Best One-Year Deals in Recent Memory
Every year, for one reason or another, numerous players sign one-year deals on the free agent market. Some are veterans looking to regain some of their value in order to hit the market the following offseason with a much higher stock. Others are aging players looking to keep their dimming careers alive. Some are forced to sign short-term deals simply because they aren’t good enough to warrant such a large commitment.
The ultimate goal of any team handing out these deals is to get results that far exceed the contract’s value (duh), and when they hit on one, both the player and team can walk away as huge winners. Over the past half decade, there has been little exception to this rule, as quite a few organizations have been lucky enough to strike gold with these low-risk, high-upside contracts. So, in order to gauge the recent history of successful one-year contracts*, let’s look back at the best such deals signed from the winter of 2008 to 2012.
*This is not including players who signed one-year deals with contract options attached, excluding such success stories as Koji Uehara, Fernando Rodney, and Francisco Liriano
2009 Andy Pettitte
Contract: $5.5 Million with NYY
Coming off two consecutive 200+ inning, 4+ WAR seasons with the Yankees, Pettitte, then 37, decided to re-up with New York for one more year, and the deal turned out to be a steal for the Yankees. Taking a $10.5 million pay cut from the year prior (he made $16 million in 2008), Pettitte was pretty much his usual self. Dropping below the 200 inning mark for the first time since 2004 (he still managed to throw 194.2 innings), Pettitte went 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA (111 ERA+), and 3.6 WAR. This won’t be the last time you see Pettitte mentioned in this article.
2009 Bobby Abreu
Contract: $5 Million with LAA
Abreu was still quite productive in his third and final season with the Yankees in 2008, notching a 125 wRC+, .369 wOBA, and 2.7 WAR, while hitting 39 doubles, 20 bombs, scoring 100 runs, and driving in another 100. However, his age was clearly showing on the defensive side of the ball, as he put up an atrocious negative 11 DRS (defensive runs saved) as New York’s regular right fielder.
He ended up leaving New York for a severe pay cut with the Angels ($16 million in 2008 to $5 million in ’09), where he would anchor a lineup that at one point in mid-August ran out a starting lineup that consisted of nine players with a .300 batting average or better (all were regulars, so this wasn’t like some career 1-for-3 guy was in there). In his first season with the Angels (he would remain in Anaheim through April of 2012), Abreu was once again an offensive force, as he went on to hit .293/.390/.435 with a 120 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR, easily exceeding his $5 million price tag.
2009 Randy Wolf
Contract: $5 Million with LAD
Coming off several sub-par seasons (93 ERA+ from 2005-2008), the 32-year-old Wolf signed on with the Dodgers, where he would go on to lead the league in starts (34), tossing 214.1 innings of 3.23 ERA ball (124 ERA+), enabling him to accrue a 3.9 WAR. Following the season, Wolf would turn his rebound campaign into a three-year, $29.75 million deal with the Brewers. Not bad.
2010 Adrian Beltre
Contract: $10 Million with BOS
Beltre is perhaps the epitome of using a one-year deal to significantly increase one’s value. After performing adequately, if not underwhelming, during a five-year tenure with the Mariners (he signed there for $64 million following a 48-home run 2004 campaign with the Dodgers), Beltre left the power-suppressing confines of Safeco Park for the Green Monster in Boston. His move coincided with what would be the second best season of his career, as he underwent a mid-career renaissance and once again emerged as one of the premiere hot corners in the game. In 154 games with the Red Sox, Beltre hit .321/.365/.553 with a 140 wRC+, 28 home runs, a league-leading 49 doubles, and .233 ISO (2nd best of his career). Combined with his otherworldly defense (19 DRS), Beltre posted a 7.8 WAR, which was good for 4th among all American-Leaguers. His terrific season culminated with a five-year, $80 million deal with the Rangers.
2010 Andy Pettitte
Contract: $11.75 Million with NYY
Pettitte returned on another one-year deal for the 2010 season, this time with a significant pay raise (up $6.25 from the year prior). He responded with his first All-Star appearance since 2001, as he posted a 2.5 WAR and 3.28 ERA (132 ERA+) in 21 starts. He would retire following season, and not pitch at all in 2011, but he returned in 2012, to make one more appearance on this list.
2010 Rafael Soriano
Contract: $7.25 Million with TBR
It’s not often that a reliever can deliver enough value to justifiably be considered to have produced significantly more than his contract value, especially a reliever making over $7 million. Of course, Soriano was outstanding in his lone season with the Rays. As their anointed closer, he made 64 appearances, notching 45 saves with a 1.73 ERA and 2.2 WAR. He would parlay his first full season as a closer into a three-year, $35 million contract with the Yankees to set-up for Mariano Rivera.
