Offseason MLB Targets Who Must Prove They're Clutch to Earn Big Money
As we begin to close the books on the 2012 MLB regular season and ease into the postseason, most teams throughout the league are preparing to pack up for the offseason, leaving front offices to ponder what will help them in 2013 and beyond.
For contending teams, individual players have a chance to play hero, and in turn, potentially up their stock on the free market even further than they could have with a 162-game season.
Here are some players that would be wise to further prove their worth down the stretch as they look to cash in this winter.
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B.J. Upton will likely be one of the top free-agent outfielders in next year's market, possibly putting him out of reach for some teams in need of help there, but a player with his talent can be hard to pass up.
He's had some down numbers over the past two seasons and is batting only .250 so far in 2012, but with 26 home runs and 30 stolen bases, Upton is showing that he's got the combination of power and speed that's always in demand.
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The Texas Rangers will have a huge decision to make when they finally sit down at the table with Josh Hamilton's agent to hammer out a plan for the star outfielder's future.
With 43 home runs and 124 RBI in 2012, the Rangers can't afford to let that much offensive productivity walk away.
However, with a number of other financial commitments already on the books and a less than steady track record for Hamilton's health, a long-term deal may be out of the question.
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Heading into the 2012 season, it was widely assumed that Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels would set the bar for free-agent pitching contracts this coming offseason.
The Hamels situation was put to bed when he signed his extension with the Philadelphia Phillies, leaving Greinke as the top option available.
Despite a 5-2 record since coming over to the Los Angeles Angels this July, Greinke has had his share of growing pains and needs to prove he can handle the pressure that comes along with a top salary.
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It's hard to call the 2012 season a success for the Detroit Tigers thus far, as the team entered the season as a favorite to come out of the AL but now finds itself fighting to get into the postseason.
With big money handed out this past offseason to Prince Fielder, the checkbook may not have much room to move, but retaining Jose Valverde may be a must if the Tigers hope to be competitive in 2013.
Valverde hasn't had quite as good of a statistical season in 2012 as he put up in 2011, but with 31 saves and a league-leading 63 games finished, he's still one of the best late-inning options in baseball.
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For years, the Minnesota Twins thought they had one of the best young left-handed arms available in Francisco Liriano, as he's virtually unhittable when he's at his best.
The problem is, Liriano is hardly ever at his best, as constant struggles with control get him into trouble more often than not.
He's posted a 3-1 record since moving over to Chicago this July, but with walk numbers still over five per nine innings, he'll want to hone in on his control if he hopes to make a play for a multi-year deal.
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Prior to his suspension, Melky Cabrera would have been the most notable target for the San Francisco Giants to re-sign this coming offseason.
Cabrera may still have a future in San Francisco, but the team would also be wise to do everything in its power to keep Marco Scutaro around in 2013.
He's been a great contributor for the team since coming over from Colorado, batting nearly .360 in more than 50 games since the trade.
But he has less than 30 postseason at-bats to his name, so he'll want to capitalize on his chances to produce this October if he really aims to cash in.
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After an outstanding 2011 campaign, the Texas Rangers were quick to come to an agreement with Mike Napoli prior to the 2012 season, further pushing off a long-term deal.
Now that Napoli is entering free agency this offseason, the team will have a big decision to make.
Napoli has regressed a bit in 2012 but is still a solid contributor on offense and has continued to show the power numbers the team had hoped for.
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After spending months on the free-agent market last season in hopes of a long-term contract that would finally give him a big payday, Edwin Jackson ultimately settled on a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals that would, in turn, become a one-year audition for the rest of his career.
He's pitched well in 2012, posting nine wins and a 3.77 ERA, but he could really help his stock out with some superb outings down the stretch and in October for the Nationals.