Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts,
Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?
We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts, to exclude fluky one-year deals and to focus on players who got real commitments. And contract extensions don't count. Only instances when every team in the league had a chance to bid on the player were allowed, including international free agents who received Major League contracts.
CHICAGO -- Most Cubs historians and fans would agree that the best free-agent signing in Cubs history was the one-year, blank check that Andre Dawson gave to team officials before the 1987 season. Dawson wanted to get off the artificial turf in Montreal, and he and his agent approached the Cubs, telling them to pay him whatever they could.
After signing for $500,000 with the Cubs, Dawson won the Most Valuable Player Award, leading the National League in home runs (49) and RBIs (137). He played five more seasons with the Cubs, and was eventually selected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
But what was the Cubs' best multiyear deal to a free agent? Let's look at Moises Alou's three-year deal, signed in December 2001.
Alou helped the Marlins win the World Series in 1997, and finished third in the NL in 2001 with a .331 batting average. He was 35 when he signed the $27 million multiyear contract with the Cubs, filling a vacancy in left field created by the departure of Rondell White. The Cubs hoped Alou could provide some punch and complement Sammy Sosa.
Alou's 2002 season didn't start well as he opened the year on the disabled list, but he did finish with a .275 average, hitting 15 home runs, 23 doubles and driving in 61 runs. It wasn't enough as the Cubs lost 95 games that season and finished fifth. The next year, a healthy Alou helped propel the Cubs to the NL Central title, hitting .280 with 22 homers, 35 doubles and 91 RBIs.
He contributed in the '03 postseason, going 10-for-20 in the NL Division Series against the Braves, and 9-for-29 with two homers in the seven-game NL Championship Series against the Marlins.
In the final year of his contract with the Cubs in 2004, Alou belted a career-high 39 home runs, and batted .293 with 36 doubles and 106 RBIs. He finished 14th in NL MVP voting. Over three seasons with the Cubs, Alou posted a slash line of .283/.353/.484. Alou then departed via free agency, and played two seasons with the Giants and two with the Mets before retiring.
Jonathan Lester: The left-hander is only in the third year of his six-year, $155 million deal, but so far, it's been good for the Cubs. Lester has helped them reach the postseason the past two seasons, and has compiled a 30-17 record and 2.89 ERA over 64 starts. In 2016, he finished second in the NL Cy Young Award balloting.
Benjamin Zobrist: It's too early to gauge the value of the four-year, $56 million contract Zobrist signed before the 2016 season, but his game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series may be enough for some Cubs fans to make him No. 1.
Ted Lilly: The left-hander signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the Cubs in December 2006, and compiled a 47-34 record and 3.70 ERA in that stretch, winning 15 games in '07 and 17 games in '08. In his first start for the Cubs on April 4, 2007, he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Reds, and came close again June 13, 2010, when he held the White Sox hitless through eight innings.
Ryan Dempster: This is another one-year deal that paid off. The Reds had released Dempster after the 2003 season when the right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery. A free agent, he signed a one-year contract in '04 with the Cubs, and was able to pitch in 23 games in relief that season. The next year, Dempster took over the closer job, and in three seasons, he totaled 87 saves. In '08, Dempster returned to the rotation and won 17 games. He also helped the Cubs in '12 as they dealt him to the Rangers for Kyle Hendricks.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.