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#5 Nolan Ryan, Houston Astros (1980) 4 years-$4.4 million
Following the 1979 season, stud pitcher Nolan Ryan was a free agent for the first time. He had eight great seasons with the California Angels, compiling a 138-121 record with a 3.07 ERA. He recorded an amazing 2416 strike outs in 2181 innings. Ryan had blossomed as an Angel after the Mets decided to deal the young right-hander. He totaled 5 All-Star appearances in his time in Los Angeles, but longed to return to his home state of Texas.
The Houston Astros came and swept Nolan Ryan off his feet before the start of the 1980 season. Being a native Texan, with a chance to pitch back home, it was really a no-brainer. The Astros stepped up, making a record $4.4 million dollar offer for four seasons. Ryan rewarded them right away, when he hit a three-run homer off Don Sutton in a nationally televised game on April 12th, 1980. As far as the contract, Ryan got a pretty nice raise from the $200,000 the Angels had been paying him for the last three seasons. In one season with the Astros ($1,125,000.00), Ryan was about to make more than he did in his whole tenure with the Angels ($1,024,000.00).
The Astros were rewarded handsomely with four excellent seasons from their new ace. 52 wins in the first four years, and an ERA of 2.54 was excellent, but the presence he provided to the pitching staff was priceless. The value on the contract for the time was very excessive, but when you compare to this day and age, it was an absolute steal. On September 26th, 1981 Nolan Ryan threw his fifth no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers, striking out 11. The Astros went on the playoffs the first two seasons with Nolan Ryan, but fell in the playoffs to the Phillies (1980) and the Dodgers (1981). All and all, the Astros got value and then some out of this future Hall Of Famer.