2010 Aubrey Huff
Contract: $3 Million with SFG
This is probably one of the most important one-year deals in recent memory, as Huff exceeded all expectations and played an integral role on the Giants’ first World Series championship team since 1954. For the grand total of $3 million, he hit .290/.385/.506 with a 140 OPS+ and team-leading 5.4 WAR, en route to a 7th place MVP finish. It would be the then 33-year-old’s last season as an above-average big leaguer.
2011 Hiroki Kuroda
Contract: $12 Million with LAD
The king of one-year deals, the Japanese veteran has been on single year contracts every season since 2010, and the trend continues this season. In what would be his final season on the West Coast, the 36-year-old logged 202 innings, racking up a 3.1 WAR and 3.07 ERA (120 ERA+)
2011 Lance Berkman
Contract: $8 Million with STL
Another World Series hero, Berkman’s signing with St. Louis gave them the extra thump in the middle of their order that pushed them to the Fall Classic. After a dozen years with the Astros, Berkman was dismal in his half-season with New York in 2010 (90 OPS+), but still netted $8 million on the free agent market in hopes of one-more All-Star caliber year. And St. Louis got just that, as the 35-year-old experienced his best offensive season since 2008. In 587 plate appearances, the “Big Puma” hit .301/.412/.547 with a 164 OPS+, 31 home runs, and 4.6 WAR (thanks to some rather uninspiring defense). Unfortunately, that would be the last decent performance Berkman had to offer, as he mustered through two straight injury-laden seasons before retiring this week.
2011 Javier Vazquez
Contract: $7 Million with FLO
Amidst the mediocrity of Miami, Vazquez’s tremendous final season has been largely forgotten. The Puerto Rican finished off his career in 2011 on a one-year, $7 million deal with the Marlins. In 192.2 innings, he struck out 162 batters with a 3.57 FIP and 3.2 WAR.
2011 Russell Martin
Contract: $4 Million with NYY
Non-tendered by the Dodgers, Martin became a free agent at the age of 27, just two years removed from the second of two consecutive All-Star campaigns. Derailed by injuries and poor performances in 2009 and 2010, Martin never regained the batting average stroke that he had in Los Angeles (he hit .224 in New York versus .285 in his first three seasons with LA), but he remained a weapon via the walk, home run, and defense behind the plate. Earning just $4 million in 2011, Martin made the All-Star team, hitting .237/.324/.408 with 18 home runs and a 2.7 WAR. Defensively, he posted a DRS of 7 and tallied a dWAR of 1.5.
2011 Melky Cabrera
Contract: $1.25 Million with KCR
Nobody, the Royals included, expected Melky Cabrera to turn into a five-WAR player overnight in 2011. That year, he hit .305/.339/.470 (121 OPS+) with 102 runs scored, 201 hits, 44 doubles, 18 home runs, and 20 steals, all while making a cool $1.25 million.
2011 Casey Kotchman
Contract: Minor League Deal with TBR
Kotchman is the prime example of the Rays finding value out of nothing. A key component in the trade that sent Mark Teixeira to the Angels, Kotchman hadn’t been a positive producer at the big league level since the first half of 2008 when he signed a minor league deal with the Rays before the 2011 season. For a paltry sum, Tampa got a .306/.378/.422, 3.7 WAR player. He’s just one of a number of highly successful, cheap free agent pickups the Rays have made over the years.
2012 Melky Cabrera
Contract: $6 Million with SFG
Instead of signing a longer term deal, Melky followed up his great 2011 season by signing a one-year deal with the Giants to establish a track record of consistency before re-hitting the free agent market. The results went about as well as they could have before a mid-season positive drug test took him out for the remainder of the season and cost him tens of millions of dollars that winter. Still, Cabrera was a force for the 2012 champs, hitting a staggering .346/.390/.516 (157 OPS+) in 113 games, “unofficially” winning the major league batting crown.
2012 Hiroki Kuroda
Contract: $15 Million with NYY
Another Yankee and another Kuroda.
To lure him away from Los Angeles, the Yankees gave the aging Kuroda $15 million, and he proceeded to post the best numbers of his career. In just under 220 innings, Kuroda went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA (127 ERA+) and 5.5 WAR.
