Rangers the latest champs built in free agency

November 2nd, 2023

The risks are obvious, but if done right, free agency is the quickest way for a club to infuse its roster with proven talent and become a legitimate contender.

Take this year’s World Series champion Rangers for example. Texas missed the playoffs in six straight seasons from 2017-22, but it invested heavily in free agency over the past two years and watched its moves pay off in a big way in 2023.

With their defeat of the D-backs in the World Series, the Rangers will go down as one of the leading examples of a team that constructed a title-winning roster with a big assist from free agency. And as this offseason gets underway, they'll also serve as a reminder for other teams of the upside free agency offers.

Of the 27 players to appear in a game for the Rangers in the 2023 postseason, nine were acquired or retained via free agency. The club got a combined 23.3 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) from these nine players during the regular season.

As the list below shows, only two World Series champions since the start of free agency in 1976 got more regular-season WAR from their free-agent signings the year they won it all than Texas did in 2023.

Note: The following criteria was used to determine the team WAR totals below:

  • Only players who appeared in the postseason that year were counted.
  • A player was considered a free-agent addition if that is how he most recently joined the roster, even if he initially joined the team another way, such as via Draft pick or trade.
  • Amateur free-agent signings were excluded.

1. 2009 Yankees
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 38

After their 13-year postseason appearance streak was snapped in 2008, the Yankees went on a free-agent spending spree that saw them land starters and as well as first baseman . The Bronx Bombers also re-signed lefty . The moves paid immediate dividends, as New York christened the new Yankee Stadium with a championship in the park’s inaugural season. Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte combined to start 69 games in the regular season and all 15 of New York’s games during the playoffs. Teixeira, meanwhile, produced 39 homers and 122 RBIs in the regular season and socked a walk-off dinger in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Twins.

The 2009 Yankees also got a huge postseason from , who re-signed with the club after opting out of his previous contract in 2007. (signed in 2006), (signed in 2002), (re-signed in 2007) and (re-signed in 2007) were among the other notable players on this roster who were either added or retained in free agency.

2. 2013 Red Sox
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 26

The Red Sox went through a significant overhaul after a disappointing 69-93 season under manager Bobby Valentine in 2012, though the first step actually came in August, when Boston sent , , and to the Dodgers in a stunning blockbuster trade that cleared a ton of money from its payroll.

After their season ended, the Red Sox replaced Valentine with John Farrell and made a number of key free-agent signings, including , , , , and . That group joined a roster that also included previous free-agent additions (signed in 2003, re-signed in 2011 and 2012) and (signed in 2009). Galvanized by the Boston Marathon bombings, the Red Sox went from worst to first in the AL East en route to their third World Series title in 10 years.

3. 2023 Rangers
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 23.3

The Rangers' march toward the 2023 World Series title began in earnest on Dec. 1, 2021, when the club officially signed free-agent shortstop (10 years, $325 million) and second baseman (7 years, $175 million) to contracts worth $500 million in guaranteed money. (The Rangers also signed pitcher to a four-year, $56 million deal.) After losing 94 games in 2022, Texas continued to assemble talent in free agency, bolstering its rotation with the additions of , and .

While they lost deGrom to Tommy John surgery after six starts, Eovaldi filled in admirably as the Rangers' ace in the regular season and finished 5-0 with a 2.95 ERA over six postseason starts. Seager combined with Semien to produce 14.3 WAR during the regular season and recorded 12 extra-base hits (six homers), 12 RBIs, 15 walks and a 1.133 OPS in the playoffs, culminating with an MVP-winning performance in the Fall Classic.

4. 2007 Red Sox
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 23.1

Arguably no free-agent signing in the 2006-07 offseason drew as much attention as Boston’s deal with pitcher , who came over from Japan amid considerable fanfare. The Red Sox also inked outfielder , shortstop and reliever . The results were mixed during the regular season, but all four had their moments in the playoffs. Meanwhile, a pair of free-agent moves made years prior continued to pay off, as David Ortiz (signed in 2003) and (signed in 2000) remained the focal point of Boston’s offense.

With their offseason trade for Josh Beckett and also a factor, the Red Sox won the AL East, battled back from a three-games-to-one ALCS deficit against Cleveland and swept the Rockies in the Fall Classic to win it all.

5. 2004 Red Sox
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 22.5

What looked like a minor move at the time -- signing designated hitter David Ortiz after he was non-tendered by the Twins following the 2002 season -- ended up altering the course of baseball history.

