Reds - General / Reds History / Reds Trivia

The Reds and Free Agency

On November 22, 1978, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John signed a free agent contract with the New York Yankees, declining an offer to become the first Cincinnati Reds free agent signee.

The Reds had lost pitcher Don Gullett to the Yankees the previous season and had hoped that John would take a lefty spot in the Reds rotation. At the time, John was three years removed from the famous elbow surgery that prolonged his career. He had 47-24 with 3.05 ERA (118 ERA+) in the three seasons since his surgery. He would proceed to go 21-9 and 22-9 in the next two seasons for the Yankees and would pitch another eleven seasons before retiring. Overall, John pitched in 26 major league seasons, going 288-231 with a 3.34 ERA.

John wasn’t the only major league player to decline a free agent contract with the Reds in the 1978 postseason. The Reds’ Pete Rose had filed for free agency following the 1978 season himself and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies on December 5. The Reds decided to pursue Dodger utility player Lee Lacy who was coming off his best major league season having batted .261 with 13 homers and 16 doubles in 103 games (276 plate appearances, 136 OPS+ for perspective). During 1978, Lacy had played 2b-3b-ss-LF-RF and had played centerfield in previous seasons. Lacy, too, spurned the Reds, choosing instead to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates in January, 1979. Lacy was a late bloomer as a hitter and played nine more productive seasons, hitting .295 wiht 62 homers, 112 OPS+) over those seasons.

The Reds didn’t sign a free agent until pinch hitter Larry Biittner signed with the Reds in January, 1981. Biittner played two seasons for the Reds, batting .282 with two homers in 139 games (274 plate appearances, 101 OPS+). Biittner was released by the Reds following the 1982 season. He had hit .310 in 1982 after batting .213 in 1981.

The Reds’ first major free agent signee was outfielder Dave Parker, who signed with the Reds in December, 1983. Parker played four years for the Reds, batting .281 with 107 homers and 432 rbi. Parker finished second in MVP voting in 1985 and fifth in 1986. In 1985, Parker batted .312 with 34 home runs and led the league with 125 rbi and 42 doubles.

6 thoughts on “The Reds and Free Agency

  1. What did the Reds offer Tommy John ? Their policy at first (1976 and 1977) was no multiple year contracts, even for their own players.

    Pete Rose said that had the Reds offered a reasonable fraction of what the Phils had, he would have remained a Red.

    After Marge Schott assumed ownership, the Reds became active in the free agent market. The Reds were ridiculed for signing Dave Parker, he was overweight, injury-riddled, and accused of taking drugs (speed, cocaine ?). What the critics didn’t account for was that he was returning to Mom’s home cooking. He was one of the best free agent signings in Reds history.

  2. Dave Parker and Greg Vaughn are the only two really good FA signings I can think of for the Reds.

  3. Benito Santiago was a good one too–and cheap. Ron Gant was a good one too–also very cheap. Dave Parker was a monster. Greg Vaughn was very strong. The Reds have largely been afraid of the exorbitant pitching contracts, with good reason. Milton was the most spent, I think, and that also had to be the worst FA deal. I’m not to thrilled with how the pen FAs were gathered, either–spending a 2 year deal on Lincoln and all that money on Cordero. Like with every team, good and bad, but mostly overspending. Overspending costs the Reds flexibility with roster moves, with player development and with scouting. That’s why the cupboard was so barren during the Bowden years–the money went to that one more FA instead of developing cheaper (but longer in the pipeline) draft picks.

  4. Not certain what was offered John, but he played three years for the Yankees at $575,000 with the amount allocated in different directions. From, it says $175,000 salary, $300,000 bonus, $500,000 deferred, $92,000 insurance, etc. Doing some quick math, it doesn’t add up, so the actuaries must have been at work.

    Lee Lacy played six years for the Pirates with salaries increasing each year, from $141,667 to $211,667. Same website says includes $100,000 bonus and $50,000 for all-star. He didn’t play any all-star games.

    Pete Rose has four years listed for the Phillies (he played five years there) with salaries decreasing and rising over the period from $905,000 down to $705,000 then back up to $910,000. It says he signed for four years, $3,225,000 including a $225,000 bonus for games.

    Not certain how the details are written…

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