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.
The Phillies could not get past the Reds or Dodgers in three National League Championship Series from 1976-78. They needed something to put them over the top.
"We had a lot of basic talent, but we really didn't have a leader," former Phillies president Bill Giles said in the book "The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Philadelphia Phillies History." "We didn't have somebody who had the confidence to chew out the other players."
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So the Phils targeted free agent Pete Rose following the 1978 season.
Of course, they had plenty of competition.
The Royals offered Rose a four-year, $4 million contract, plus a stake in owner Ewing Kauffman's oil investments. The Braves offered a three-year, $3 million contract, plus a $100,000-a-year pension Rose would receive the rest of his life. The Cardinals could not match the money Kansas City and Atlanta offered, but St. Louis owner Gussie Busch included a Budweiser beer distributorship to sweeten the deal. Pirates owner John Galbreath included two brood mares, plus stud services of his top horses, to entice Rose.
The Phillies offered a three-year, $2.1 million contract. It was the worst offer Rose received, but he still remained interested in Philadelphia.
"St. Louis wanted me to replace Lou Brock, and I didn't want to do that," Rose said in the book. "Kansas City wanted me to change leagues, and I didn't want to do that. ... And Pittsburgh, I didn't think they had a good enough team. But I thought the team sitting on the powder keg was the Phillies. They were the closest team to get where I wanted to be at that stage of my life, and that was the World Series."
Rose and his agent, Reuven Katz, met Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter and Giles in Philadelphia that offseason. Carpenter would not increase his offer. Giles drove Rose and Katz back to the airport, but before they parted ways, Giles reminded Rose that if he joined the Royals, he would not break Stan Musial's National League all-time hits record.
That struck a nerve with Rose, and Katz whispered to Giles that if he could get an extra $100,000 a year, he could convince Rose to sign. Giles got WPHL-TV, which broadcast Phillies games, to kick in an extra $600,000 over the next four years to help pay Rose's salary. The station agreed because Rose's presence would improve their ratings.
Rose signed a four-year, $3.24 million contract, making him the highest-paid player in baseball. He then helped the Phillies win the 1980 World Series and the NL pennant in '83, making him the greatest free-agent signing in franchise history.
Jim Thome: Thome signed a six-year, $85 million contract before the 2003 season. The Phillies never made the postseason with him, but they finished with a winning record every year before they traded him to the White Sox in November '05. Thome signaled a baseball renaissance in Philadelphia. From 2003-11, the Phils were in the postseason hunt every September except '04. It all started with Thome, who showed the baseball world the Phillies were ready to compete again.
Cliff Lee: Lee signed a five-year, $120 million contract with Philadelphia in December 2010, creating one of the greatest single-season rotations in baseball history -- with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt -- and stoking an excitement among Phillies fans not seen in recent memory. The Phils never won a World Series with Lee and he spent his last season and a half on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, but when he was pitching, he was dominant. He posted 19.1 Wins Above Replacement from 2011-15, according to FanGraphs, which includes the time he missed on the DL. It ranked 11th among all pitchers in that span.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.