Many Indians fans (and perhaps executives) are still smarting from the Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn signings, which did not work out as hoped. Tribe fans need not worry about any of this offseason's additions busting like that though, because all of this offseason's additions are on one-year deals. For better or for worse, these deals will all be up in eight months. Last week I looked at the best one-year deals the Indians have ever had, the players we're hoping Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Juan Uribe might live up to.
Not every multiyear free agent contract the Indians have agreed to has worked out as poorly as Swisher and Bourn did though, and so today I want to highlight the best multiyear deals the Indians have ever given to free agents. As usual with this sort of thing, "best" means best for the team, not for the player. Each of the guys listed below was very well paid for regular standards, but turned out to be quite underpaid relative to their comparable peers.
Best multiyear free agent signings in Indians history
5) Ellis Burks (3 years (2001-2003), $19.5 million)
Burks signed with the Tribe in November of 2000, coming off a season in which he hit .344 for the Giants and was listed on some NL MVP ballots. He was 36 years old, which limited his market somewhat, but that was a time when players performing well into their late 30s was relatively common, and so Burks was able to land a pretty decent deal. Burks played in 262 games during the first two years of the contract, batting .292/.365/.541, good for an OPS+ of 139. He was primarily a DH, so his value came almost exclusively from his bat, but that's a fantastic batting line. Age and injuries caught up with Burks in the final year of the deal, but he'd already been well worth his cost to the team.
4) Dennis Martinez (2 years (1994-1995), $9 million, with club option for $4 million in 1996)
Martinez was 39 years old when he signed with the Tribe in December of 1993. He was coming off an okay year, but one that made it look as though he were in clear decline. I'm a little surprised he was able to get the sort of contract he did. The Indians had developed a lot of good hitters, and were looking to make themselves a legitimate contender; signing a good pitcher was one way to do that. Martinez rebounded and was the Tribe's best pitcher in 1994 and 1995, as the team did become a very legitimate contender, posting a 3.29 ERA in 363.2 innings. He slowed down quite a bit in 1996, so picking up the option didn't work out especially well, but as with Burks, the first two years more than made up for that.
3) Orel Hershiser (3 years (1995-1997), $6 million)
A year after adding Martinez, the Tribe added Hershiser to the rotation just days before the 1995 season began. At 36, he was another pitcher well beyond his prime, but proved to have plenty still in the tank. In his three years with the team, The Bulldog pitched 568.2 innings, with a 4.28 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 113 in those days of huge offensive numbers. He was arguably the team's best player in the 1995 postseason, winning ALCS MVP honors after making two very good starts.
2) Kenny Lofton (3 years (1998-2000), $24 million, with club option for $8 million in 2001)
The Indians originally acquired Lofton in one of the best trades in franchise history, but he was dealt to Atlanta before the 1997 season, when he was a year away from hitting free agency. Cleveland wanted Kenny back though, and signed him after his one season with the Braves. He wasn't the same electric player he'd been in his first stint with the team, but was still very good, batting .280/.367/.416 during these four years, with continued plus defense in center field, another 125 stolen bases, and two more All-Star appearances.
1) Roberto Alomar (4 years (1999-2002), $30 million)
Alomar was 30 when he signed with the Tribe in December of 1998, arguably the best second baseman in baseball and well on his way to the Hall of Fame. The Indians expected that they were getting a great player, but Alomar turned out to be headed for the best three-year stretch of his career. In his first season with Cleveland, Alomar hit .323, stole 37 bases, lead the league with 138 runs scored, won another Gold Glove, and finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting. His production dipped ever so slightly in 2000, then went back to near-MVP levels in 2001 when he finished 4th in the voting. He was an All-Star and Glove Glove winner in each of those years, batting a combined .323/.405/.515 for an OPS+ of 134. The Indians dealt him after 2001, and while there was no way to know it at the time, they'd moved him just in time, because he was suddenly finished as an elite (or even average) ballplayer. It was the best free agent signing in team history, and one of the best by any team.