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December 26, 2018

Sixers, Phillies have had terrible (recent) history with free agents

Philadelphia should be a destination for free agents, shouldn't it?

This city is legendary for its passionate fans, fans who care, and fans who invest in their teams.

With Philly clocking in as one of the bigger market cities in all four major sports, this city also has money to spend and often does. However, recent history has shown that despite having franchises either competing for championships or working their way toward competitiveness the Phillies and Sixers just can't seem to attract a big name free agent to this city.

Teams from other big cities like Los Angeles, which signed LeBron James last summer and looks poised to nab Bryce Harper this winter, continue to torture Philadelphia's rabid fan base.

And when they do shell out oodles of cash — well, it hasn't worked out so well.

For the Phillies, it's been almost a decade since a big name free agent signed here and it worked out. For the Sixers, the team continues to be snubbed by the NBA's biggest names.

The Eagles were able to make smart veteran signings over the past few seasons to help them win their first Super Bowl, but the other teams residing at the sports complex in south Philly have not been so lucky.

Here's a look back at just how bad it's been for Philly's baseball and basketball teams signing big time, major free agents over the last 10 seasons or so:

(Note: trades — like the Sixers' for Andrew Bynum, or low level signings — like the Phillies and Jeff Francoeur — are not included on out list. We also are not including home grown players signed to big free agent deals with their original team — like Robert Covington. We just focused on big name big contract free agent signings coming to Philly for the first time)


Philly has already swung and missed at ace Patrick Corbin and could miss on both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado despite potentially offering the most money of any suitor. They haven't signed a big name free agent successfully in a long time. This is partially due to the team being, well, non competitive from 2013-2017. It's also due to some bad decision-making.

• Jake Arrieta, 3 years, $75 million (2018)

• Carlos Santana, 3 years, $60 million (2018)

This duo, signed before last season, didn't exactly earn its keep. Santana has already been traded away — twice — after hitting just .229 last year. Arrieta remains the No. 2 pitcher in Philly — for now — after going 10-11 with a 3.96 ERA last year in a letdown of a season.

• A.J. Burnett, 1 year, $16 million (2014)

• Jonathan Papelbon, 4 years, $50 million (2012)

Burnett and Papelbon proved to be last ditch efforts as the Phillies 2008 World Series core declined and the team hurdled toward irrelevancy. Both of these deals were clearly awful.

• Cliff Lee, 5 years, $120 million (2010)

In the year after this deal was struck, Lee made the All-Star team and had an incredible six shutouts in a 17-8 campaign. At the tail end of the Phillies' glory days, this was the most recent successful big deal for the Phillies in recent memory.


The Sixers were unable to sign LeBron James when he was a free agent this summer. They were unable to do anything to attract Paul George, Kevin Durant or one of the bevy of super stars who were available despite having Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, with The Process nearing completion. Hell, they couldn't even get Nemanja Bjelica to come to Philly. It's been a long time since the Sixers made a true free agency splash — though it's worth mentioning the team has been very successful with undrafted free agents like Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell (who for this purpose we'll include with homegrown players). Here's what they've done on the open market of late:

• Amir Johnson, 1 year, $11 million (2017)

• J.J. Redick, 1 year, $23 million (2017)

The Sixers have re-signed each of these players in 2018 and their first contracts look awful as dollar amounts — but the team was just using cap space they wouldn't have spend otherwise. Johnson has become irrelevant while Redick proves to be a pretty essential part of the Sixers' roster. Let's chalk Redick up to a rare success on the free agent front.

• Jerryd Bayless, 3 years, $27 million (2016)

Bayless contributed almost nothing while in Philly, but his inflated contract did help the Sixers land Jimmy Butler #SilverLinings.

• Elton Brand, 5 years, $82 million (2008)

You have to go a long way back to get the next big free agent contract. This one worked out in one respect — Brand's experience in Philly was good enough to get him to return in 2017, and then become the GM this past summer. The jury is still out on whether he is a good front office head (early returns on the Butler trade look promising) but his contract here a decade ago was not great.

A year after Brand missed 74 games of the 2007-08 season because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon, the Sixers threw money at him in free agency. He had season-ending shoulder surgery in 2009 and missed 53 games in his first season. The team would eventually set him loose using an amnesty clause in 2012.

• George Lynch, 2 years, $4.2 million (1999)

I was determined to find a good big name free agent signing for the Sixers but I kept back-tracking and back-tracking until I got all the way to the Allen Iverson days. The best semi-recent signing of a player previously on another team via the free agent market I could unearth was this modest contract to role player George Lynch, who would go on to become a valuable role player as the Sixers made a run at the 2001 NBA title (losing to L.A.)

Almost all of the widely remembered big moves the Sixers and Phillies have made over the last 20 or so years have been via trade. 

That's how the 76ers got stuck with Andrew Bynum, and that's how they acquired Chris Webber, Tony Kukoc, Cliff Robinson and a bevy of others. If the team is able to use free agency to land a bonafide fourth star next offseason — while they still have cap space — it will buck a trend that dates quite a ways back of awful decisions on the NBA's open market.

Trades have been a mixed bag for the Phillies, as they landed several stars like Roy Halladay and Hunter Pence during the golden age — far outshining their free agent decisions.

If the Phillies land Harper or Machado and it pans out, that too will be a first in quite some time.

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