Choo is making one last late-season push to maximize his value before free agency.
Some struggling free agents-to-be are wishing the season could've ended in August because their stock has done nothing but drop in September. A few of them will get the chance to play in the spotlight of the postseason in hopes of turning things back around in front of the entire baseball world.
Others have taken full advantage during the last month of the season, leaving teams with a positive impression before the start of free agency. Those headed for the playoffs have a chance to further enhance their value as Marco Scutaro and Anibal Sanchez did during the 2012 playoffs. Yesterday, I wrote about five players who were in a strong position to follow suit.
Here's a look at eight soon-to-be free agents whose stock has taken an extreme turn in either direction over the past couple of weeks.
Agent Scott Boras recently suggested to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that his client, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, could receive well above $100 million in free agency. While that might seem absurd, another terrific month by the 31-year-old makes it more realistic than ever.
Already in a strong position to become one of the highest-paid free agents of the offseason heading into the last month of the regular season, Choo has a 1.059 OPS this month while reaching base in nearly 50 percent of his plate appearances.
With an .890 OPS, 21 homers, 20 stolen bases, 106 runs and 111 walks on the season, it's hard to see Choo getting anything less than a five-year, $75 million deal. We'll see if Boras ends up being right about the deal exceeding $100 million, but Choo certainly is doing his part.
Even after a terrific 2012 season (3.43 ERA in 24 starts), Bartolo Colon was lucky to land another one-year deal with the A's for 2013 and a $1 million raise—his salary was $2 million in 2012; it's $3 million in 2013. That's because his season ended early because of a positive testosterone test.
At his age—he was 39 last season—and with his weight being a concern, how he finished the season was just as important as to how he started. The suspension left too many questions unanswered. A year later, he's avoided another suspension despite rumored links to the Biogenesis scandal, and now he's making a statement in the last month of the season.
The 40-year-old has allowed just two earned runs over 25 innings in his four September starts, lowering his league-leading ERA to 2.64. Don't expect him to land more than a one-year deal this winter, but don't be surprised if he can more than triple his salary.
Phil Hughes' value had already taken a huge hit by the time manager Joe Girardi removed him from the Yankees rotation in early September. But after one terrible relief appearance (0.1 IP, 4 ER, 3 H), he was fortunate enough to get another chance to finish out the season in the rotation.
Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to take advantage. Since reentering the rotation, the 27-year-old has allowed six earned runs and 14 hits in 8.1 innings. He still has some upside and a resume that shows past success as a starter and a reliever. But he'll likely have to settle on a one-year deal this winter with the objective being to rebuild value before he hits free agency again next offseason.
With 16 homers, an OPS over .700 and the ability to play multiple positions, Kelly Johnson is going to have plenty of suitors this offseason. But think of what kind of momentum he would've had if not for his current 5-for-47 slump.
Instead, teams are reminded of the holes in his game and the reason he'll likely have to settle for a bench job as opposed to a starting job that could come with a much greater paycheck.
As of September 9, Ricky Nolasco might have done the most out of any free agent-to-be in baseball to raise his stock in a matter of two months. Since being traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers in early July, the 30-year-old had gone 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA, 17 walks and 62 strikeouts in 74 innings.
Had the season ended before his next start, Nolasco would have gone from being viewed as a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater to a mid-rotation starter worthy of a four-year deal in the $40-48 million range. Three very ugly starts later (17 ER, 24 H in 12 IP), though, and he's probably erased those thoughts from any general manager's head.
No one will ever question Hunter Pence's motivation. He's always played hard day in and day out and almost never misses a game. But his timing couldn't have been any better. He's having his best month in years just before he hits free agency for the first time ever.
The 30-year-old has a 1.038 OPS in September, including nine homers and 26 runs batted in, to keep his season totals in line with other top free-agent outfielders, including Shin-Soo Choo. There is mutual interest in Pence returning to San Francisco, but they are only one of several big-market teams expected to make bids on him.
The free-agent market for catchers is uncharacteristically deep this offseason, and Geovany Soto is doing what he can to be included near the top of the group. Still only three seasons removed from his last big season in 2010 with the Cubs (.890 OPS, 17 HR), Soto has struggled at the plate since but has shown signs of life with the Rangers this season.
In a backup role for the first time, the 30-year-old hasn't played much, but he's had a few impressive hot streaks and is finishing the season strong with 11 hits in his last 27 at-bats, including two homers and two doubles. With eight homers in 160 at-bats this season and a 30 percent caught-stealing rate of attempted base stealers, it won't be a big surprise if a catching-starved team makes Soto its starter for 2014.
Left-hander Joe Saunders was never going to be a big name on the free-agent market. But on a one-year deal for somewhere in the $5-7 million range, he's usually a pretty solid value. After an August 4 win over the Orioles ran his record to 10-10 with a 4.58 ERA, it was looking as though the 32-year-old was a good bet to at least duplicate his one-year, $6 million deal from 2012.
Nine starts later, Saunders' price has likely plummeted. He's gone 1-6 with a 7.23 ERA, allowing 70 hits in 47.1 innings with 19 walks and 28 strikeouts. Eight of those hits have left the yard. If he bounces back in 2014, it will likely be at a bargain rate of no more than $3 million.