The playoffs can make or break Major League Baseball teams for obvious reasons, but for players who will be entering free agency this winter, they have a double burden.
This is their final chance to make an impression on the general managers who ultimately determine where they play and how much money they make next season.
Some of these as might be on the borderline and need a strong playoff push to prove that they still have value while others are superstars who are looking to prove once and for all that they are worth the big bucks and long-term contracts.
Hopefully, most of these players will be more on the gain half and enhance their value, but I guess you never know.
Josh Hamilton was the American League MVP in 2010, and he is still one of the premier sluggers in Major League Baseball. While his average has been dropping off for the past few seasons, he is still hitting home runs and driving in a ton of runs which will make him a major target this winter.
There’s a lot of risk involved for Hamilton in the playoffs though. Any team that signs him will be making a huge investment. In order to maximize his options, he needs to prove that he can deliver in the postseason.
Mike Napoli will keep us in our Texas Rangers theme for at least one more slide. After breaking out in 2011, his batting average has dropped nearly 100 points. On top of that, he has substantially fewer home runs and RBI. He still has the above average power, but he needs to find it again.
As a catcher who has the potential to hit 30 home runs, the demand could be huge. If he’s able to turn back into the hitter that we saw last year for this playoff run, he could make a lot of money over the winter.
Michael Bourn began this season playing like an MVP. However, as the season has gone on, he has slowly spiraled downhill. His average has dropped off substantially, and that is one of the most important statistics for a leadoff man who needs to get on base in order to make use of his excellent speed.
The Atlanta Braves are playing great baseball right now, but I’m sure that they would like more production from Bourn. From a career perspective, it definitely would not hurt him to prove that he can start getting on base and make a difference at the top of the lineup.
While I admit that I was really surprised when Ichiro Suzuki was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees, the move has worked out well for him from a performance standpoint.
When you compare his numbers from Seattle to his numbers in New York, he is putting up similar home run, RBI and stolen base numbers in about half the at-bats.
Also, his batting average has been much higher in New York, so all of these might be some type of indication that Ichiro is not done yet. If he performs well in the playoffs, his value will only increase.
Ryan Dempster was having an amazing year for the Chicago Cubs, at least in terms of ERA, before he was traded to the Texas Rangers. His record was not all that great, but Chicago wasn’t giving him any run support. Now, in Arlington, his record looks better, but his ERA has essentially doubled.
Dempster needs to come up big during the playoffs to prove that he can still keep that score down. His market value will be considerably higher if he can demonstrate that he doesn’t need all of that Texas firepower behind him to win baseball games.
Angel Pagan has quietly put together an exceptional season for the San Francisco Giants. His speed is obviously his most valuable asset as he is leading the National League in triples right now. He doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but he hits for a pretty decent average so that he has value near the top of a lineup.
Like I said up top, Pagan has put together this season pretty quietly, but people will notice him if he can burst out and make a major difference in the most pivotal moments of the season.
2012 must feel really odd for Russell Martin. He has never hit more home runs in any individual season, but he has never hit for a lower batting average either. Which one is more beneficial? I am not really sure, but during the playoffs, he will have the opportunity to prove that he can actually do both.
His defense has always been solid, and while he is getting older of course, he is still in the prime of his career. All around talented catchers are hard to come by, and if he can show every dimension that he has exhibited at different points in his career, he has a lot to gain.
Kyle Lohse went through most of his early career as a rather mediocre pitcher. He was always good enough to have a job somewhere, but he never really dominated.
However, during these last two seasons, something has definitely changed. He has finally become a great pitcher who is able to get hitters out without relying on a strikeout.
He has struggled in the postseason historically, so that is a weakness that he could strengthen right now. He could prove in 2012 that he can win games when that ultimately counts, and that could be worth a lot on the market this winter.
Mike Adams did an amazing job with the San Diego Padres before he came to the Texas Rangers. His ERA always hovered below 2.50, which is remarkable to say the least. He has not quite put up those numbers in Arlington, but he’s still a very good relief pitcher who’s going to be a hot commodity on the market this winter.
In fact, if he can pitch incredibly well during the high tension moments of the postseason, he might be able to make a case to transition to a closer where he will make a lot more money and get much more recognition for the great work he does.
Nick Swisher is oftentimes forgotten about in the powerful New York Yankees lineup. Looking back over his career though, he is very consistent and will provide about 25 home runs and somewhere between 80 and 90 RBI with a batting average that varies depending on the year.
While that is not quite enough to make him one of the best sluggers in baseball, he is still a great option who can solidify the middle of a lineup. With a strong playoff push, his name could receive a lot more recognition which will only help him as he enters the free agent market over the winter.