MLB Players Who Can Leverage Strong Postseasons into Huge Contracts
At the end of the 2012 regular season, San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro had obviously boosted his value by hitting .362 in 61 games after being acquired from the Colorado Rockies.
But Scutaro was closing in on his 37th birthday and, based on his track record, was probably in line for a very modest one- or two-year deal in the $5-6 million per season range.
One of Scutaro's soon-to-be World Series opponents, Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez, finished the 2012 season with a 9-13 record, 3.86 ERA and having allowed more hits than innings pitched in 31 starts. Those numbers were hardly worthy of the same mega-deal that many No. 1 starters would expect.
But with all eyes on them during the playoffs, both players shined. Scutaro was the NLCS MVP with 14 hits in 28 at-bats and an overall .328 batting average in 16 playoff games. Regardless of Scutaro's age, the world champion Giants didn't want to lose their second baseman and re-signed him to a three-year, $20 million deal last offseason.
While the Tigers lost to the Giants in the World Series and Sanchez did lose two of his three playoff starts, he was impressive nonetheless (1.77 ERA, 20.1 IP, 14 H, 6 BB, 18 K). The Tigers thought enough of Sanchez to re-sign the 29-year-old to a five-year, $80 million deal with a $16 million club option for 2016.
Here are five playoff-bound, or potentially playoff-bound, players with a chance to boost their free-agent value significantly with a strong postseason.
Carlos Beltran, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran is in a similar position to what Marco Scutaro was in heading into the playoffs last season.
Beltran is still a highly productive player, but it's hard to believe that any team would be willing to give him a three-year deal this winter considering that he will turn 39 in three seasons and has a history of knee trouble.
Earlier this season, Beltan told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he'd like to play for three more seasons, so it's probable that his agent would push for a contract of that length. Barring a very strong playoff performance, though, teams could easily point to Beltran's second-half decline (.760 OPS, 5 HRs in second half; .879 OPS, 19 HR in first half) as a reason to limit any offer to no more than two years.
He'll need the Cardinals to go deep into the playoffs to have a great enough impact, but considering his past performance in the playoffs (1.252 OPS with 14 homers and 10 doubles in 34 playoff games), the switch-hitter certainly has a chance to change some minds.
Joaquin Benoit, RP, Detroit Tigers
Most baseball fans are familiar with a Tigers' 2012 playoff run that was not as smooth as it should've been due to an unstable closer situation.
Jose Valverde's struggles led manager Jim Leyland to utilize a closer-by-committee in a very uncommon practice for a playoff team. It was more of the same in 2013 until Leyland finally went to Joaquin Benoit to solidify the role.
The 36-year-old right-hander has a 1.91 ERA and 24 saves in 25 chances with impressive numbers across the board (6.1 H/9, 2.7 BB/9, 10.0 K/9). Benoit has also regularly taken the mound on back-to-back nights, which wasn't always possible in 2012, including in three consecutive games from Sept. 23-25. There shouldn't be any ninth-inning concerns in the playoffs this time around.
But with Benoit in his role as a closer still relatively new, finding a team willing to pay him like a closer may be difficult. However, a flawless playoff performance by Benoir—especially one where he records the last out of the 2013 postseason—would go a long way this winter.
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Cleveland Indians
Pitching half of his games in one of the least pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball, Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez established himself as one of the best pitchers around after winning 34 games and posting a 3.17 ERA with a 3.6 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9 from 2009-10.
Over the next two seasons, however, he re-established himself as one of the most inconsistent and unreliable pitchers in the majors.
When he allowed six earned runs in four innings in a loss to the Tigers on May 22, it appeared that things were only getting worse for the 29-year-old. But things quickly took an extreme turn for Jimenez, all the way back to his All-Star form of 2010.
In his last 22 starts, Jimenez has gone 9-6 with a 2.47 ERA, 57 walks and 134 strikeouts in 131.1 innings. Conveniently, he'll get to void the 2014 club option in his contract and will be among the top five starting pitchers on the free-agent market.
If the Tribe can hold onto its one-game lead over Texas for a wild-card spot, Jimenez will have a chance to showcase his No. 1 starter capability and jump ahead of Matt Garza, Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum and Ervin Santana to land an Anibal Sanchez-like contract this offseason.
Justin Morneau, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
While there's no way Justin Morneau will get anything close to the $14 million salary he earned this season in his final year of a six-year, $80 million deal, his overall numbers aren't bad. In 150 games, the 32-year-old Morneau has a .737 OPS with 17 homers, 36 doubles and 77 runs batted in.
He'll also be playing in the postseason for the first time since 2006 with a chance to show the baseball world that he's healthy and worthy of a starting job and subsequent multi-year contract this winter.
That would be an incredible feat for Morneau considering that the Twins couldn't find a taker for him prior to the July 31 trade deadline, settling on backup outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later or cash when they traded him to Pittsburgh on Aug 31.
Juan Uribe, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
It's no secret that the Dodgers haven't received great value for the three-year, $21 million deal they gave Juan Uribe prior to the 2011 season.
However, as Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti would argue, they needed a third baseman, their options were limited and Uribe was a key part of the Giants' 2010 World Series run with 24 homers and 85 RBI during the regular season to go with a couple more big homers in the playoffs.
Nearly three years later, Uribe has put himself in a very similar position. There aren't many third base options on the free-agent market and after two terrible years with the Dodgers, the 34-year-old Uribe is having a pretty good season with a .755 OPS and 12 homers in 128 games.
While he won't get another three-year deal, he could find himself making somewhere between $5-7 million on a one-year deal or possibly even a two-year, $10-14 million deal with a big playoff performance. Failing to make an impact this postseason, however, could keep him in the one-year, $3 million range.
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