Free agency as we know it has existed in Major League Baseball since the 1970s. In 1972, Curt Flood took a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court, and although he ultimately lost the case, it emboldened the players to fight. [A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Flood won his case; thanks to Peter Dreier for the correction.] In 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally and destroyed MLB’s “reserve clause” that was just a clever way of saying “You play for who we say you play for, forever and ever.” Free agency was first codified in the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the union in 1976.
Since that time, the Dodgers have signed hundreds of free agents, and it looks like they might sign a few more this offseason… eventually. All of which got us wondering: Who is the best free-agent signing in Dodgers history?
Who is the best #Dodgers free agent signing of all time?
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) November 29, 2022
To be clear, we’re talking about modern free agency. Before the draft was instituted in 1965, every player was essentially originally acquired as a free agent. So yes, Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider and Van Lingle Mungo were all super, but they don’t count for this conversation.
Probably the two most common responses from our readers were these two:
— KEV (@whatareyouhigh) November 29, 2022
Made the Dodgers contenders every year pic.twitter.com/Xo6QYI15da
— Harold RX (@JediHarold) November 29, 2022
It’s hard to argue with the results on Kirk Gibson. In his first year in L.A., he won the NL MVP and the Dodgers won the World Series, with Gibby hitting the most iconic homer in baseball history to win Game 1. The only argument against Gibson is that he was really just a one-year wonder. He spent three years with Los Angeles, but he played just 160 games in his final two seasons with a 102 OPS+. Still, there’s a reason nearly half the responses were Gibson.
Justin Turner was the second-most popular response, with good reason. JT has spent nine years with L.A., and the Dodgers have won the division in eight of those and reached the postseason all nine times. In his nine years in Los Angeles, he’s batted .296/.375/.490 for an .865 OPS (133 OPS+). In the postseason, he has an .830 OPS and posted a 1.066 OPS in the 2020 World Series. Based on both quality and quantity, he outpaces Gibson, even if the peak was slightly lower.
One other common answer was Freddie Freeman. Freeman’s certainly on the right track, as his first year in Dodger blue was better than any year Turner has posted and nearly as good as Gibson’s MVP season. It’s hard to say he’s the best signing yet, but if he can keep up this production for a few more years and lead L.A. to one or more World Series titles, he’d probably jump to the top of the list.
Others receiving multiple votes: Jeff Kent, Zack Greinke, and Brett Butler. Ineligible players to receive multiple votes: Manny Ramirez, Mookie Betts, and Shawn Green, all of whom were acquired in trades, not free agency.
For me, it’s a tossup between Gibson and Turner right now. I’m inclined to go with Turner based on the longer track record, as well as how under-the-radar the signing was at the time. What do you think?
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