When a player is named most valuable on his team, it normally means the team would like him around. There are exceptions — the Rangers traded Alex Rodriguez after an MVP 2003 season, after all — but normally, the player factors into the team’s plans. This is even true for World Series MVPs. Even though it’s based on a short sampling of games, the World Series MVP almost always returns to his team for the following year. In fact, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, only three World Series MVPs in history have left the following year, never to return.
Just before the waiver trade deadline in 1984, the Mets acquired a badly slumping Ray Knight from the Astros. An above average hitter for most of his career, Knight fell off a cliff as a 31-year-old in ’84, OPSing .540 through 297 plate appearances. He didn’t hit much better for the Mets in September, and was simply horrible in 1985, OPSing .580 through 290 plate appearances. Things changed in 1986, though, and Knight was back with a .775 OPS (115 OPS+).
After a terrible NLCS, Knight destroyed the Red Sox in the World Series. His home run to lead off the seventh inning of Game 7 broke a 3-3 tie, and his single in the bottom of the tenth of Game 6 put the Mets to within one. Overall he went 9 for 23 and earned the World Series MVP.
Knight was a free agent after the season, and although the Mets offered him a one-year, $800,000 contract he decided to seek a multiyear contract elsewhere. He did not find one, ultimately settling on a one-year, $500,000 contract with the Orioles. At 34, however, he was on the decline. After seeing his OPS decline by over .090 in 1987, it fell another .110 in 1988, Knight’s final season. The Mets made an effort to retain Knight at their price, but he apparently misread the market. Still, they wouldn’t overpay, and they were right.
The BBWAA will again consider Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame, so we’ll hear plenty about him over the next month-plus. Morris never won a Cy young in his 18-year career, but he did win a World Series MVP in 1991, when he pitched Games 1, 4, and 7 for the Twins. He allowed just three runs in those games, winning two of them, including a 10-inning shutout in the clincher. Morris was certainly the king of Minnesota in the aftermath.
Morris, a native of St. Paul, declined his $3.65 million option for 1992, becoming a free agent and eventually signing a two-year, $10.85 million contract with the Blue Jays. It made him the highest paid pitcher in baseball for the 1992 season. Morris had a good season for the Jays, pitching 240.2 innings, but to a near-league-average 4.04 ERA. He did start two games in that World Series, getting hit hard in his second start. The Blue Jays ultimately won. They won the next year, too, but Morris didn’t pitch in the postseason. He suffered a partial ligament tear in his elbow in September after posting a 6.19 ERA through 152.2 innings.
The most recent World Series MVP to leave his team was John Wetteland. Acquired just after the player strike ended, Wetteland had two great seasons in pinstripes that culminated with four straight saves in the ’96 World Series, earning him the MVP. Wetteland reportedly wanted to return to the Yankees, but they were ready to move on with Mariano Rivera closing games. On December 17, Wetteland signed a four year, $23 million contract with the Texas Rangers.
Wetteland had two good years with the Rangers, followed by a middling one in 1999. In 2000 he continued to decline, finishing his contract with a 4.20 ERA season. He would not sign another pro contract.
Should the Yankees decide against bringing him back, Matsui will be just the fourth World Series MVP who didn’t return to his former team. The team has to be concerned that Matsui, who will be 36 next season, will fall off a cliff like Knight. Chances are, however, that Matsui has at least one more good season left in him, like Morris. Unlike Wetteland, however, the Yankees don’t have a clear option to replace Matsui at DH. His situation is a kind of amalgamation of his three predecessors’. I just hope his fate ends up different.