I had decided to split them into three categories, two of which included players whose best played seasons were in 2015 and players who had nightmares in 2016. The erratic patterns continue as I present the remaining five free agents of the top 15 who fit the third category of 2016 yangs, players who had seasons to remember that year.
It can be argued that Manny Machado should be in the 2015 list. The Orioles infielder stole twenty bases that year compared to his zero in 2016, he won a Gold Glove Award unlike in 2016, and his 7.1 WAR was 0.2 higher than his 6.9 WAR in 2016. I put Machado on this particular list for several reasons, all involving the assertion that the latter year was a better season for the young infielder. Machado’s complete disregard for trying to steal bases does not outweigh the fact that his statistics from 2016 were actually better than in 2015. Machado had a higher number in hits, home runs, RBIs, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging with less plate appearances during the latter year. Though Machado didn’t win a Gold Glove in 2016, his 2.3 defensive WAR that season was still higher than his 2015 dWAR of 1.9. To be honest though, you could make an argument that Machado’s best season wasn’t even in 2015 or 2016 but in either 2013 or 2018. Machado may be a little scattered in terms of his statistical output, but they still indicate that he is easily one of the top free agents this offseason. If I was given the option to categorize him though, I’d argue that he is one of those guys whose best was demonstrated in 2016.
The second baseman entered free agency in 2015 after a memorable postseason with his former team, the New York Mets. Though Murphy had a quiet 2015 and was so for most Major League seasons, he went off in the postseason. The Mets infielder hit three home runs in the Division Series, two against Dodgers’ perennial ace Clayton Kershaw and the other against Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke. Murphy torched the Cubs in the Championship Series, en route to winning NLCS MVP. And though his impeccable efforts came to a halt in the World Series, it was enough for the Washington Nationals to sign him to a 3-year contract worth $37.5 million. Murphy proved his worth that very first season that new deal kicked in. The second baseman finished 2016 batting .347/.390/.595, his .595 slugging percentage and overall .985 on-base plus slugging leading the National League that year. The season capped off with his second All-Star nomination, his first Silver Slugger Award, and a second place finish in the NL MVP ballot. The aftermath was not bound to match what he had pulled off in 2016 though. Murphy had a similar 2017, albeit not as good as the prior season. And the last year of his Nats contract before heading back to free agency was injury-laden, to the point the infielder missed playing 100 games for the first time since 2008. But perhaps, Murphy can re-create the post-free agency hype around him like he did in 2016.
JA Happ was also a free agent in the 2015 offseason and would go onto sign a then questionable 3-year, $36m contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto had just been eliminated in the American League Championship Series by the Kansas City Royals, and were going to lose left-handed pitching ace David Price to free agency. Happ previously played for the Blue Jays a few years earlier and had been uninspiring. His 2015 season was the first time he finished below an ERA of 4.00 since 2010. On top of the fact that the southpaw was going to earn around a hefty $12 million annually, this signing had the potential to be a major disaster. But then Happ finished 2016 with a 20-4 record, a 3.18 ERA under 195 innings pitched, and a sixth place finish in the American League Cy Young Award ballot. Happ’s 4.5 WAR was and still is the highest he has received since his near Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009. Happ has held steady since, pitching at an admirable but not Cy Young candidate level in the 2017 and 2018 seasons up to his next free agency. The difference is night and day this particular offseason. Despite the fact that Happ’s getting up there in age, the southpaw now has the credibility and aura that he didn’t have last time around.
The 2016 AL Wild Card Game will be remembered for one question. Why was Zach Britton not used? It’s rare you see a southpaw reliever become a Cy Young and MVP candidate, let alone in the same year. That was Zach Britton in 2016. The southpaw was so good that season to the point his previous 2015 All-Star campaign with a 1.92 ERA and 36 saves is considered incomparable. Britton’s second All-Star nomination may be the lowest of many accomplishments he achieved in 2016. The left-hander led the entire league in saves and games finished that season, with 47 and 63 respectively. He saved a perfect 47 of 47 games, an achievement seldom accomplished by even the greatest of closers. Britton finished fourth and eleventh in the AL Cy Young and MVP ballots, two of the highest finishes by a reliever in the last decade. On top of that he broke the MLB record for lowest single-season ERA by a pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched, with an earned run average of 0.54. Britton hasn’t come close since, despite his respectable 2017 and 2018 campaigns. They were both marred with injury and are still considered incomparable to the Herculean efforts that had been demonstrated in 2016. Though it’s unlikely Britton will pitch a season like that ever again, a team can still make great use of the reliever when baseball starts again in spring.
There are a few seasons Yasmani Grandal has under his sleeve that can be considered his best. Grandal’s only All-Star nomination was in 2015 and his career high 3.3 WAR was achieved in 2018. I’m going to go with that strange year when he was on the NL MVP ballot. There are some warning flags which may go against my assertion, such as his .228 and .107 batting averages in the 2016 season and postseason respectively. I find lackluster statistics that Grandal has indicative of his lack in production. Taking the Cuban catcher’s aforementioned .228 batting average as an example, it’s not far off from the .234 and .241 BAs he had in 2015 and 2018 respectively. He’s also never been a good postseason hitter, demonstrated by the fact that he’s never hit above .200 in a playoff series. It is also important to note that some of Grandal’s career highs were accomplished in 2016. This includes his season best 27 home runs, 72 runs batted in, and .816 on-base plus slugging percentage. Grandal’s 2016 also featured significantly less physical or psychologically affecting issues than the two other seasons. The catcher’s second half in 2015 was hindered by shoulder inflammation on his non-throwing arm. Grandal’s 2018 postseason was marred by poor defensive play and gradual emphasis on his lack of offensive production, to the point that Dodgers fans began chanting for backup Austin Barnes. To be honest, there aren’t that great expectations for the Cuban catcher to begin with. But he’ll still be a hot commodity this free agency, and will have the opportunity to stabilize or turn things around.