It really does seem like just yesterday that the Royals were celebrating in Queens, but believe it or not, that was nearly three months ago. In just a few days it will be February, which means that in just a few weeks it will be Spring Training.
And yet there are still free agents, even some good ones, still unsigned. As January winds to an end, we decided to take a look at some of the more memorable and successful February free agent signings of the past 10 years.
The best success stories tended to fall into a few buckets, so here they are.
Veteran starting pitchers
This is probably the one that comes to mind for many people. That one durable, solid starter who for some reason never found a home over the winter, finally finds a spot when February arrives. Or maybe it's a pitcher coming off a down year or an injury, rebounding with a new club.
Examples: Kevin Millwood, 2006 Rangers; Randy Wolf, 2009 Dodgers; Livan Hernandez, 2010 Nationals; Freddy Garcia, 2011 Yankees; Francisco Liriano, 2013 Pirates; Aaron Harang, 2014 Braves; James Shields, 2015 Padres.
Best success story: Liriano. The lefty first agreed to a deal earlier in the winter, but an injury to his non-throwing arm shelved that contract. The reworked pact saw him re-emerge from the wilderness. Liriano followed a brutal two-year stretch with three excellent years with the Bucs, posting a 3.23 ERA over 86 starts since the start of 2013.
As with filling out their rotations, completing a bullpen is sometimes a task that waits until the last minute. From specialists to closers, teams feel they can always use another reliever.
Examples: Joaquin Benoit, 2010 Rays; Fernando Rodney, 2014 Mariners; Francisco Rodriguez, 2014 Brewers; Pat Neshek, 2014 Cardinals.
Best success story: Though Rodney and Rodriguez both closed for their clubs, it has to be Benoit. The right-hander returned from rotator-cuff surgery -- one of the scariest operations a pitcher can have -- to be dominant for Tampa Bay. Benoit struck out 75 against 11 walks in 60 1/3 innings with a microscopic 1.34 ERA.
Aging Hall of Famers
Maybe it's more accurate to say "Hall of Fame-type," but you get the idea. When a truly great player sticks around, you can still get some value even in the very great years of his career. And, yes, one of these guys isn't in the Hall yet and two may never get there, but there's little denying that they all had Cooperstown levels of ability.
Examples: Mike Piazza, 2006 Padres; Barry Bonds, 2007 Giants; Sammy Sosa, 2007 Orioles; Ken Griffey Jr., 2009 Mariners; Vladimir Guerrero, 2011 Orioles
Best success story: Unsurprisingly, it's Bonds, who even in his age-42 season was one of the greatest hitters on the planet. He officially returned for one more year with the Giants after not finding any suitors in free agency, and put up monster numbers. Again. Bonds hit .276/.480/.565, leading the league in walks and on-base percentage in his final season.
Sluggers without a real position sometimes last a long time, perhaps because clubs are hesitant to commit to players who absolutely must hit to have value. But when they do hit, well, they have value.
Examples: Dmitri Young, 2007 Nationals; Adam Dunn, 2009 Nationals; Ryan Ludwick, 2012 Reds; Marlon Byrd, 2013 Mets; Nelson Cruz, 2014 Orioles; Russell Branyan, multiple seasons/teams.
Best success story: It has to be Cruz, who took a one-year "pillow contract" with the idea of going back on the market, and had enormous success doing so. He led the American League with 40 homers, was an All-Star, and finished seventh in the MVP voting. He parlayed that into a four-year deal with Seattle, and enjoyed another excellent season in '15.
And the rest ...
They don't all fit into neat boxes, and there are plenty of other noteworthy signings in February in recent years. Orlando Hudson put up two excellent years after signing in February in 2009 and again in 2010. Justin Turner was a superb pickup by the Dodgers in 2014, and repeated that in '15. Raul Ibanez had a huge postseason moment in 2012 after joining the Yankees shortly before Spring Training. And Yoenis Cespedes' first big league contract was signed in February, when he joined the A's in 2012.