The Monday edition of MLB Network’s MLB Tonight reviewed the big story of the weekend, the free agent signing of Shin-Soo Choo by the Texas Rangers. With that as the theme, the Network decided to make a list of the best free agent signings in baseball history. In the number one spot was the signing of Greg Maddux by the Atlanta Braves. Randy Johnson going to the Arizona Diamondbacks was ranked as the second best free agent signing of all-time. Just like Paul Goldschmidt in the MVP race, a D’back couldn’t grab the top spot.
On December 10, 1998 the pitcher known as the Big Unit signed a four year, $52 million dollar contract with the D’backs who had just completed their inaugural season with a 65-97 record. Owner Jerry Colangelo made a full court press (to borrow a basketball term from his other team, the Suns) in order to acquire Johnson, the best left-handed pitcher in the game. He paid immediate dividends by going 19-7 with a 2.65 ERA and 347 strikeouts in 271 2/3 innings as Arizona became the fastest franchise to reach the playoffs, winning the National League West with a 100-62 record. That season, the Unit captured the first of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards. Johnson led the franchise to its most successful stretch in its brief history: three divisions titles in four seasons and the 2001 World Series Championship. Johnson would remain with the Snakes until a trade before the 2005 season sent him to the New York Yankees. After his two year stint in the Bronx, Johnson returned to Arizona where he won 16 games over the next two years. He closed out his career with the San Francisco Giants after the 2009 season, winning his 300th game as a member of a hated D’back rival.
For an interesting look at Johnson’s and his agents’ thought process and what led to the decision to choose the Diamondbacks, click here for a piece written by Ben Nicholson-Smith at mlbtraderumors.com. For as long as there is a Major League Baseball franchise in Arizona, there won’t be a better free agent signing than Randy Johnson.