Piazza ranks as Mets' best free-agent signing

Piazza ranks as Mets' best free-agent signing

Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?

We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts, to exclude fluky one-year deals and to focus on players who got real commitments. And contract extensions don't count. Only instances when every team in the league had a chance to bid on the player were allowed, including international free agents who received Major League contracts.

NEW YORK -- It seems forever and a day ago that the Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year contract, ticking off the most significant item on their offseason checklist back in late November. Only time will tell how that deal stacks up against some of the best in franchise history.

Though New York is a franchise better known for its trades -- Tom Seaver to the Reds, Nolan Ryan to the Angels, Noah Syndergaard from the Blue Jays -- than its free agents, the Mets have made several significant signings throughout their history. Here is a look at the best:

Mike Piazza, seven years, $91 million
The Mets made Piazza the richest player in baseball when they signed him to a record $91 million contract after the 1998 season, when he was eligible for free agency. Coming over via trade during the previous summer, Piazza enjoyed some early success, but was not yet hugely popular with fans.

That all changed after Piazza re-signed, cementing his Hall of Fame legacy by hitting .289/.367/.534 with 197 home runs and 19.1 bWAR over the seven-year life of his contract. Piazza made six All-Star Games over that stretch, missing out only when injury robbed him of two-thirds of the 2003 season. Otherwise, he was the best catcher in baseball, remaining productive into his late 30s.

More than that, Piazza became part of the fabric of the Mets in a way that few others have. His home run following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center helped revive New York City, and his role on the 2000 team helped launch the Mets to their first National League pennant in 14 years. After he retired, Piazza joined Seaver as the only players in Cooperstown with a Mets cap on their plaque.

Honorable mention: Carlos Beltran, seven years, $119 million
Statistically, Beltran was the most productive free agent in Mets history. He hit .280/.369/.500 over 6 1/2 years with 149 home runs, 100 stolen bases and 31.3 bWAR, much of that the product of his three Gold Glove Awards in center field. The case against him is more anecdotal than anything -- Beltran was never ultra-popular among fans given both his injury history and, yes, that called strike three against Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals.

John Olerud, two years, $8 million
Perhaps one of the most underrated players in baseball history, Olerud made only $68.2 million over a 17-year career that included two All-Star Games, three Gold Glove Awards and a top-three National League MVP Award finish. Two of his best years came with the Mets, who re-signed him when he became a free agent after the 1998 season. Playing his trademark exemplary defense, Olerud hit .325 with 41 home runs and a .943 OPS over those two years.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.