Along with fellow free-agent additions Manny Ramirez (signed in 2000), Johnny Damon (signed in 2001) and (signed in 2004), Ortiz helped the Red Sox end an 86-year title drought and finally break the Curse of the Bambino, overcoming a three-games-to-none ALCS deficit against the rival Yankees in the process. Ortiz ended up spending the rest of his career in Boston, winning three titles and putting together a resume that earned him a place in the Hall of Fame.

6. 2001 D-backs
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 21.8

After finishing 65-97 during their inaugural 1998 season, the expansion D-backs went for it in free agency the following offseason, signing lefty ace to a four-year deal while also inking center fielder . Arizona went on to sign first baseman , outfielder and infielder in subsequent offseasons while also swinging trades for outfielder and starter .

With Johnson as their centerpiece, the D-backs became an instant contender and ultimately stunned the three-time defending champion Yankees in the 2001 World Series. The Big Unit won four straight NL Cy Young Awards from 1999-2002 and was named co-MVP of the 2001 Fall Classic alongside Schilling. With a championship in their fourth season, the D-backs became the fastest expansion team to win it all, eclipsing the Marlins at five seasons.

7. 1997 Marlins
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 20.2

Four of the 1997 Marlins’ top six players, in terms of WAR, were added in free agency, with , Alex Fernandez, and joining a nucleus that also featured , , and . Alou led the 1997 team in homers and RBIs while finishing second in average and OPS. Bonilla was also among the Marlins’ top three hitters in RBIs, average and OPS. On the other side of the ball, Brown and Fernandez combined for 65 starts, 33 wins, 458 innings, 388 strikeouts and a 3.12 ERA.

The Marlins lost Fernandez to a torn rotator cuff after Game 2 of the NLCS against the Braves, but Brown helped the club upset Atlanta in the series, earning the win in Game 1 and the Game 6 clincher as the Marlins advanced to the World Series. Alou went deep three times, drove in nine runs and posted a 1.101 OPS in the club’s seven-game Fall Classic win over Cleveland.

8. 2019 Nationals
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 19.5

Though the 2019 Nats were loaded with homegrown stars such as , , , and Mr. National himself, , their free-agent additions gave them the needed edge to climb to the top of the baseball world. The biggest name among their signings? , who inked a deal with Washington after the 2014 season. Strasburg and Scherzer were joined in the 2019 Nats’ rotation by and , both of whom signed with Washington the previous offseason.

Washington also benefited from its decision to re-sign after acquiring him in a 2017 trade. Kendrick was integral to the Nats’ title run, as he hit a tiebreaking grand slam in the 10th inning of NLDS Game 5 against the Dodgers, won NLCS MVP honors after Washington’s sweep over the Cardinals and belted the decisive home run in Game 7 of the World Series against the Astros.

9. 2016 Cubs
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 18

The 2016 Cubs are best remembered for their young core led by NL MVP , , and , but they also received contributions from several key free-agent signings, headlined by , as they broke a 108-year title drought.

Lester joined the Cubs after the 2014 season, giving their rotation a much-needed veteran presence. After making the playoffs in 2015, the Cubs added , and John Lackey in free agency. They also brought back , who nearly left as a free agent to sign with the Orioles, only to make a surprising about-face to return to the North Siders on a one-year deal.

10. 1991 Twins
Total WAR from free-agent signings: 17.8

After following up their 1987 World Series title with three straight non-playoff seasons, the Twins made a pair of pivotal free-agent additions heading into 1991, signing veteran starter and designated hitter . Morris was entering his age-36 season and coming off back-to-back rough years with the Tigers, but he turned back the clock with Minnesota, posting a 3.43 ERA over 246 2/3 innings in the regular season and a 2.23 ERA over 36 1/3 frames in the postseason. Morris won World Series MVP honors after registering a 1.17 ERA across 23 innings in the World Series, memorably outdueling the Braves’ with 10 shutout innings in Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Atlanta in Game 7.

Davis played 153 games in the regular season and produced 29 homers, 93 RBIs and an .893 OPS before putting up an .867 OPS in the playoffs. In addition to Davis, the Twins’ regular lineup in 1991 featured three other players signed as free agents -- first baseman (signed in 1989), third baseman (signed in 1991) and catcher (signed in 1988, re-signed in 1991). The position-player quartet of Davis, Hrbek, Pagliarulo and Harper combined for 10.7 WAR during the regular season, providing support for homegrown stars such as All-Star outfielder and Rookie of the Year Award-winning second baseman .