On Dec. 1, 1995, the A's signed a 27-year-old named Matt Stairs to a $130,000 contract. It turned out to be one of the best free agent signings they've ever made.
Stairs started the 1996 season in Triple-A, but he didn’t stay there long. Upon his call-up to Oakland, the left-handed slugger slashed .277/.367/.547 with 10 home runs and 23 RBI in 61 games.
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The following year, in his first full major league season, Stairs broke out with 27 homers and 73 RBI, slashing .298/.386/.582. He drove in 100-plus runs the next two seasons, belting a career-high 38 homers in 1999.
In his five seasons with the A's, Stairs totaled 122 home runs and 385 RBI, while earning just $5.62 million. Talk about bang for your buck.
The A's traded Stairs to the Cubs following the 2000 season, and his production fell off a bit. Still, he finished his 19-year career with 265 homers and 899 RBI.
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Obviously, MLB salaries were much lower in the 1990s, but the Stairs deal was a steal for the A's, a credit to then-general manager Sandy Alderson and his assistant GM, a 33-year-old named Billy Beane.
Before signing with the A's, Stairs had played just 58 games in his career, hitting only one homer. He became a star in Oakland, though, enjoying the best years of his career there.
So much of free agency and Hot Stove talk revolves around proven big league stars. But in many cases, the best signings are under-the-radar players who just need an opportunity.
That certainly was the case with Stairs.