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Best playoff performances heading into free agency

October 26, 2018

October means postseason baseball. It also means several soon-to-be free agents are making their final impressions for potential offseason suitors on baseball's biggest stage. As the World Series continues between the Dodgers and Red Sox, impending free agents like Manny Machado for Los Angeles and Craig Kimbrel for Boston look

October means postseason baseball. It also means several soon-to-be free agents are making their final impressions for potential offseason suitors on baseball's biggest stage. As the World Series continues between the Dodgers and Red Sox, impending free agents like Manny Machado for Los Angeles and Craig Kimbrel for Boston look to put the finishing touches on their free-agent candidacies.
Throughout the history of free agency in MLB, which dates back to 1976, there have been many players that shined in October as they headed onto the open market. Here's a look at the 10 best postseason performances heading into free agency:
Benjamin Zobrist, 2015
Zobrist spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Rays before being traded to the A's prior to the 2015 season. Oakland then traded him to the Royals in July, as Kansas City made a run to its second straight World Series appearance. After losing to the Giants in seven games the prior October, the Royals won their first title in 30 years. Zobrist was a key contributor throughout that postseason, hitting .303 with a pair of homers -- one in ALCS Game 4, and the other in Game 6. That performance may have helped his free-agency stock, and the Cubs signed the 34-year-old utility player to a four-year, $56 million deal that offseason. It paid dividends right away, as Zobrist was an All-Star in '16 before being named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series, leading the Cubs to their first championship in 108 years.

Daniel Murphy, 2015
Murphy was a postseason revelation for the Mets, as New York won its first pennant in 15 years before losing to the Royals in the World Series. The second baseman, who had never hit more than 14 home runs in a single season, smashed seven of them between the National League Division Series against the Dodgers and the NL Championship Series against the Cubs. While his postseason power was impressive, the small sample size didn't have much of an impact on his free agency. Nevertheless, he signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Nationals that offseason. He would hit 54 homers over the next two-plus seasons for Washington before being traded to the Cubs last August.

Pablo Sandoval, 2014
Sandoval was the MVP of the 2012 World Series against the Tigers, famously belting three home runs in Game 1. But in October 2014, he was on the verge of becoming a free agent and made the most of his third postseason in five years. Sandoval hit .366 with seven doubles and five RBIs during the Giants' run to a World Series title in seven games over the Royals. That offseason, he decided to leave San Francisco to join the Red Sox, who signed him to a five-year, $95 million deal. Sandoval struggled with Boston, posting a .646 OPS with 14 homers in 161 games over two-plus seasons before being released. He then returned to San Francisco, reuniting with the Giants for the past two seasons.

Jose Pujols, 2011
Pujols put together a tremendous October for the Cardinals in 2011, hitting .353 with five homers -- three of which came in Game 3 of the World Series against the Rangers -- and 16 RBIs. Pujols, of course, already had standing as one of the premier free agents to hit the market, but his prodigious power display in a seven-game Fall Classic victory over Texas capped his Cardinals career with an exclamation point. That winter, the Angels inked Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million contract. He has since been beset with foot injuries and has seen his production decline gradually.

Carlos Beltran, 2004
Beltran enjoyed one of the best individual postseason performances in MLB history while with the Astros in 2004, hitting .435 with eight home runs,14 RBIs and six steals in 12 games between the NLDS against the Braves and the NLCS against the Cardinals. It was a tremendous performance in Beltran's first taste of the postseason, but he was headed for a major deal that offseason either way, being one of the best sluggers on the market. He landed a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets, with whom he would spend the next six-plus seasons before being traded to the Giants. In that span, he was a five-time All-Star, won three Gold Glove Awards, posted an .869 OPS and hit 149 homers.

Jason Giambi, 2001
Giambi was headed for a significant contract as a free agent following the 2001 season, following up an MVP campaign in 2000 with another huge season at the plate. And he made a final audition of sorts for the team he would end up signing with, by playing against New York that October. As the A's faced the Yankees in the ALDS for the second straight year, Giambi hit .353 with a home run and four RBIs. While Oakland lost the series in five games, New York scooped up the first baseman who had given them trouble a few months earlier. Giambi inked a seven-year, $120 million contract with the Yankees. Over the next seven seasons, he would post a .925 OPS with 209 homers.

Randy Johnson, 1998
The Big Unit came to prominence during his decade with the Mariners, but Seattle traded him to the Astros during the 1998 season, with Houston making a playoff push. Though his team lost both games he started in the NLDS against the Padres, Johnson yielded only three earned runs over 14 innings (1.93 ERA), striking out 17 and walking only two. That offseason, he signed a four-year, $52.4 million deal with the D-backs. It would result in great success for both parties, as Johnson would win the next four NL Cy Young Awards, as well as helping lead Arizona to its first World Series title in 2001 over the Yankees.
John Wetteland, 1996
Wetteland was a rising star as a reliever with the Expos when the Yankees signed him for the 1996 season. That year, he was named an All-Star for the first time, posting a 2.83 ERA with a league-leading 43 saves. He was stellar that postseason, with a 2.19 ERA and seven saves as the Yankees won their first World Series title in 18 years. Wetteland was named the World Series MVP after saving all four New York victories over the Braves and posting a 2.08 ERA in five appearances. That offseason, the 30-year-old right-hander agreed to a four-year, $23 million deal with the Rangers. He would finish his 12-year Major League career with Texas, posting a 2.95 ERA with 150 saves over the next four seasons.
Ray Knight, 1986
Perhaps remembered most for scoring the winning run in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series after a Mookie Wilson ground ball went between the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, Knight was named the MVP of that series, hitting .391 (9-for-23) with a double, a home run and five RBIs. Following the Mets' championship, New York offered the oft-injured infielder a one-year, $800,000 contract, which he declined to accept. Instead, he ended up staying on the free-agent market longer than he had hoped, and he signed with the Orioles for $300,000 in February 1987.

Don Baylor, 1982
Baylor was an established slugger in the AL, three seasons removed from winning the AL MVP Award when he had a big postseason for the Angels in 1982. In the ALCS against the Brewers, the designated hitter doubled, tripled, homered and drove in 10 runs over five games in California's five-game series loss. That offseason, the Yankees pursued the 33-year-old slugger and signed him to a four-year, $3.7 million contract, more than twice the value of the six-year deal he signed as a free agent with the Angels in '76. Baylor responded with his best season at the plate since his MVP campaign in '79, slashing .303/.361/.494 with 21 homers and 17 steals in 144 games for New York in '83. He would spend three seasons with the Yankees before being traded to the Red Sox in '86.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.