of major free agent contracts outside of New York, Manny, and the Adrian Beltre deal. Even the Beltre deal was reasonable. It wasn't the biggest or most noticed deal of the offseason.

There's also the other side of the coin. Not just, how did you get there but what happened to the teams (outside of New York) that gave out $100 million deals?

The Rangers gave Rodriguez that highest contract in history and we know how that turned out.

The Twins gave Joe Mauer $184 million last season. He played in fewer games that Drew Butera did at catcher and the Twins finished in last place. It's easy to say "Well, Minnesota had to keep him" or "It's sooo early in the deal." but it's just as easy to say "It's soooo early in the deal." Technically, it is exactly as easy to say that.

The Rockies extended Troy Tulowitzki to 2020 for $154 million. Tulo is a stud, though the Rockies weren't good last year.

Miguel Cabrera has a $152 million contract that goes to 2015. He's obviously a great player and the Tigers are competitive.

Carl Crawford received a $142 million deal that goes until 2017 and early reports aren't good. Though it's Boston. They also gave Adrian Gonzalez $154 million.

Todd Helton was on a $141 million deal from 2003-2011 that saw the Rockies make that one World Series. They made the playoffs twice over that time.

Johan Santana was given $137 million and it goes until 2013. Remember Johan Santana? He's still alive! And owed money! A lot of it. And the Mets stink.

Alfonso Soriano was given $136 million by the Cubs and there are three years remaining on the deal.

Vernon Wells was given $126 million, three years remaining. Good news everybody, the free agent class of 2014 includes Alfonso Soriano and Vernon Wells! Let's save our money until then!

Barry Zito, $126 million with two years remaining.

Jayson Werth, $126 million but only seven years remaining and then we can sign him.

Ryan Howards $125 million contract kicks in next year.

This list is getting pretty awesome.

Mike Hampton $121 million from 2001-2008.

Jason Giambi $120 million from 2002-2008.

Matt Holliday is on a $120 million contract that goes to 2016.

Cliff Lee, $120 million until 2015.

Carlos Beltrans $119 million contract just expired and he's just holding out for $120 million during this free agency period.

Ken Griffey Jr was given $116.5 million which was a really good deal for the 1991 Mariners to make. Not as good for the 2000 Reds.

Kevin Brown was given $105 million over seven years.

Carlos Lee was given $100 million over six years.

Albert Pujols $100 million deal is tied with Lee for the 30th largest in history and was given to him in 2004.

This updated list of the top 30 includes Pujols twice, CC Sabathia twice, Alex Rodriguez twice. The best of the bunch is probably Pujols at $100 million which netted two World Series, but the Manny deal was pretty good too. It's too early to pass judgment on a lot of the deals, but the majority of them look bad. Really bad. I'm even looking at this Jose Reyes $106 million deal and thinking "That's going to be bad."

Prince Fielder will be the 31st $100 million contract. I don't know that the Mariners will be the ones to give it to him. I don't know that they won't. Ichiro's $90 million is the largest contract Seattle has ever given out. If they do, there's a chance that it will be a very bad deal. There's a chance that it will be a very good deal. It might be a Todd Helton deal where you say "Well, that wasn't terrible. He was really, really good." I don't think it will be a Soriano bad deal, but it could be. I don't think it will be a Manny good deal, but it could be.

I know that if they do announce his signing, I'll at least be excited. Even if I'm fearful of Prince playing for two years and then being stuck with four or five years of a not-very-good Prince at $22 million per year, I know for sure that I'll be excited. Because Prince Fielder is a really, really good hitter. He'd be the best power hitter the Mariners have had since Griffey or A-Rod. He'd change the complexion of the lineup whenever he's in it and in the near future, I'd expect the Mariners automatically jump out of the bottom of the barrel in terms of offense. It would be a really interesting and exciting move.

Or he'll just go play somewhere else and all this talk will have just turned out to be fodder to keep us interested in baseball in November and December. That's cool too. I missed being interested in baseball. July was a long time ago.

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