MLB’s Best 1-year Rentals
As the Hot Stove season continues through Christmas time, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the best 1-year rentals in history. Namely, players who, whether by free agency or, more likely, trade, ended up on a different team for one season – before ultimately peacing out at season’s end (usually via free agency). Starting with catcher, we have:
Catcher – Ivan Rodriguez, 2003 (Florida Marlins)
In 2003, Ivan Rodriguez signed a 1-year deal with the Florida Marlins, hoping to land a big free agent deal after a few injury-marred years with the Texas Rangers. The Marlins brought him in to provide leadership, as well as accountability for a quarter of the team’s payroll - generally a poor allocation of team funds. The move worked out so poorly that they won the World Series, with Pudge hitting just under .300.
First Base – Dick Allen, 1970 (St. Louis Cardinals).
In 1970, Dick Allen came over from Philadelphia in the Curt Flood deal, and slugged 34 home runs in just 122 games for his new team. Allen was then traded to the Dodgers, where he put up an even better season (as a third baseman) – and then ended up being traded for Tommy John before a historically great 1972 season.
Second Base – Rogers Hornsby, 1927 (New York Giants)
After an off-year in 1926 (following a 5-year stretch during which time he hit .402), Rogers Hornsby found himself in a contract dispute with St. Louis and was traded to the New York Giants, where he played under the legendary John McGraw. Hornsby hit .361 and led the league with a .448 OBP, 176 OPS+, and 133 runs scored. Like Allen, Hornsby could make this list twice, as he was traded the following year for gambling issues to the Boston Braves (where he hit .387/.498/.632) and then again to the Chicago Cubs.
Third Base – Adrian Beltre, 2010 (Boston Red Sox)
Adrian Beltre never lived up to expectations during his time in Seattle, even if his glove arguably justified his contract. Injured for much of his final season, Beltre took a 1-year deal with Boston to try and raise his stock. It worked; Beltre hit over .321 with a .555 slugging percentage and a league-best 49 doubles. His silver slugger performance earned him a 5-year deal with the Texas Rangers, during which time he helped get them to the American League pennant.
Shortstop – Jay Bell, 1997 (Kansas City Royals)
In the kind of move the has basically defined the Pirates franchise, Pittsburgh traded Jay Bell and Jeff King to the Royals for Joe Randa and two relievers who amounted to basically nothing; the move might have cost them a very weak NL Central in 1997. Jay Bell hit 21 home runs from the shortstop position while amassing 5.3 WAR – and then signed as a free agent with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.
Left Field – Alfonso Soriano, 2006 (Washington Nationals)
3 years after being traded for one of the greatest players of all-time, Alfonso Soriano was swapped by the Texas Rangers for Armando Galarraga Terrmel Sledge, and Brad Wilkerson. On top of that, he was forced by his manager, who happened to one of the very best hitters of all-time to play left field, being as he was a horrific infielder and everything. Though he objected to it at first, the move seemed to fit Soriano, who led the league in assists that season. More notably, he became the first player in history to hit 40 home runs, steal 40 bases, and hit 40 doubles in the same year. After strangely not being traded by the Nationals, Soriano took advantage of one of the worst GM’s in the game and signed a 7-year, 136 million dollar deal to “play” for the Cubs.
Center Field – Kenny Lofton, 1997 (Atlanta Braves)
Feeling a money-crunch, the Atlanta Braves traded David Justice and Marquis Grissom (both under long-term contracts) to the Cleveland Indians for 1 year of Kenny Lofton (who would just bounce back to the Indians the very next season). Lofton performed well in his only year as the Braves lead-off man, hitting .333 with a .407 OBP and playing his customary outstanding defense in center field.
Right Field – Reggie Jackson, 1976 (Baltimore Orioles)
With free agency looming just around the corner for baseball, A’s owner Charlie Finley chose to trade the last year of “Mr. October” to the Orioles for Don Baylor, Paul Mitchell, and Mike Torrez. Jackson ended up leading the league in both slugging and OPS+ while even stealing a career-high 28 bases before signing to play for the Bronx Zoo in 1977, where he demonstrated utmost humility for his team’s accomplishments.
Designated Hitter – Dave Winfield, 1992 (Toronto Blue Jays)
Needing an extra bat to but his team over the ALCS hump, Toronto GM Pat Gillick went out and got 40-year old Dave Winfield to DH. Winfield finished 5th in the MVP voting with a .290/.377/.491 and 26 home runs for the eventual World Champions before going to Minnesota to attain his milestone 3000th hit.
Starting Pitcher – Kevin Brown, 1998 (San Diego Padres)
Some will cry foul that I didn’t pick Jack Morris’s 1991 season with the Twins but – well, you know how I feel about Jack Morris. In any event, that year, 10-inning shutout and all, did not compare to the season Kevin Brown put up for the Padres in 1998. After winning the World Series, the Marlins blew up the team, starting with the trade of their ace, Kevin Brown (for which they attained power-hitting first baseman Derrek Lee, a cornerstone of their second World Series team). Kevin Brown had one year left before free agency and made the most of it, leading all NL pitchers in WAR at 8.4 and leading the Padres to a pennant after finishing last the year before. Brown was screwed out of what should have been his second Cy Young in 3 seasons, but don’t feel too sorry for him. He signed a record-setting 7-year, 105 million dollar deal with the rival Dodgers after the season.
Closer – Rafael Soriano, 2010 (Tampa Bay Rays)
After coming over from the Braves, Rafael Soriano led the American League in saves as a Ray in 2010, with 45. Despite probably wanting to close some more, Rafael Soriano signed with the Yankees after the season to be a set-up man (and now middle reliever) because – well, they paid him a ridiculous sum of money. He made $250,000.00 per inning last season.