"Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year"
A contract year seems to always bring out the best in players. From being a good teammate inside the clubhouse to playing well on the field, nothing seems to motivate, and focus, players like a contract year.
Nowadays, with massive amounts of money on the line, and with teams willing to pay big bucks for a player with only a season or two of proven success, players on their contract year have a lot on the line.
The contract year season is often the difference between a big contract and a small contract. If a team is on the fence, perhaps because a player has had a few bad seasons (or even a few injury plagued seasons) in the past, a solid contract year performance will often net that player a very hefty contract.
Here are 25 players, each with their stat projections for the 2011 season, that are poised to have a big year and try to acquire a big contract after the 2011 season.
Magglio Ordonez isn’t the player he used to be, but he has shown he still has an ability to handle the bat.
2011 is important to him because it’ll show other teams that not only is he a good clubhouse leader but also that he can still hit.
There are a lot of DHs on the market right now, so if he wants to find a job (and it’ll probably be as a DH), he needs a good season this year to distinguish himself from the rest.
Frankie has an option for 2011 that will determine if he makes a certain number of appearances his season. You can bet everyone, including the Players Union, will be watching the Mets carefully to see if they intentionally try to avoid using him so they avoid the contract option.
Should Frankie hit the free agent market, however, a solid 2011 season will help teams forget about his personal issues and get him another big contract. Frankie had a massive year the last time he was on a contract year, can he do it again?
Matt Capps is looking to regain some former glory and prove he is still a viable closer in baseball. Unlike Papelbon or Francisco Rodriguez, Capps is a relatively lesser name and will find himself being sought after by smaller market teams (usually).
Relievers hardly get long term deals, but if they do, chances are they’re a closer.
Can the Rangers afford to lose Lee and C.J. Wilson in two years? Wilson showed amazing stuff in 2010, and an ability to handle pressure situations in the playoffs. If he contributes another good year to the Rangers it’ll be hard for the team to let him walk. Instead, they’ll have to pay him a lot of money.
Roy Oswalt was fading away in Houston but a trade to the Phillies seems to have reinvigorated him. Oswalt had a solid 2010 season with the Phillies and he’ll look to build upon that so that his agent can land him a comfortable contract to finish his career on.
Scott Kazmir’s career has been a roller coaster and he isn’t even that old. 2011 will be the biggest season of his career because, with free agency pending, he’ll either prove he can be an elite pitcher or prove that he was over-hyped and nothing more than a third or fourth starter in the rotation.
Chris Carpenter has a team option after the season but it is unlikely the Cardinals will exercise it. Carpenter is an older pitcher but with a good 2011 season, he’ll certainly get offers from many teams.
With Wainwright out for the entire season, the Cardinals will look to Carpenter to carry even more of the load, and there's a chance that could possibly net him a lot more money. Carpenter is also a candidate for an in-season trade.
David Ortiz is not only playing for another contract but he is also playing to prove he still has the talent. A couple of years ago everyone thought his career was over, including me, but 2010 showed he still had some value to a team. In 2011, he’ll have to build on his 2010 season and continue to show he still have something left to offer.
Jason Kubel may be struggling to find a job next year. No, it’s not because he isn’t talented, but rather because the DH market is flooded with older players right now. Kubel’s role is really a full time DH, so 2011 will be about proving to teams why they should take him over the many other options that exist.
Conor Jackson’s power production has gone down but a good BA and a solid OBP has kept him alive and sought after by some teams. 2011 will be a good chance to show that he does have some power left in him (if he actually does, although I don’t think that’s the case).
Rick Ankiel is trying to complete the fairy tale story. The only part left is getting a big contract. After all Ankiel has gone through, I’d love to see him have a great season this year and get a nice contract from a team this coming winter.
For Ankiel the question isn’t about his power, we know he has a lot of that, the question is about his plate discipline. Does he have the ability to garner a respectable OBP while not chasing pitches out of the zone? 2011 has the answer, and the answer will dictate the next contract he gets.
Aramis Ramirez is still very much an offensive force but, the question is, can he continue to play the field? 2011 for Aramis will be about proving he can stay healthy and still play the field because otherwise, he’ll be joining the long list of many DHs floating around right now.
Jimmy Rollins is getting old and has been sidelined by a lot of injuries recently, but a good year in 2011 could help him receive one last contract in his career.
He also has the chance to make himself invaluable to the Phillies, which would get him more money from them after this year, if he is able to help lead the team to the successful season some predict they will have.
