One and done: Best single-season stints

January 13th, 2023

A star can accomplish quite a bit in a short time, both personally and for the team. A number of players have proved that over the years, making their marks in just a single season with a particular club, whether by setting themselves up for a big contract elsewhere or even snagging a championship ring as a parting gift.

The 2022 season brought a couple of notable examples from left-handed pitchers. Tyler Anderson signed with the Dodgers, made his first All-Star team in a career year and then turned down a qualifying offer to sign a three-year contract with the Angels. Meanwhile, Carlos Rodón did not even receive a qualifying offer from the White Sox despite a breakout 2021 campaign, signed with the Giants and then firmly established himself as a top-tier starter. After opting out of his deal with San Francisco, he landed a six-year, $162 million contract from the Yankees.

With that in mind, here is a look back at 10 of the most notable past instances of players spending just one excellent year with a team. The focus here is on full seasons, which does leave out high-impact midseason acquisitions such as CC Sabathia with the 2008 Brewers and Randy Johnson with the 1998 Astros.

Marcus Semien, 2021 Blue Jays
Semien's timing was off when he first got a chance at free agency. He had broken out for a huge 2019 in Oakland, finishing third in the AL MVP Award race. But the next season was cut short by the pandemic, and Semien's numbers slid drastically, including an OPS that plummeted from .892 to .679. The A's passed on bringing him back, and Semien settled for a one-year, $18 million contract with Toronto as he sought a springboard back to the open market. Mission accomplished. Despite moving from shortstop to second base, Semien garnered some notable career firsts (an All-Star selection, Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger Award), played in 162 games and blasted 45 home runs, notching another third-place MVP finish. He parlayed that into a seven-year, $175 million deal with the Rangers.

Adrián Beltré, 2010 Red Sox
He is likely headed for the Hall of Fame, and his one season in Boston should be viewed as a turning point. At the time, Beltré was coming off a five-year stint in pitcher-friendly Seattle that was better than the raw numbers made it look but still represented something of a career setback. Beltré then signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox and batted .321/.365/.553 (141 OPS+), with 49 doubles, 28 home runs and 7.8 WAR (per Baseball-Reference), before signing with the Rangers.

Alfonso Soriano, 2006 Nationals
When baseball returned to Washington in 2005, the Nats finished last in the National League in runs scored, homers and stolen bases -- the club swiped a grand total of 45 bags. Then they went out and traded three players to the Rangers for Soriano, who was entering his walk year. Moving from second base to left field in D.C., Soriano went out and nearly beat the previous year's stolen-base total by himself, with 41. He added 46 homers, joining Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez as MLB's only 40-40 players. Soriano parlayed that rare performance into a big contract with the Cubs.

Ivan Rodriguez, 2003 Marlins
Pudge's 12-year tenure with the Rangers came to an end after the 2002 season, but the 13-time Gold Glove Award-winning catcher didn't exactly find the market he was expecting. Finally, near the end of January, a Marlins club coming off a sub-.500 season snapped him up on a one-year deal. Before moving on to Detroit the following offseason, Rodriguez started 134 games behind the plate for the Marlins and produced a 120 OPS+. He then proceeded to bat .313/.390/.522 with 17 RBIs in 17 postseason games, earning MVP honors in the NL Championship Series on the way to a World Series championship.

Mike Hampton, 2000 Mets
The 1999 Mets got within two wins of the World Series, but none of the club's starters enjoyed a standout season. So New York went looking for an ace and landed one from Houston, where Hampton had just gone 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA (155 ERA+). Available entering the final year of his contract, the lefty went to Queens and delivered a similarly strong campaign (142 ERA+ in 33 starts). In the NLCS against the Cardinals, Hampton took MVP honors by throwing seven scoreless innings in Game 1, followed by a series-clinching shutout in Game 5, to send the Mets to the World Series. That led to an ill-fated free-agent deal with Colorado.

Kevin Brown, 1998 Padres
Brown was a key contributor to the championship-winning 1997 Marlins team, which was promptly torn down. Brown was caught up in the firesale and traded to San Diego. The fierce right-hander immediately helped turn around a pitching-starved Padres team, which jumped from 76 to 98 wins and won the NL West, as Brown went 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA (164 ERA+) over a whopping 257 innings. Brown then helped pitch San Diego into the World Series before signing MLB's first $100 million contract with the Dodgers.

Jack Morris, 1991 Twins
Despite his accomplishments as a Tiger and Blue Jay, Morris is identified most closely with his lone season as a Twin. That's not so much because of his stellar regular-season performance (18-12, 125 ERA+ in 35 starts), which came after the Minnesota native signed a one-year deal with his hometown team. Rather, it's because Morris went 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA in five postseason starts and was named World Series MVP after throwing a 10-inning shutout to win his iconic Game 7 duel with the Braves' John Smoltz.

Rich "Goose" Gossage, 1977 Pirates
In 1976, the White Sox moved their lights-out reliever to the rotation, which didn't go so well. That experiment ended when the Pirates acquired the righty in a four-player deal and put him back in the bullpen. The 25-year-old Gossage responded with one of the 10 best seasons ever produced by a reliever, at least going by WAR. In a much different era of bullpen usage, Gossage churned out 133 innings with a 1.62 ERA, struck out 151 and combined 11 wins with 26 saves. A free agent the next offseason, he signed with the Yankees and never started another game, on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Reggie Jackson, 1976 Orioles
You probably remember Mr. October as a member of the A's or Yankees, or perhaps even from his late years with the Angels. But he also spent a rather tumultuous year in Baltimore in the middle of his career, when A's owner Charlie Finley traded him in his last year before free agency. Jackson didn't report to Baltimore right away, holding out until May, then struggled to get going. He finally caught fire and hit .313/.388/.560 with 19 home runs over his final 81 games for an O's club that finished a distant second to the Yankees -- who then signed Jackson as a free agent.

Dick Allen, 1970 Cardinals and '71 Dodgers
The hard-hitting Allen was traded in three consecutive offseasons, from Philadelphia to St. Louis to Los Angeles to Chicago. Allen brought the lumber wherever he went. He produced a 146 OPS+ and slammed 34 home runs in 122 games for the Cardinals, but a hamstring injury more or less ended his season in mid-August and helped push him out the door. In L.A., Allen made it through the full season with a 151 OPS+ and generated 5.4 WAR, but the Dodgers lost the NL West by a game to the Giants, and he was on the move again. Allen responded with perhaps his best season, earning MVP honors with the White Sox.

Rogers Hornsby, 1927 Giants and '28 Braves
Hornsby won six batting titles, two Triple Crowns and an MVP Award over his first 12 seasons, all with the Cardinals. In 1926, as a player-manager, Hornsby's numbers fell, but he piloted St. Louis to a championship. Despite that, contract negotiations broke down and Hornsby was swapped for the Giants' Frankie Frisch. He responded by returning to form, with a .361/.448/.586 line. Yet Hornsby quickly wore out his welcome again and was sent packing for Boston. In his one season with the Braves before another trade -- this one to the Cubs -- he slashed .387/.498/.632 (202 OPS+), leading the NL in each category. His two seasons in New York and Boston resulted in a combined total of 18.9 WAR.