Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson. Mandatory Credit: Getty Images

The Ten Biggest Yankees Free Agents

After the wild Masahiro Tanaka chase, it seems apt to recount the largest names to sign with the Yankees. However, this article cannot be written without mentioning Curt Flood. He was an All-Star centerfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960’s, until he was traded to the Phillies in 1969. He refused to report to his new team,  however, because he had played eleven years and felt that he deserved to stay. This quagmire turned into a Supreme Court Case (with Flood eventually losing), but it paved the groundwork for what we now call “free agency,” including clauses like the 10-5 rule (a player may void any trade if he has ten years of MLB experience and five years on one team) and the 6 years free agency rule (a player can become a free agent after six seasons of Major League service). Thank you, Curt Flood, for Tanaka, and the others on this list.

10. David Wells- A lefty workhorse with a 21-year career, Wells actually signed with the Yankees twice as a free agent, in 1997 and 2002. Despite only pitching in the Bronx for four seasons, he had a 68-28 record, which included an All-Star appearance, a perfect game, and a World Series trophy. Additionally, he was phenomenal in the postseason, finishing his tenure with the Yanks at 7-2. After nine teams, “Boomer” finally called his career quits in 2007 with 239 wins.

9. Masahiro Tanaka- Tanaka is only number nine simply because he hasn’t played in America yet, but with a new 7-year, $155 million dollar contract under his belt, the Yankees will do everything they can to make Tanaka a superstar. After a 24-0 season last year for the Tohoko Rakuten Golden Eagles, he would earn instant legend status if he finished 2014 with the same record. Of course, that won’t happen, but wouldn’t that be awesome!

8. Jason Giambi- The “Giambino” was possibly the greatest power hitter in the American League at the end of the 20th century. Playing for the Oakland Athletics with his brother, Jeremy, Jason won the MVP award in 2000 and finished second in the voting in 2001. In terms of batting, he could do everything; he could hit for power, average, or simply stand and flex as he worked walks. After two postseasons (2000 and 2001) of the Yankees playing the A’s (with the Yankees winning both series), the Yanks were sold on Jason. In 2002, he signed a 7-year,$120 million dollar deal, which looked like a great signing after his first two seasons. He hit 41 bombs in 2002 and 2003. Unfortunately, it was revealed that Giambi had a benign tumor. It was curable, but it also signaled a decline in his career. He still had great power, but his average went down with his reputation after he admitted to using steroids. He signed with A’s again in 2009, and now plays for the Cleveland Indians.

7. Hideki Matsui- “Godzilla” came to the United States for the 2003 season with a 3-year contract for $21 million dollars. After a wildly successful career involving home runs and consecutive games played, Matsui brought his talents from Japan at the ripe age of 29, and proceeded to smash a grand slam in his first game at Yankee Stadium. After challenging Cal Ripken‘s Jr. streak of consecutive contests, he broke his wrist, thus ending his attempt at 1,768 games played. Nevertheless, Matsui was an icon in New York, with his signature moment being his 2009 World Series MVP award. He retired in 2013 after signing a one-day contract with the Yankees.

6. Mike Mussina- “The Moose” was about as consistent a pitcher as there ever was. A Stanford graduate, he played his first decade of Major League ball for the Baltimore Orioles, masterfully earning his way to 147 wins. For the 2001 season, Mussina signed with the Yankees for a 6-year, $88.5 million dollar deal. While he continued to pitch excellently, Mussina was never able to obtain an elusive World Series win. A perennial Gold Glove winner (7 wins) and All-Star (5 berths) with 18 seasons (8 in the Bronx), 270 career wins, and seventeen straight seasons with double digit wins, Mussina will go down as one of the best pitchers to never be on a World Series-winning team.

