8 MLB Stars Whose Free Agent Stock Has Plummeted

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 6, 2012

8 MLB Stars Whose Free Agent Stock Has Plummeted

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    At the start of the season, MLB's 2013 free-agent class looked like a strong one. Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke would be out there. So would quality players like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Anibal Sanchez.

    Hamilton and Greinke are doing just fine. Both have had their ups and downs this season, but neither of them has done anything to kill his chances of earning a contract worth tens of millions of dollars in free agency. They'll get paid this winter.

    Other prospective free agents haven't done so well. Napoli may as well be the poster boy for the bunch, as he's followed up his tremendous 2011 campaign by underachieving at the plate. More recently, he got hurt.

    More than a few million bucks have been shaved off of his price tag this season. Here's a look at his situation and a few other free-agents-to-be who won't get as rich this winter as they once hoped they would.

    Note: Stats come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Salary and payroll info comes courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

8. Russell Martin, C

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    Russell Martin enjoyed something of a renaissance season in 2011, posting a .732 OPS and making his first All-Star appearance since 2008.

    Martin was never really in line for a huge payday this offseason, as it was pretty clear even while he was enjoying his renaissance that he still wasn't the same player he once was with the Dodgers. But if he did what he did in 2011 all over again, he likely would have been able to find a nice multi-year contract in free agency this offseason.

    After the season he's had, Martin's prospects in free agency are up in the air. He's done battle with the Mendoza line all season long, and his OPS has dropped from .732 last season to a mere .681 this season.

    Martin is doing his best to pad his numbers with what little time he has left this season, and he's doing a commendable job. Over his last 12 games, he's put together an .804 OPS.

    This won't be enough to get him a multi-year deal to his liking this offseason. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he had to settle for a one-year deal loaded with incentives.

    A deal like that would work for the Yankees. They could use a catcher to hold the fort until Gary Sanchez is ready, and Martin is a far cheaper alternative than Mike Napoli.

    And since the Bombers are trying to keep payroll low these days, cheaper is better.

7. Delmon Young, OF

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    Delmon Young has basically been himself this season. He entered 2012 with a career OPS of .749, and so far this season he has an OPS of .746.

    It's not all good, though. He has a 0.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs, meaning there's basically no difference between him and a scrub from the minor leagues.

    That won't help his cause when he goes looking for a contract this winter. Just as problematic is the trouble Young found himself in off the field earlier this year.

    Back in April, Young was arrested in New York on charges of aggravated harassment in the second degree, a misdemeanor with a hate-crime element, according to the New York Post. He was subsequently suspended by Major League Baseball for seven games.

    Young didn't have a track record of good behavior to begin with. Most notably, he threw his bat at an umpire when he was still in the minor leagues back in 2006.

    Young will be able to find a contract this winter, but probably only a one- or two-year deal worth a small amount of money. 

    You could argue that this was going to be the case one way or another, but I disagree. It was just a couple years ago that Young posted an .826 OPS and drove in over 100 runs with the Minnesota Twins. Had he posted numbers like that and kept his nose out of trouble this season, he could have made a killing in free agency this winter.

    There's no way that's happening now.

6. Francisco Rodriguez, RHP

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    Francisco Rodriguez was a free agent this past offseason, and he ultimately chose to re-up with the Brewers on a one-year deal worth $8 million.

    It was a pay cut as far as he was concerned. K-Rod made $11.5 million in 2011, and there was a $17.5 million option on his deal for 2012 that failed to vest.

    A good season in 2012 could have put Rodriguez in a position to earn another multi-year deal in free agency this winter. His chances of earning said deal would have been even better if he found a way to steal the closer's job from John Axford. If he could prove he can still close, he'd find his services in demand.

    Things haven't panned out for K-Rod. He has a 4.95 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in 66 appearances this season. He's been a disaster in save situations, posting a 5.51 ERA and a 1.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    K-Rod is still only 30 years old, so he should be able to find a contract this offseason. However, it will likely be another one-year contract for far less than $8 million.

5. Brandon League, RHP

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    Brandon League always had good stuff, but he didn't put it all together until 2011, his second year with the Seattle Mariners. He shattered his career high with 37 saves, and he also posted a career-best 4.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    For his efforts, League made his first All-Star team.

    If League found a way to do 2011 all over again in 2012, he would have entered the market as a "proven closer." Such characters tend to get absurd contracts (see Bell, Heath).

    Instead, League was out as Seattle's closer by the end of May after blowing four saves and compiling a 4.43 ERA.

    He's been better since then, but not significantly. He has a 3.62 ERA between his time with the Mariners and the Dodgers, to go along with a 1.48 WHIP and a 1.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    League might be able to find a place to sign on as a closer this offseason if he's lucky, but he's more likely to be viewed as just another right-handed setup man.

