With the MLB playoffs just hours away, many fans are inevitably experiencing their own version of postseason baseball butterflies.
But it isn’t just the fans that are trying to quell their nervousness; it’s also a handful of players who are playing for more than just a shot at the Fall Classic.
No pressure, really.
Lurking in the dugouts of the eight remaining teams are a collection of various players who are not only trying to help their respective teams advance in the playoffs but are also trying to prove their free-agency worth.
And what better stage than the postseason, right?
But we’re not just talking about your average, random player without a contract per say; we’re talking about some guys who already have some quality value as MLB players, whether it be as a pitcher or hitter.
Let’s take a look at who I want to highlight, and what exactly these guys are really playing for.
The old-timer still has a lot of life left in him, and at the start of the ALDS he is surely going to prove it.
Vlad is playing for a contract—whether it be in Texas or somewhere else—but keeping a power DH bat like Vlad in your lineup would be paramount to Texas’ preservation as a yearly contender for the postseason.
The Rangers will have to deal with a very good Tampa Bay Rays team, and if Vlad can continue his remarkable season as a DH guy against a vaunted Rays pitching staff, it should be enough to convince the Rangers' front office to ink him a new contract.
Speaking of the Rays, how ironic that Soriano will also be applying for a contract this postseason….interesting, isn’t it?
The Tampa Bay Rays will have a slew of issues in the bullpen after this year, making this particular run towards the World Series extra special and important.
Fellow pen-mates Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls, and Joaquin Benoit could all potentially wind up somewhere else next year, so basically the entire Rays bullpen will be on display.
But Soriano will be the prettiest dog in the window, hands down.
Soriano hired agent Scott Boras and helped his case by grabbing 44 out of 47 saves while pitching with a 1.76 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP.
Soriano will inevitably be asking for the farm next year, but even if he does play extremely well, it will be hard to tell just how many people will be willing to pay a hefty price for a 30-year-old closer.
Another member of the potential Tampa Bay clearinghouse extravaganza is Carlos Pena, who really may need to step things up if he is to score a starting gig elsewhere.
Pena has been dealing with some injuries this year, and his unusually low .196 BA isn’t very attractive for potential suitors.
What is attractive, however, are his 28 home runs and 84 RBI, which make him an interesting player to look at.
Even with a sub-par performance in the postseason, teams could view Pena as a low-end buy.
But if Pena wants to really cash in, he’ll have to step things up seriously to prove his worth as a FA.
Werth really is worth every penny he commands this year, and the chances of him returning to Philadelphia are slim at best—much to the chagrin of many Phillies fans.
Through the last three years, Werth has averaged 29 home runs, 84 ribbies with a .309 average and is still one of the premier outfielders in the National League.
But that’s not all.
Werth has exceptional speed and is a solid baserunner, making him a triple threat every time he is at the plate.
Werth is also a left-handed pitcher-killer and has one of the best ranges as an outfielder in the majors, so his pricetag is sure to be hefty.
But his play in the postseason will dictate where he will play—even if there is a slight chance he could stay in Philly.
I’ve talked extensively this year about the conundrum of Lee still not having a long term gig with anyone, even after being traded to Texas.
But it would make sense for Texas to keep Lee, especially if he does for the Rangers what he did for the Phillies.
Furthermore, fellow flame-thrower Rich Harden has basically been a bust, so there is plenty of room to think that they could ink Lee for two years, drop Harden, and perhaps make a move on FA Jorge De La Rosa.
OK, I admit that the Rockies will make De La Rosa a priority this offseason; but hey, anything can happen.
Crawford is probably the most enticing player on the FA market this year, and with the Rays basically playing in a win-or-go-home situation throughout the postseason, this couldn't be better for Crawford.
It has been widely speculated that the Angels will make a huge run for the speedster, but it is now being said that the Red Sox have thrown their hat in the mix as well.
Now, every little thing Crawford does will be in the spotlight, as these two teams are likely to go toe-to-toe for Crawford's services.
And who said the postseason doesn't have its own drama?
The Giants have already shown everyone that they are not afraid to make moves on a player, and they have also shown that they have a very deep well filled with some nice young talent.
Freddy Sanchez, on the other hand, has shown that he may just be nothing more than a huge bust.
So his return to the Giants lineup comes at a time where his future as a player, and a Giant, will be on the table.
The likelihood of Sanchez returning to San Fran isn’t very good, considering his inability to stay healthy—a financial liability for San Francisco—and the presence of Mike Fontenot.
Whatever Sanchez does in the NLDS against the Braves, he’ll have to make sure he is all about the advertisement.
Sanchez is technically a free agent in 2011, but has an eight million club option with a $600,000 dollar buyout at the end of this year, and is a full blown FA in 2011, so the Giants could shop him in the off-season if they wanted to.
Pavano and his goofy mustache will enter the ALDS as the Game 2 pitcher against the one team that always seems to knock them out of the first round: The New York Yankees.
Pavano becomes a free agent this year, but the Twins have some interesting decisions to make regarding Pavano, considering the risky health of fellow righty Kevin Slowey, the uncertainty of Francisco Liriano, and young lefty Brian Duensing, who has excelled this year.
The Twins enjoy a right-handed-favored rotation, and if they could save a couple of bucks by giving Pavano a new deal it would make sense.
But it will be up to Pavano to seal the deal with solid play through the playoffs.
If he can’t do that, the Twins may just decide to try and deal him in the offseason, so either way the guy is playing for a home and a paycheck.
If the guy even makes the NLDS roster—which he may—it should be his last go-round as a Cincinnati Red, which makes any pitch from here on out that much more important.
The Reds will not exercise his $12.75 million club option, making Harang window merchandise at best.
The 32-year-old right-hander has been on the decline since his 2007 season where he went 16-6, winning no more than six games in each of the past three seasons.
Harang will have to show potential suitors that he can not only win manageable games, but also that he can still throw the heat, something he really hasn’t done since 2007 either.
Does anyone realize there are three guys with this freaking name in the majors?
The Braves did the right thing by snatching Lee away from Chicago, but Lee really has to do a better job of making the most of this situation, and the postseason is the perfect place to do so.
Since coming to Atlanta, Lee has hit .283 in 106 AB but has only mustered up two dingers.
This is a guy who was once a feared power first baseman, and this is also a guy who is widely viewed as a player who has lost a significant step along the way.
But in Lee’s defense, he's been dealing with back issues all year long.
Now that the postseason is on his doorstep, the chance for a revival is just as much a reality as Lee facing up to the fact that he could, in fact, be washed up at 35 years young.
The playoffs are often more than just a pursuit for the World Series crown.
Just as often it's the time in a baseball player’s career where he is fighting for that career, his pride, and his worth.
But in the midst of the magic that surrounds teams in the postseason, there are always a few examples of those certain players breathing life into an otherwise lifeless career.
For Lee, the swing is still alive, his glove is still alive, and if he can rise above his recent inequities, LEE will still find himself very much alive.
Don’t ya just love the postseason?