The Washington Nationals won the 2019 World Series, and, like most teams, are facing many roster decisions heading into their defending champ season in ‘20. The most notable free agents are World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg and star third baseman Anthony Rendon. We don’t know yet whether the Nationals will re-sign either, or both, but it’s certainly worth taking a look at other notable stars to leave a team in free agency after winning the World Series.
If Strasburg signs with another team, he would be the sixth World Series MVP to change teams the following year. However, those individuals weren’t necessarily stars the way Strasburg currently is -- as the World Series MVP is often awarded to a player who was great in the series, but not necessarily a standout the entire season. The last World Series MVP to change teams was Edgar Renteria, who won the honor with the Giants in 2010 then signed as a free agent with the Reds for '11, which ended up being the final year of his career. Before that, it was Hideki Matsui, who won the World Series and its MVP award with the 2009 Yankees, then headed to the Angels in free agency as a 35-year-old. The others: John Wetteland after '96, Jack Morris after '91 and Ray Knight after '86.
Strasburg was not an All-Star this year, but Rendon was. If we look specifically at All-Stars, there have been five players to be an All-Star for the eventual World Series winner then sign as a free agent elsewhere.
Of course, that list doesn’t cover the entire point either, as players like Albert Pujols were stars for their team even if they didn’t make the All-Star squad or win World Series MVP in their final year before departing in free agency.
Looking at a combination of World Series MVPs, All-Stars and other top-tier players, here’s a look at notable stars to leave in free agency following a World Series win, in reverse chronological order.
Craig Kimbrel: RHP, 2018 Red Sox
Joined Cubs as a free agent
Kimbrel was traded from the Padres to the Red Sox before the 2016 season and spent three years with the team, compiling 108 saves and a 2.44 ERA in Boston. He was an All-Star in each of his three seasons pitching for the club. He tallied six saves in the '18 postseason as the Red Sox went on to win it all. His free agency then took a bit of an atypical turn and he didn’t end up signing a deal until early June. When he did, however, it wasn’t with the Red Sox -- whose depleted bullpen after the departure of Joe Kelly as well had already begun to show holes -- but with the Cubs for three years and $43 million. Calling a new city home made Kimbrel one of five players to be an All-Star the year he won a World Series then sign with a new team for the next season.
Dexter Fowler: OF, 2016 Cubs
Joined Cardinals as a free agent
Fowler initially ended up in Chicago via trade, when the Astros sent him there in Jan. 2015 with a year to go before free agency. At the end of that year, he re-signed with the Cubs as a free agent. By many measures, '16 was the best year of Fowler’s career. He compiled a career-high 4.1 WAR, had an .840 OPS and made his first -- and to this point only -- All-Star team. As the Cubs marched to a title in the '16 postseason, he knocked three homers, including a leadoff home run off Corey Kluber in World Series Game 7 on the road in Cleveland. But Fowler did not re-sign with the Cubs following that World Series win, instead inking a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the division rival Cardinals in December.
Albert Pujols: 1B, 2011 Cardinals
Joined Angels as a free agent
For a long time -- 11 years, to be exact -- Pujols’ prodigious power was synonymous with St. Louis, the team that drafted him in the 13th round of the 1999 Draft. Pujols debuted in 2001, was a unanimous selection for NL Rookie of the Year, and he was off. He helped the club win the World Series in 2006, won three MVP awards and was an All-Star nine times, though not in 2011. That year he had, by most measures, his worst year in St. Louis, but still hit 37 homers and knocked in 99 runs. In October, he hit .353 in 18 postseason games as the Cardinals won their second World Series in six years. But Pujols’ free agency was looming. Through the '11 season, Pujols had a .328 career batting average, 1.037 career OPS and 445 career homers -- in other words, he was set to get quite the free-agent deal. In December, he signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels.
Pedro Martínez: SP, 2004 Red Sox
Joined Mets as a free agent
Martínez didn’t just help the Red Sox win a World Series in 2004 -- he helped the team to its first championship since 1918. He had been a staple in Boston since 1998, when he arrived before the season in a trade from the Expos. He had a 2.52 ERA in seven years with the Red Sox, with a 0.98 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He won two Cy Youngs in a Red Sox uniform and was an All-Star four times, though not in '04. That season, Martínez put up his worst ERA in Boston, which increased to 3.90 from his 2.22 mark in '03. Nonetheless, he struck out 227 batters and received a Cy Young vote. He struggled in his first four outings of the '04 postseason, but turned in a gem in his fifth -- in Game 3 of the World Series in St. Louis, where he went seven scoreless innings and allowed just three hits. After the World Series was over, the 33-year-old was finally a free agent. In December, he signed a four-year, $54 million deal to join the Mets.
Iván Rodríguez: C, 2003 Marlins
Joined Tigers as a free agent
After 13 years with the Rangers, Rodríguez signed as a free agent with the Marlins on a one-year, $10 million deal entering 2003. On the heels of three straight years where he’d played in fewer than 115 games, Rodríguez played in 144 for the Marlins that year, hitting .297 with a .843 OPS. In the postseason, he hit .313 with three homers, five doubles and 17 RBIs as the Marlins won their second World Series title. But with the one-year deal over, it was back to the free-agent market for Rodríguez. In February '04, he signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Tigers. Though he wasn’t a Marlin for long, there’s no doubt he was a star -- and a future Hall of Famer at that -- who departed his team in free agency after winning a championship.
John Wetteland: RP, 1996 Yankees
Joined Rangers as a free agent
The Yankees acquired Wetteland via trade with the Expos in April 1995 and he notched 74 saves in two seasons with the club. Notably, he was the Yankees’ closer immediately prior to Mariano Rivera taking over the role. In '96, Wetteland was an All-Star for the first time in his career. He recorded seven postseason saves, including four in the World Series -- where he was named MVP. But he was a free agent following the season, and Rivera was set to take over as closer, so Wetteland signed with the Rangers.
Jack Morris: SP, 1991 Twins
Joined Blue Jays as a free agent
Morris had signed with the Twins as a free agent entering the 1991 season and had a good year, making the All-Star team and making 35-plus starts for the second straight season. In the playoffs, he cemented his legacy -- even though he'd only been with the club for one year. In Game 7 of the World Series, he threw a 10-inning shutout to seal the championship for the Twins, who won on Gene Larkin’s walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th. Morris, who had also thrown six innings of one-run baseball in Game 3 and gone seven innings in Game 1, was named MVP. But after that, it was back to free agency for Morris, who signed with the Blue Jays. Toronto would win the World Series in '92, making him a back-to-back champion.
Catfish Hunter: SP, 1974 A's
Joined Yankees as a free agent
Hunter’s career began with the A’s when they were still in Kansas City. He played 10 seasons for the club in Kansas City and then Oakland and made the All-Star team six times. In 1974, he had the best season of his career with an MLB-best 2.49 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He was an All-Star, and after the season received the Cy Young Award for his efforts. Hunter went seven-plus innings in two starts that postseason as the A’s sealed their third straight World Series title. Hunter ended up as a free agent after the season, but not in any way that would resemble what we recognize now. In November 1974, Hunter met with A’s ownership and claimed that his contract had been violated as he had not been paid for a portion of his deal, which was supposed to go into a long-term fund. The arbitrator in the case ruled that Hunter’s contract had indeed been violated, making him a free agent -- the first big name to become a free agent in the modern era following Curt Flood’s Supreme Court case. Hunter signed with the Yankees for five years and more than $3 million, the first multi-million dollar total value contract in baseball history.
Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.