2013 MLB Free Agency: 10 Players Who'll Be Hurt by Albert Pujols' Struggles

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2012

2013 MLB Free Agency: 10 Players Who'll Be Hurt by Albert Pujols' Struggles

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    We can all agree that for the better part of the past decade, Albert Pujols has been the best player in baseball and that the 10-year, $254 million contract he signed with the Los Angeles Angels this past winter paid him as such.

    One month is certainly nowhere near enough time to pass judgement on whether his contract is a good one or not, but Pujols' struggles over the first six weeks of the season have absolutely given GM's around the league a reason to think twice before dishing out lucrative, long-term deals to players who have already celebrated their 30th birthday.

    While Josh Hamilton is really the only impending free agent who could be mentioned in the same breath as Pujols in terms of impact on a franchise both on the field and from a marketing perspective, there are a number of players who are likely to find that the offers they receive are for fewer years, less money or both than originally expected.

    Let's take a look at who's future earnings will be impacted by Prince Albert's early-season struggles.

Lance Berkman

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    They say that hindsight is 20/20, and that being the case, Lance Berkman wishes that he'd become a free agent earlier in his career, according to Dan Hayes of the North County Times.

    That being the case, it's fair to assume that the man known as Fat Elvis, who replaced Albert Pujols at first base in St. Louis, has his mind set on testing the waters of free agency again following this season rather than work out an extension with the Cardinals.

    How much of a market there will be for a 37-year-old first baseman who has battled injury on-and-off throughout his career remains to be seen, but it's fair to assume that there will be a number of teams interested in retaining his services.

    While Berkman would likely prefer a multi-year deal knowing that it's likely the last one of his career, I believe the cards are stacked against him and he'll have to settle for another one-year deal, perhaps with the team he started his career with, the Houston Astros, who are headed to the American League and could use Berkman both at first base and designated hitter.

Michael Bourn

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    Considering that his game is predicated on his speed, perhaps the six-year, $106 million deal that Jose Reyes signed with the Miami Marlins would serve as a better example of why teams will be reluctant to dish out a similar deal to Michael Bourn.

    That being the case, Bourn, a speedy, smooth-fielding center fielder turns 30 before the beginning of next season and based on his comments to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in March, he expects to test free agency.

    Earning $6.845 million this season, some have speculated that a five-year, $50 million contract extension would be a fair deal for both Bourn and the Braves.

    While an annual salary of $10 million is probably close to accurate, it's hard to see anyone giving Bourn a five-year deal when you take Pujols and Reyes into consideration.

Edwin Encarnacion

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    A major liability at third base and with no experience playing the outfield in the majors (he spent some time in left field playing winter ball this past offseason), Edwin Encarnacion is a 30-year-old designated hitter.

    While some believe that Encarnacion has come into his own as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, his numbers in Toronto are virtually identical to those he put up as a member of the Cincinnati Reds:

    With the Reds: .262/.345/.449, 71 HR, 263 RBI in 514 games played

    With the Jays: .260/.321/.475, 55 HR, 154 RBI in 301 games played

    Making $3.5 million in 2012, Encarnacion is sure to have his sights set on a long-term deal that pays him $6-7 million a year.

    He might receive an offer in his price range, but the length of the deal will be for less than he'd like.

Andre Ethier

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    While Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier has informed the team's new ownership group know that he's open to signing an extension during the season, he'll most likely have to wait until after the season to negotiate with the team.

    Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says that Ethier, who will turn 31 years old next April, is looking for a contract similar to the one Jayson Werth signed with the Washington Nationals a few years ago, in the neighborhood of $126 million over seven years.

    Let's play devil's advocate for a second and say that the Dodgers decide to let Ethier test the free-agent waters. Assume that Nick Swisher leaves the New York Yankees and Ethier now has two big-market suitors in the Dodgers and Yankees.

    He's still going to fall short of Werth's ridiculous contract, both in dollars and years.

Josh Hamilton

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    The one free agent that comes closest to matching Pujols in terms of production and natural talent, Josh Hamilton comes with other concerns as well.

    Since the 2009 season, his first in Texas in which he played 156 games, Hamilton has battled both his demons and his health, averaging 127 games played each of the past two seasons.

    Hamilton, who celebrates his 31st birthday later this month, told ESPN's Jim Bowden in March that he would, at that point, give the Rangers a significant discount if they signed him to an extension at that time—but warned that once he hit free agency, there was no discount to be had.

