Liberty

Breanna Stewart: Best Signing in New York Sports History?

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When Breanna Stewart joined the New York Liberty in February, she forever changed the future of the franchise.

The team struggling to make playoff noise was suddenly vaulted into contender status. Landing a player of Stewart’s caliber is rare in the WNBA, or any sport for that matter.

This raises the question: Where does Stewart rank among the best free-agent signings in New York City sports history? 

First, criteria. Because making lists is only fun with rules. 

Players needed to meet the following requirements to qualify for this list:

  1. The player had to end up in New York via free agency. In other words, traded players don’t count. So, no Alex Rodriguez (Yankees, 2004), Mike Piazza (Mets, 1998) or Willie Mays (Mets, 1972).
  2. The player had to be in the conversation for the best player in their league upon signing. 
  3. The player had to clearly be in the prime of their career upon signing. So, no Max Scherzer (Mets, 2022), Pedro Martinez (Mets, 2005) or Wayne Gretzky (Rangers, 1996).  
  4. Winning experience is not a requirement, but it certainly helps. 
  5. This is only about accomplishments BEFORE signing in New York. 

Enough rules. Let’s get into it: The five best free-agent signings in New York City sports history. 

  1. CC Sabathia: Yankees, 2009 

Sabathia was an established pitcher when he signed with the Yanks, and only added to his legacy while in the pinstripes. However, we’re only looking at pre-New York accomplishments. He won a Cy Young Award in 2007 in Cleveland and made the All-Star Game three times. When he inked his seven-year deal in 2009, he was clearly one of the best pitchers in the game. But pitchers only play half the game, and only every five games. To me, it’s not fair to compare that to position players, or players in other sports. 

  1. Catfish Hunter: Yankees, 1975 

Hunter won the Cy Young Award the year before he got to the Bronx (1974). He also won three consecutive World Series championships with the Oakland Athletics (1972-1974). That’s about as accomplished as you can get. Although he had remarkable achievements, his standing on this list is diminished by his position as a pitcher and joining the Yankees slightly past his prime.

  1. Kevin Durant: Nets, 2019 

Durant won a league MVP in 2014 and won consecutive Finals MVPs in 2017 and 2018. He was (and still is) considered one of the best players in the NBA. We all know how his tenure in Brooklyn ended, but at the time of his signing, it was one of the biggest signings in New York sports history.  

  1. Breanna Stewart: Liberty, 2023 

Stewart’s career looks eerily similar to Durant’s: great-shooting forwards with size, each have dealt with injuries, each with one regular season MVP (Stewart’s in 2018) and two Finals MVPs (Stewart’s in 2018 and 2020). Each player won their MVP five years before signing in New York.

Durant has Stewart beat on longevity stats and accolades (Durant was drafted in 2007; Stewart in 2016). But she beats him in other areas, like international and collegiate accomplishments. Many consider Stewart to be the better two-way player. It’s really close, but the edge goes to Stewart.

  1. Reggie Jackson: Yankees, 1976 

Jackson won those three consecutive championships with Hunter in Oakland, but he added a World Series MVP in 1973. He also won a regular-season MVP that year and was firmly in his prime when the Yankees signed him. Durant, Stewart and Jackson are all in the conversation for this top spot, but Jackson barely beats them out with more consistent health and an extra championship. 

About Jack Levenberg

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