5. Rich Gossage- From the Moose to “The Goose,” Gossage sign with the Yanks in 1978 and revolutionized the closer position. He was so highly touted that he grappled the role from incumbent Sparky Lyle, who won the Cy Young Award the year before! Armed with a triple digit fastball, he growled and scowled his way to the saves title, and a World Series win. Gossage left the team in 1983, only to return through waivers in 1989. Overall, Gossage finished his Yankees career with 151 saves and a 2.14 ERA, while never earning more than $458,000 per season for the Yankees, a relative bargain given his ability. He ended his 22-year career at age 42 with 310 saves, 681 games finished, and one of the best nicknames in the history of the game.

4. Catfish Hunter- While Hunter only played five seasons with the Yankees, he ranks so highly on this list because of the fashion he came over in. The best pitcher in baseball from 1971 to 1974 with the Athletics, nobody could hit Hunter. He scorched his way to 90 wins in that period, pitching over 300 innings in a season in 1974. He won the Cy Young award in 1974, and was in the midst of a World Series blitz (three straight titles from ’72 to ’74). Catfish could even hit; he holds a .226 batting average that would have won him multiple Silver Sluggers. Yet he still went to New York, becoming the MLB’s richest ballplayer with a 5-year, $3.35 million dollar contract! While he faded after a stellar 1975 season, he was able to bring the Yankees to three World Series from 1976 to 1978, winning the final two. He retired in 1979 at age 33 with 224 wins. A Hall of Fame inductee, James “Catfish” Hunter tragically succumbed to ALS, too young, at the age of 53. He will always be remembered as an Athletic, a Yankee, and one of the few pitchers to dominate an era as well as he did in history.

3. C.C. Sabathia- A name current Yankees fans might be familiar with, Sabathia started his career with the Cleveland Indians in 2001 as a 98 MPH fastball-wielding giant. In 2008, he became one of the best traded pithcers ever when he pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers in the second half of 2008, leading the National League in complete games and shutouts in only 17 games. This prompted the Yankees to hand CC a contract as huge as was, with a 7-year, $161 million dollar contract (seven years seems to be a common length). Sabathia led the Yanks to a 2009 World Series title, while winning the Wins crown in both 2009 and 2010. Now 33, Sabathia will continue to add to his legacy, leading the Yanks’ rotation once again for 2014.

2. Dave Winfield- Winfield was as talented as players come; built at a sturdy 6’6″ with all five tools, Winfield was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1973… and the Atlanta Hawks… and the Utah Stars of the ABA… and the Minnesota Vikings even though he never played college football! He chose baseball, and was rewarded by the Padres by instantly making the jump from college to the Majors (he remains one of the few players to never play in the minors). During eight seasons out west, he cemented himself as one of the premier right fielders in baseball, but was on one of the most horrendous teams in the league. Winfield wanted a change, and went to the Yanks on a gigantic contract in 1981: 10-years, $23 million dollars. While continuing to post amazing numbers, he was the subject of many George Steinbrenner feuds and rants. Winfield took every challenge (remarkably) in stride; even when Steinbrenner wanted him out, he invoked his 10-5 clause and stayed with the Yankees until 1990, when he let himself be traded to the California Angels. Later Winfield would win his only WS trophy with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992, and stroked his 3,000 hit for the Minnesota Twins in 1993. He finished his career in 1995 at the age of 43, with 465 homers and 3,110 hits.

1. Reggie Jackson- One of the most polarizing and mythical players of the 20th century, Reggie first starred in Oakland, hitting 47 home runs at the age of 23 in 1969. After winning three World Series titles with Hunter, Jackson hopped to Baltimore for the 1976 season before making landfall in the Bronx for 1977 on a 5-year, $2.96 million deal. Instantly, Reggie ignited the Big Apple with his power and panache, willing his way to the 1977 and 1978 WS championships. His most famous moment was Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, bashing 3 homers, clinching the series, and earning a moniker named after 1/12 of a year, Mr. October. Jackson’s fiery personality led him to travel to California for the 1982 season, ending his Yankees career after 5 seasons. Nevertheless, he made his mark in history, and on many stadiums with his 563 home runs in an widely self-promoted, 21-year career.

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Tags: Free Agents Masahiro Tanaka New York Yankees World Series

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