2012 Cody Ross
Contract: $3 Million with BOS
The 2010 playoff hero was coming off a .240/.325/.405 (107 OPS+) season when he signed with Boston for $3 million prior to 2012. After hitting .267/.326/.481 (115 OPS+) with a 2.3 WAR during his one-year stint with the Red Sox, Ross was able to snag a three-year, $26 million contract from the Diamondbacks. Ross’ case is particularly interesting because the statistical difference between his 2011 and 2012 seasons was minute, yet the resulting change in salary was $23 million.
2012 Hisashi Iwakuma
Contract: $1.5 Million from SEA
Iwakuma wasn’t exactly a big name coming out of Japan in 2011. Having been posted the year before (Iwakuma and the Athletics could not reach an agreement), Iwakuma pitched a rather low sum of just 119 innings for the NPB’s Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2011, 82 less than the year before. He headed to the States on a one-year deal with the Mariners that paid him just $1.5 million, however, he quickly proved to be worth a lot more. He put up a 3.16 ERA and 2.0 WAR in 125 innings during his first MLB season, prompting Seattle to extend him for another two years and $14 million (with a option for 2015).
2012 Jeff Keppinger
Contract: $1.525 Million with TBR
Posting a .300 OBP in 99 games with the Astros and Giants in 2011 greatly limited Keppinger’s market, but the Rays gambled on him, signing him for less than $2 million to serve as a sort of super-utility player, essentially Ben Zobrist-lite. The Rays ended up sending him to the plate 418 times, and he had what has easily been the best season of his career, hitting .325/.367/.439 (126 OPS+) with a 2.7 WAR while striking out in just 7.4% of his plate appearances. He signed with the White Sox for $12 million following the season.
2013 Bartolo Colon
Contract: $3 Million with OAK
A bargain for $3 million, the former Cy Young award winner had what may have been the best season of his career in 2013 at the age of 40. In 30 starts, he threw 190.1 innings, going 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA (141 ERA+) and 5.0 WAR, while walking just 3.8% of the batters he faced.
2013 Hiroki Kuroda
Contract: $15 Million with NYY
Kuroda was his usual, reliable self last year, putting up a 3.31 ERA (122 ERA+) and 4.1 WAR in 201.1 innings.
2013 Stephen Drew
Contract: $9.5 Million with BOS
Boston took an enormous risk in giving Drew $9.5 million in hopes that he would return from injury with his production intact. He turned out to be well worth the risk, holding down shortstop for the eventual World Champions with plus defense while hitting .253/.333/.443 with a 109 wRC+ and 3.4 WAR. Though he still remains unsigned as of this writing, the deal clearly paid off for both parties.
2013 Andy Pettitte
Contract: $12 Million with NYY
Pettitte returned for one last hurrah in 2013 after taking all of 2011 off and making just 12 appearances in 2012. He proved to still be in big-league form, notching a 3.74 ERA (108 ERA+) and 2.5 WAR in 185.1 innings. Value-wise the deal wasn’t exactly a coup for New York, but he was definitely worth more than their investment.
2013 Mariano Rivera
Contract: $10 Million with NYY
Rivera was as good as ever in his final tour of the league. As a 43-year-old closer, he posted a 2.11 ERA (192 ERA+) with 44 saves and a 2.5 WAR. Rivera is possibly the only reliever in the history of baseball to consistently warrant a salary north of $15 million, and to get him for just $10 million is a steal.
2013 Mike Napoli
Contract: $5 Million (with incentives) with BOS
This one may be cheating a little bit, as Napoli had originally agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox before being forced to renegotiate due to concerns regarding his medical status. Still, the Red Sox got him for just a $5 million base salary, and though he ended up getting $13 million in incentives, he was well worth the price. A full-time first baseman for the first time in his career, Napoli slashed .259/.360/.482 (129 OPS+), with 23 home runs, a .367 wOBA, 4.1 WAR, and tremendous defensive metrics at first.
2013 James Loney
Contract: $2 Million with TBR
And the list concludes with yet another Tampa Bay Ray. Never living up to the enormous expectations placed on him as a prospect, the Rays managed to grab Loney for next to nothing and install him as their starting first baseman, much like Kotchman a couple of years prior. He rewarded them by hitting .299/.348/.430 (118 OPS+) with a 2.7 WAR to go along with above-average defense. Loney’s 2013 breakout appears to have convinced the Rays that he is their answer at the position, as they signed him to a three-year, $21 million deal this winter.
You can follow Justin Millar on twitter at @justinmillar1, or email him at Justinmillar1@gmail.com.