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Best playoff performances heading into free agency

October 8, 2019

While the remaining teams continue to battle it out for the right to be called 2019 World Series champions, October baseball also presents some impending free agents with one final opportunity to improve their stock heading into the offseason. For soon-to-be free agents Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, it's simply

While the remaining teams continue to battle it out for the right to be called 2019 World Series champions, October baseball also presents some impending free agents with one final opportunity to improve their stock heading into the offseason.

For soon-to-be free agents Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, it's simply a chance to further pad their impressive resumes following stellar regular seasons. For others, such as veteran sluggers Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnación (club option for 2020), it's a time to prove they can still be key pieces of a championship-caliber team. Meanwhile, players like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Marcell Ozuna, Didi Gregorius and Dallas Keuchel are hoping to bolster any potential offers by making their mark on the game's biggest stage before hitting the free-agent market. The same can be said for Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman, both of whom have the ability to opt-out following this season.

Here's a look at the 10 best postseason performances heading into free agency:

Benjamin Zobrist, 2B (2015 Royals)

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 '15 postseason, hitting .303 with a pair of homers -- one each in Game 4 and Game 6 of the ALCS. 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, helping lead the Cubs to their first championship in 108 years. Zobrist stumbled a bit in '17, hitting just .232 with a career-low .693 OPS, but bounced back with a .305 average and .817 OPS the following season. He was limited to just 47 games in '19, the final season of that four-year deal.

Daniel Murphy, 2B (2015 Mets)

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 homers between the NLDS against the Dodgers and the NLCS 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 put up a .347/.390/.595 hitting line and finished second in NL MVP Award in his debut season with the Nats. Murphy once again received some MVP votes in a solid '17 campaign, but was ultimately traded to the Cubs at the '18 Trade Deadline. He participated in the postseason in each of those three seasons, but that streak came to an end this year after he signed with the Rockies last offseason.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B (2014 Giants)

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 three seasons.

Jose Pujols, 1B (2011 Cardinals)

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 Beltrán, OF (2004 Astros)

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, 1B (2001 Athletics)

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, SP (1998 Astros)

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, RP (1996 Yankees)

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, 3B (1986 Mets)

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, DH (1982 Angels)

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 MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.