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2014 MLB Free Agency: 8 Players Who Need Major Turnarounds to Boost Their Value

Jason MartinezContributor IMay 21, 2013

2014 MLB Free Agency: 8 Players Who Need Major Turnarounds to Boost Their Value

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    In Major League Baseball, how a free agent-to-be finishes the season is much more important than how he starts. The player's agent can chalk it up to a mechanical adjustment or a player getting back to full health or just finally "figuring it out" to explain why things didn't click until the second half.

    In any case, agents will try to sell interested teams on the player that ended the season on a roll as opposed to the player who struggled early on. The other way around would be a much tougher sell. 

    So while a consistent performance throughout the season would certainly help boost value and make that player less of a risk in the eyes of a team who will be investing millions of dollars, any struggling free agents-to-be still have time to turn things around as long as they're still playing regularly.

    Here are eight of those players.

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox

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    Avoiding the disabled list was a key for Ellsbury in his last season before becoming a free agent.

    A bigger factor in determining how big of a contract he received next offseason was whether the 2011 superstar version of Jacoby Ellsbury (.321 BA, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 119 R, 39 SB) would show up, or the solid-yet-unspectacular version he's been during the rest of his career.

    So far, he hasn't fit either criteria. In fact, he'd probably be in line for a bigger payday if he missed most of the season with another injury. With a .303 on-base percentage and just one homer, the 29-year-old's value has taken a huge hit.

    He'll still get a nice paycheck because of his speed, defense and the reputation he's built from that 2011 season, but at this rate, he'll get nowhere close to what he would've gotten had he signed an extension following that year. 

Jeff Francoeur, OF, Kansas City Royals

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    Believe it or not, Francoeur is only 29 years old and still had some earning potential heading into next offseason as long as the "good" version showed up in 2013.

    OK, so the "good" version has rarely shown up since his early years with the Braves. But he did have an .805 OPS with 20 homers, 47 doubles and 22 stolen bases for the Royals in 2011.

    That kind of performance would've landed Francoeur another multi-year deal worth at least what the Royals gave him in August of that 2011 season (two-year, $13.5 million contract extension).

    And now? He has a .580 OPS and would probably be in line for something in the one-year, $2-3 million range. Hey, even Jason Bay got a $1 million major league deal this past offseason.

    With a lack of viable options to take his starting job from him permanently, Francoeur still has an opportunity to work his way back into a good spot heading into free agency. I wouldn't expect more than a two-year deal, though, even if he does turn it around. 

Jason Hammel, SP, Baltimore Orioles

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    Although Hammel doesn't have a reputation as a top-of-the-rotation starter, he would've quietly worked his way into the mix as one of the most sought-after free-agent pitchers next offseason had he continued doing what he did in his first season with the O's in 2012 (3.43 ERA, 118 IP, 104 H, 42 BB, 113 K in 20 starts). 

    But after nine starts, the 30-year-old right-hander is looking more like the pre-2012 version. This isn't necessarily a bad thing—Hammel had a 4.99 ERA, 3/1 BB/9 and 6.2 K/9 in 732 innings between 2006 and 2011, with most of those innings coming at hitter-friendly Coors Field.

    It just means he's more than likely going to get the "back-of-the-rotation" contract in free agency, which is closer to $6-7 million over two to three years as opposed to the four years and $40 million he'd command otherwise. 

Tim Hudson, SP, Atlanta Braves

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    Heading into the 2014 season at age 38 was going to limit Tim Hudson's earning power anyhow. If his overall numbers show any signs that Hudson is regressing, though, it will be tough to see him getting more than a one-year, $5-6 million deal for next season.  

    And giving up at least five earned runs in half of his last six starts won't help prove that he's not regressing. He had only given up five earned runs or more in nine starts over his last two seasons (61 starts overall).

Josh Johnson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    If Johnson can come back healthy from a triceps injury that has kept him on the disabled list since the last month, he has plenty of time to not only become a top trade chip for the struggling Blue Jays, but also to put himself in line for a huge payday next offseason.

    But if yesterday's rehab start is any indication, he just doesn't look anywhere close to being the same guy he was pre-2011 shoulder injury (36-13, 2.80 ERA, 8.5 K/9 in 84 starts between 2008 and 2011).

    Scouts loved Josh Johnson this spring, Now, not so much. On his rehab start Monday: "OK, nothing great." cbsprt.co/18fqG2Q

    — Danny Knobler (@DannyKnoblerCBS) May 21, 2013

Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants

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    The post-2011 version of Tim Lincecum just doesn't seem capable of putting together more than two starts in a row that remind us all of how great he used to be.

    The 28-year-old followed up impressive back-to-back starts (13.2 IP, 2 ER, 10 H, 5 BB, 17 K) on April 20 and April 26, both against the Padres, with consecutive poor starts against the D'backs and Phillies, respectively (12 IP, 10 ER, 19 H, 3 BB, 13 K).

    Two-hit ball over seven shutout innings against the Braves in his next start was followed by his fourth start of the season in which he's allowed more than five earned runs (5 IP, 6 ER, 7 H versus Colorado).

    It's way beyond the point of arguing that the stuff is still there and the peripherals are still good. Lincecum is far from the same pitcher who won two Cy Young awards and made four All-Star appearances from 2008 through 2011. 

    A more consistent second half could still earn Lincecum one of the biggest free-agent contracts next offseason, but whichever team signs him will risk paying huge money to someone who has a good chance of being a complete bust.

David Murphy, OF, Texas Rangers

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    Murphy's already getting back on track in his quest to get it going in time to make a splash in free agency next offseason. After posting a .509 OPS through May 3, the 31-year-old has been on a tear with 15 hits in his last 43 at-bats, including three homers, three doubles, nine runs batted in and five walks. 

    He still has a ways to go to reach last year's numbers (.304 BA, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 54 BB, 10 SB), but a strong finish in conjunction with his strong 2012 season should get him a deal in the three-year, $24-33 million range. 

Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies

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    A 25-game suspension for a failed drug test would've been all but forgotten by the offseason had Ruiz come back as the same hitter that posted a career-best .935 OPS in 114 games last season.

    At least up until this point, he has not (12-for-51, 0 HR, 2 2B, 3 BB, 9 K), and now he's on the disabled list with a strained hamstring that will keep him out for at least three to four weeks. 

    So with four red flags—drug suspension, injury, early-season slump and age (he'll be 35 at the start of next offseason)—Ruiz's earning potential for 2014 and beyond has already taken a huge hit. He'll have a lot of making up to do when he returns.  

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