    While his preference is to remain a Ranger, Hamilton will be the most sought after bat on the free-agent market and is sure to receive multi-year offers from a number of teams and his annual salary will push, if not exceed, $20 million a year.

    The issue with Hamilton will be the years offered—while history would dictate that a five or six-year deal was in the cards, I'd argue that with Pujols' struggles, Hamilton is more likely to receive three and four-year offers at the most.

Mike Napoli

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    A hero for the Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series, Mike Napoli is set to hit the free-agent market as a 31-year-old catcher/first baseman following the 2012 season.

    Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported last month that the Rangers had offered Napoli an extension over the winter that was for less than the four year, $52 million deal that Victor Martinez signed with the Detroit Tigers last season.

    Napoli's agent, Brian Grieper told Heyman that "Mike Napoli is somewhere between Victor Martinez and Yadier Molina. Depending on how he performs this year, he could be closer to Molina or Martinez." Molina recently signed a five-year, $75 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Napoli is off to a somewhat slow start, hitting .247/.330/.494 with seven home runs and 16 RBI.

    He is valuable for the Rangers in that he not only catches, but plays first base as well, a position the team doesn't have a long-term answer for.

    With Pujols struggling and catchers over 30 having a history of breaking down sooner rather than later, Napoli, who celebrates his 31st birthday on Halloween, could regret turning down the extension that Texas offered him this winter.

David Ortiz

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    With the issues surrounding the Boston Red Sox this season, two questions need to be asked in regards to 36-year-old David Ortiz.

    Do the Red Sox want him back as the front office attempts to change the culture of the team, and does Ortiz want to deal with the circus-like atmosphere that has surrounded the team for the better part of two years again?

    Ortiz, who turns 37 in November, would be one of the more prolific sluggers available on the open market and as he told Rob Bradford of WEEI 850 AM that he has no plans to retire anytime soon:

    You know what? I tell people a couple more years just to make them feel good and they don't think you plan on playing this game until you're on crutches. But as long as I feel good and I can swing the bat well I want to keep on playing. What better life is there?

    His options would be limited to American League teams only considering his inability to play the field, but how many teams would be willing to invest multiple years at an annual salary around $15 million in him?

Nick Swisher

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    Normally, being a productive and well-liked right fielder for the New York Yankees would work in Nick Swisher's favor, given the team's lack of a viable in-house replacement and their past history of overpaying to keep their own.

    But Swisher, who turns 32 in November, will be the first important piece to deal with the Yankees under their new operating guidelines, set by co-owner Hal Steinbrenner just over two months ago.

    The team has a stated goal of being under the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, and with center fielder Curtis Granderson and second baseman Robinson Cano both due new contracts following the 2013 season, Swisher could find himself the victim of the team's stated goal of fiscal responsibility.

    ESPN's Jim Bowden reported back in Februrary that Swisher would be the primary target for the Atlanta Braves following this season, but Braves CEO Terry McGuirk has a strong aversion to handing out lucrative free-agent contracts.

    Swisher will get a new contract from someone, but instead of a four or five-year deal in the $75-85 million range, he'll have to settle for a three-year deal around $50 million instead.

Ichiro Suzuki

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    The most successful Japanese player to play in the major leagues and a virtual lock to be enshrined in Cooperstown, 38-year-old Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners won't discuss a new contract until after the 2012 season, according to Larry Stone of the Seattle Times.

    That means that Ichiro could hit free agency for the first time, and while his production has remained relatively consistent over the course of his major league career, the right fielder turns 39 years old in October.

    You'd have to figure that the only way Ichiro would leave Seattle would be to join a team who had a legitimate chance of winning a World Series, and we can also assume that Ichiro will be looking for more than a one-year deal to change addresses.

    As professional a hitter as the game has seen over the past decade, Ichiro will surely garner interest from a number of teams on the open market, though I find it hard to believe that he'd receive more than a one-year offer.

Shane Victorino

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    This offseason will be an interesting one in Philadelphia.

    With Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino set to become free agents following this season and Hunter Pence set to hit the open market after next year, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. will have some tough decisions to make.

    Victorino, who will be 32 years old before next season starts, wants a five-year deal, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Earning $9.5 million this season, Victorino is sure to be looking for a rather significant raise, one that he very well may receive—just not a raise that will pay him through his 37th birthday.