Thrifty moves often precede World Series title
Most of past 10 champs were shrewd winter dealmakers
At this time of year, with the Hot Stove burning strong, the baseball world's attention focuses on the biggest names and the boldest deals, such as David Price reportedly hauling in $217 million from the Red Sox.
But when it comes to recent champions, subtle moves have been more common than loud splashes. There certainly are exceptions, such as the 2009 Yankees, who captured a title after committing nearly $450 million to free agents during the prior offseason. But of the past 10 teams to win the World Series (from 2006-15), only three had dropped a guaranteed total of $25 million or more on any one player the offseason before winning it all.
On the other hand, each of those clubs made at least one relatively low-cost, below-the-radar acquisition that proved to be valuable in its ensuing run to a ring. Several made more than one such move. Here is a look back at what each of those 10 teams accomplished the offseason before they won the World Series.
After falling just short of a title in 2014, Kansas City opted not to spend big to retain key players such as pitcher James Shields and designated hitter Billy Butler, replacing them with Edinson Volquez (two years, $20 million, plus a club option) and Kendrys Morales (two years, $17 million, plus a mutual option). Those additions, along with outfielder Alex Rios (one year, $12.5 million, plus a club option), raised some eyebrows, but while Rios struggled, Morales hit .290/.362/.485 with 22 home runs, and Volquez posted a 3.55 ERA in 200 1/3 innings.
The Royals also benefited from a handful of "bargain bin" signings. Most notably, pitchers Chris Young and Ryan Madson each signed for less than $1 million. Young gave Kansas City a 3.06 ERA while splitting time between the rotation and bullpen, and Madson provided a 2.13 ERA across 68 relief appearances in his first healthy season since 2011.
San Francisco's biggest splurge was veteran pitcher Tim Hudson (two years, $23 million), but it probably got more bang for its buck from fellow righty Ryan Vogelsong and outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse. The two combined for 2.3 WAR while making $11 million on one-year deals. Both also had their moments in the postseason, including Morse's game-tying pinch-hit homer in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against St. Louis.
2013 Red Sox
Just two years before opening the vault for Price, the Sox spent roughly $125 million, but they spread it out over several players. The most expensive of those was outfielder Shane Victorino (three years, $39 million), who went on to finish ninth among American League position players with 6.1 WAR.
Meanwhile, just about every addition, other than pitcher Ryan Dempster, worked out well for Boston. The club committed about $30 million -- or about what Price stands to make in 2016 -- for first baseman Mike Napoli, closer Koji Uehara, shortstop Stephen Drew, outfielder Jonny Gomes and backup outfielder/first baseman Mike Carp, who combined for nearly 13 WAR.
Before taking their second of three championships over five seasons, the Giants' biggest move was acquiring outfielder Melky Cabrera from the Royals for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and a Minor Leaguer. Though Cabrera's season ended in mid-August, when he was hit with a 50-game suspension after testing positive for testosterone, he first made the All-Star team, batted .346 and racked up a career-high 4.7 WAR.
But San Francisco also made a savvy move to sign outfielder Gregor Blanco to a Minor League deal. Blanco wound up playing in 141 games, posted a .333 on-base percentage, stole 26 bases and collected 2.1 WAR.
St. Louis gambled on a one-year, $8 million contract with outfielder Lance Berkman, who was entering his age-35 season after a disappointing year split between the Astros and Yankees. The decision paid off big, as Berkman stayed healthy enough to play 145 games and make the All-Star team while hitting .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers. He capped that performance by going 11-for-26 (.423) in the World Series against Texas.
Infielder Juan Uribe (re-signed for one year, $3.25 million) and reliever Santiago Casilla (Minor League deal) were solid contributors. The Giants' best move, however, was to snatch up first baseman/outfielder Aubrey Huff on a one-year, $3 million deal. Huff, 33 at the time, was coming off a .694 OPS in Baltimore and Detroit, but he bounced back to hit .290/.385/.506 with 26 homers and a career-best 5.7 WAR in San Francisco.
As mentioned, this team is the elephant-sized exception to the rule among this group. The Yanks spent huge money on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but they also lured left-hander Andy Pettitte back for another year, despite guaranteeing only $5.5 million on an incentive-laden one-year contract. The 37-year-old responded by making 32 starts with a 111 ERA+, then posting a 3.52 ERA over five postseason outings.
In addition, the Yankees swung a trade with the White Sox, giving up infielder Wilson Betemit for outfielder Nick Swisher. Coming off a down year in Chicago, Swisher produced an .869 OPS and 29 homers for New York while making $5.4 million.
Righty Chad Durbin (one year, $900,000) and lefty J.C. Romero (re-signed for three years, $12 million, plus a club option) were important cogs in the bullpen, but the Phils gave their relief corps the biggest boost via trade. After two straight subpar years in Houston that included 14 blown saves, closer Brad Lidge came to Philly for a package led by Michael Bourn, and proceeded to go 48-for-48 in save opportunities, including the playoffs.
2007 Red Sox
Boston made some splashier moves that offseason, including the signings of J.D. Drew (five years, $70 million) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (six years, $103.11 million, including a posting fee). The club's best move may have been a two-year, $2.5 million pact with Matsuzaka's much lower-profile countryman, Hideki Okajima. The left-handed reliever had no trouble adapting to MLB, getting an All-Star nod while posting a 2.22 ERA and .202 opponens average over 69 innings.
The Cards' biggest expenditures were three-year deals for reliever Braden Looper ($13.5 million) and outfielder Juan Encarnacion ($15 million). Scott Spiezio, a 33-year-old utility man, outperformed both after signing a Minor League contract. Spiezio, who had gone 3-for-47 at the plate for Seattle in 2005, gave St. Louis an .862 OPS and 13 homers over 119 games while playing four positions.