It was May 29, 2010, nine years ago today, that the Giants made a decision which helped propel them to a National League West title and a World Series championship. Sitting a few games over .500 and facing their seventh straight season without a playoff berth, the club sought a right-handed spark for a lefty-heavy outfield. The Giants found their answer in 33-year-old veteran Pat Burrell, whom they signed to a minor league deal that came with no risk but ultimately paid significant dividends.
Burrell began his career in 2000 with the Phillies, who drafted him first overall in 1998, and wound up enjoying a successful run with the organization. Between his debut and his final season with the Phillies in 2008, Burrell headed to the plate 5,388 times and batted .257/.367/.485 (120 wRC+) with 251 home runs and 16.8 wins above replacement. Burrell’s Phillies tenure concluded with a World Series win over his next team, the Rays.
Tampa Bay brought Burrell in on a two-year, $16MM contract in January 2009, but the deal proved to be an unmitigated disaster for the franchise. Burrell was among the majors’ worst players in Year 1 of the deal; after Burrell got off to a similarly poor start through 24 games in 2010, the Rays designated him for assignment before releasing him with $9MM left on his contract.
Tampa Bay likely figured Burrell was shot when it parted with him. Little did the Rays know he’d end up as a dirt-cheap contributor on a title-winning club just a few months later. San Francisco owned a 29-24 record when it promoted Burrell to the majors on June 4, and it went 63-46 the rest of the way to win its division by two games over San Diego. Pat the Bat played an instrumental role in the Giants’ narrow defeat of the Padres. During a 96-game, 341-plate appearance renaissance, Burrell slashed .266/.364/.509 (136 wRC+) with 18 HRs and 2.8 WAR as the Giants’ primary left fielder.
Burrell’s numbers dropped in San Francisco’s playoff series wins over the Braves, Phillies and Rangers, but it didn’t faze the Giants. The franchise took home its first championship since 1954, back when it was the New York Giants, and went on to win two more in the ensuing four seasons. Burrell wasn’t part of either of those 2012 or ’14 clubs, but he did return to the Giants for his final season in 2011 – this time on a major league contract – and log solid production in 219 trips to the plate. Almost a decade after the Giants first signed Burrell, it’s fair to say he still ranks as one of the best in-season minor league signings ever.