    He probably has a one-year contract in his future. Maybe a two-year contract if he's really lucky.

4. Anibal Sanchez, SP

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    About a week before the trade deadline, Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com tweeted that he had heard from one National League executive who said that Anibal Sanchez would be the third-most desired starting pitcher on the market after Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.

    Hamels ultimately signed an extension to stay with the Philadelphia Phillies. Presumably, Sanchez jumped for joy. Hamels' extension would be Sanchez's gain in free agency.

    Nowadays, it's unclear whether Sanchez is in line for the same kind of payday that he once was.

    When Sanchez left the Miami Marlins, he had a solid 3.94 ERA and a decent 1.26 WHIP. In seven starts with the Tigers, he has a 4.50 ERA and a horrid 1.65 WHIP.

    He has these ugly numbers even despite the fact that he's compiled a 0.92 ERA over his last three starts, which just goes to show how poorly he was performing before.

    Sanchez has saved himself from total ruin by rebounding over his last three starts, but the fact that he struggled so mightily to adjust to life in the American League in the first place doesn't bode well for him. American League clubs could be wary of him this offseason, meaning he may have to restrict his contract hunt to National League teams.

    There will be multi-year offers for Sanchez one way or the other, but the dollar signs won't be as impressive as they might have been once upon a time. 

    As such, the best thing for Sanchez to do this offseason may be to accept a short-term contract worth an agreeable amount of money and hope that he can prove himself worthy of a bigger contract the next time he hits free agency.

3. Mike Napoli, C/1B

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    Almost a year later, Mike Napoli's 2011 season is still amazing.

    In just 113 games and 432 plate appearances, Napoli crushed 30 home runs while hitting .320 with a 1.046 OPS. If he had enough at-bats to qualify, he would have finished sixth in the AL batting race and first in the AL OPS race.

    What's more, Napoli proved himself to be a decent defensive catcher. Per FanGraphs, he posted a DRS (defensive runs saved) of plus-one. He also posted a career-high caught-stealing percentage of 36 percent.

    Had Napoli entered last offseason as a free agent, he would have found himself among the highest-paid catchers in the game. He may have even become the highest-paid catcher in the game.

    With free agency still a year away, all Napoli had to do in 2012 was do exactly what he did in 2011 all over again.

    This hasn't happened. Not even close.

    Napoli has seen his OPS plummet from 1.046 to .771. His batting average has fallen nearly 100 points from .320 to .223. He's also regressed defensively.

    To make matters worse, Napoli suffered a quad injury in August, and the latest word from the Rangers is that his recovery is going very slowly.

    Napoli can wave goodbye to the possibility of becoming the highest-paid catcher in baseball. A deal like Miguel Montero's five-year, $60 million extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks is now the best template for Napoli's next contract.

    And he may be lucky to get even that much.

2. Shane Victorino, OF

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    Not unlike Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino enjoyed a career year in 2011. He posted a career-high .847 OPS and, according to FanGraphs, a career-high WAR of 5.9.

    Victorino's career year in 2011 now feels like ancient history. He posted a mere .724 OPS in his time with the Phillies this season, and he's been even less productive with the Dodgers. In 32 games, he's hitting .254 with a .651 OPS.

    The numbers say that Victorino's defense has taken a step back as well. Per FanGraphs, he has a minus-4.2 UZR and a minus-5.0 DRS as a center fielder this season.

    Had Victorino come close to his 2011 production this season, he would have been in line for a multi-year deal worth at least $10 million per year. After the season he's had, however, he'll have to settle for fewer years and a lot fewer dollars.

    His dilemma is that accepting a one-year deal and trying to have a big year (a la Adrian Beltre in 2010) would be risky because he's not getting any younger. Victorino will turn 32 in November.

    He'll have to take what he can get this winter.

1. Melky Cabrera, OF

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    Yeah, you knew this was coming.

    Melky Cabrera is still leading the National League in hitting with a .346 batting average, and his 159 hits are still good for third.

    He won't be adding to these numbers, of course, as Melky is going to be on the sidelines for the rest of the season thanks to a 50-game PED suspension for a positive testosterone test.

    Melky was in line for a huge payday in free agency, but that ship sailed as soon as word of his suspension came through. He certainly won't be re-upping with the Giants, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote back in August that the chances of that happening are "close to nil."

    The question now is, which team will be willing to take a chance on a known cheater like Cabrera, who looks particularly bad for cheating to gain an edge in a contract year?

    Whoever does take a chance on Melky, they won't be risking a lot of money. The contract he's going to get will be worth a fraction of the one he could have gotten if he hadn't cheated his way to a .346 batting average.

    ...Or if he hadn't gotten caught.

     

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