The best MLB free agent contracts tie a player to a team for a reasonable value. These are not usually the deals for the biggest dollar amount, that is a separate list, but rather a look at franchises that got the most bang for their buck.
This could be because they caught a young star on the rise, or it could be the savvy signing of a vet to push a team into genuine World Series contention. Successful MLB free agency deals add a great player to a team and it works out for both parties.
Best MLB free agent contracts
There is no purely scientific way to judge the best MLB free-agent contracts.
There are lots of reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that the value of contracts has shot up so high over the last two decades that comparing dollars and cents for wins is impossible. This list looks only at free-agent deals and not contract extensions.
Here is a look at some of the best free-agent signings in MLB history.
Alex Rodriguez – Rangers
This deal would be higher on the list if the Rangers had parlayed the play of Rodriguez into team success. They were unable to do so and finished in last place in each of his three seasons with the team before they traded the bulk of the deal to the New York Yankees for a package that included the excellent Alfonso Soriano.
The contract was a massive one, 10 years and $252 million, but A-Rod was on fire for three years in Dallas. He slashed .305/.395/.615, with 156 homers and a 27.0 fWAR.
Roger Clemens – Blue Jays
I would love to rank this free-agent signing higher. That, however, cannot be done as Clemens played just two years of the four-year deal he signed with the Blue Jays before requesting a trade and finding his way to (a very successful spell) in New York.
Clemens anchored the Boston Red Sox pitching staff for 12 seasons before this move to a division rival and he was simply outstanding for Toronto in his short time in Canada. Despite not making the playoffs in either year, Clemens won a pair of Cy Young awards, the second he won unanimously. Clemens threw almost 500 innings with a 2.33 ERA as he dominated batters but never had the run support for a playoff run.
Adrian Beltre – Rangers
Now, this is a deal that did equate to wins on the diamond for the Texas Rangers. After Adrian Beltre did enough with the Boston Red Sox in 2010 to prove worthy of a big contract, the Rangers threw five years and $80 million his way before the start of the 2011 campaign.
He eventually stuck it out in Texas for eight years, making three appearances in the All-Star Games, slashing .308/.358/.516, and winning a trio of Gold Gloves.
Ichiro Suzuki – Mariners
It is crazy to think that Ichiro only cost the Seattle Mariners $14.1 million over three years when they brought the Japanese superstar from the Orix Blue Wave to the Pacific Northwest.
This was a deal unlike anything that had been done before, with Ichiro being the first position player to jump from the Land of the Rising Sun to MLB.
His .353 batting average showed his class, but even Seattle scouts couldn’t have expected Ichiro to lead the AL in batting average (.350) as a 27-year-old rookie facing MLB power pitching for the first time. Ichiro had a slash line of .328/.274/.440 during his first contract with Seattle, racking up 662 hits and winning the AL MVP in his rookie year.
Reggie Jackson – Yankees
Mr. October was one of the first big free-agent signings when he joined the Bronx Bombers in 1976 for five years and $2.9 million.
Moving from Baltimore after a successful spell in Oakland, Jackson would go on to become a Yankee legend.
Jackson was an All-Star selection in each of the five seasons of his contract, but it was in the postseason where he shone the brightest.
The Yanks won a pair of World Series crowns with Jackson in the lineup as he hit 12 home runs in 34 postseason games. This included a World Series run for the ages in 1977, when he went 9-for-20 at the plate with five home runs.
Manny Ramirez – Red Sox
It wasn’t just the numbers that makes the free-agent signing of Manny Ramirez by the Boston Red Sox so important. The numbers were great of course, but it is how Ramirez helped Boston become a winning team again that lifts this from a good deal to an outstanding one.
Ramirez didn’t come cheap.
The Red Sox got seven years of his eight-year, $160 million deal before trading him away. In those seven seasons, the Red Sox went from perennial underachievers to a team with four playoff berths and World Series titles in both 2004 and 2007. Ramirez had a slash line of .312/.411/.588 in Boston. He hit 274 home runs and crushed 868 RBIs as he and David Ortiz were a menace in the middle of the batting lineup.
Max Scherzer – Nationals
Being good over the entirety of a four-year contract is difficult enough. Signing a seven-year contract and being good for each and every one of those years is almost unheard of.
That, however, is what Max Scherzer‘s stint with the Washington Nationals from 2015 to 2021 entailed. He was the key to the rotation that won the World Series for the Nationals in 2019 and a pair of Cy Youngs in 2016 and 2017 came at the back of seasons that were exceptional.
Scherzer also pitched a pair of no-hitters in 2015, instantly endearing him to the fans in the nation’s capital.
Read more: Biggest MLB free agency contracts
Barry Bonds – Giants
This move was so important for the San Francisco Giants that it is often cited as saving baseball in the city and setting the platform for multiple World Series wins over the course of the next two and a half decades.
Barry Bonds signed a six-year, $43 million deal with the Giants in 1992. On the back of a 90-loss season, all signs pointed towards the Giants moving to St. Petersburg, Florida, but the record signing of Bonds by the new owner and long-term Giants fan Peter Magowan was a sign of intent.
Bonds had won two of the last three NL MVP awards and he won another in his first year in San Francisco before building a legacy as that transitioned over time from base stealer to power hitter.
Greg Maddux – Braves
Greg Maddux was already very well established when he signed a five-year deal with the Atlanta Braves in 1993. Maddux had just won the NL Cy Young for the Chicago Cubs and his signature was seen as a coup for the Braves.
Maddux proved worth every penny of his deal.
He won three Cy Young awards over the course of the contract and didn’t have a single bad season during that span. The Braves won the World Series in 1995, getting back there again in 1996 on the back of their incredible pitching staff. Maddux was the crown of that rotation and his ERA of just 2.13 over the five seasons is insane.
Randy Johnson – Diamondbacks
Randy Johnson is hard to argue against as the greatest free-agent signing of all time.
Johnson signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for four years (with the option for a fifth), from 1999-2002. The desert heat rejuvenated Johnson, despite the fact he turned 40-years-old during his option year in 2003.
The second-year franchise paid $52.4 million for a return that included an 81-27 record with a 2.48 ERA, 1,417 strikeouts, 31 complete games, and 11 shutouts.
Johnson won the NL Cy Young during each of the four years of his deal and led the young franchise to a World Series win in 2001. Johnson was unhittable for stretches of this contract, the best free-agent contract of all time.