Ultimately, Rollins is the leadoff man of a high-powered offense, so he has the chance to put up some impressive numbers.
Adrian Gonzales is likely to sign an extension with the Red Sox before the end of the season, however as long as he doesn’t have a contract for next year he has a lot to play for (with regards to his personal finances).
If Adrian comes out strong in 2011, then the Red Sox fans will be screaming to get the extension done…and they’re right. The longer the Red Sox wait, and the more success Adrian has, the more it’ll cost them in dollar amount.
Adrian has repeatedly said he is not watching the Pujols and Fielder free agency to drive up his price but, should he hit the free agent market, then his value will be comparable to theirs and there will be a lot of bidding on his services. That said, I think an extension with the Red Sox is coming soon.
One of the other superstars soon to be a free agent, Prince Fielder is ready to cash in on all the success he has had over the past few years. With the Brewers set to make a run at the playoffs, 2011 has nothing but massive potential written all over it for Fielder.
It’s almost a guarantee that Fielder will be on a different team next year but, if he can stay healthy and show some movement in the field, Fielder will not only draw a lot of interest from American League teams (where the DH position is) but National League teams as well.
Michael Cuddyer is another player who will have to get it done with his bat if he wants another contract after the season. With a DH role likely in his future, he’ll have to prove to teams that he is worth a large investment.
Helping the Twins break through the first round of the playoffs in 2011 would also endear him to Twins fans and prove his "clutchness" to other teams as well.
Garrett Atkins is looking to turn his career around. He’s been in free-fall mode for a few years now and maybe this is the contract year he can re-establish himself in the baseball community. Nothing is more of a motivator than the potential to earn a lot of money.
Jonathan Broxton could be facing a career year in 2011. He’s lost his closer job, and his numbers have fallen. The 2011 season will be a make or break year for him. It’ll be the deciding factor as to whether he gets a big contract as a team’s closer or a smaller one with the team signing him to a short deal hoping he regains his old form.
I’m not sure which way it’ll go, but it’s hard to bet against a guy with so much on the line who throws so hard.
There has been a lot of talk that Jonathan Papelbon is in his last season with the Boston Red Sox, if he is able to even last the entire season this year. With flamethrower Daniel Bard coming into his own now, and Papelbon’s stats seemingly getting worse and worse every year, this could be the last season Papelbon closes games for Boston.
If that’s the case then a good season this year will likely make GM's forget about his worsening stats over the past few seasons and will likely land him a massive contract with another team. Also, because he has been in so many pressure situations and has done well in them, you can bet his agent will be able to squeeze even more money out of teams.
Heath Bell, the Padres closer (for now) spent much of his career in the Mets’ farm system. It wasn’t until the Padres gave him a chance that he became the player he is now.
This will be Bell’s first chance to sign a big free agent contract and, more likely than not, it won’t be with the Padres. The 2011 season could bring complete financial security for Bell and his family for a long time to come.
One more solid season and Bell will be sought after by a lot of teams when he hits free agency. Bell is another candidate for a mid-season trade. If he is traded to a team with playoff potential, his value will skyrocket even higher if he is able to pitch well down the stretch. Teams love to pay a ton for a guy who is proven to succeed when it means the most.
Brandon Webb signed a one year deal with the Texas Rangers in hope of showing the baseball community that he is healthy and back to the old dominant Webb we all knew from a few years ago.
If Webb is healthy, and is pitching similar to how he did a few seasons ago, then the competition to get his services after this season will be immense. Of course, that’s a big if. It’s been a long time since Webb was as healthy, let alone effective, as he used to be.
Sabathia is not a free agent, per se. However, he can opt out of his contract after this year, and thus he would become a free agent. Many baseball people believe that is exactly what he will do because he would not only be one of the best free agent pitchers available, but he would leave the Yankees in a terrible situation (their pitching staff is already in shambles, and without Sabathia it becomes even worse).
The fact is the Yankees need Sabathia, so if he does opt out of his contract then the Yankees will be forced to re-sign him at a higher dollar amount. Sounds exactly like what a Scott Boras client would do, doesn’t it?
Carlos Beltran is another Met player that has been suffering from the injury plague for the past few seasons. 2011 is a chance for Beltran to prove to MLB teams that he is still an effective player and that he still has value.
With Beltran’s knees becoming more and more of an issue, the next likely step in his career is a move to the DH role. But again, there are so many older DH's available these days that he will have to compete with (Vlad, Damon, Manny, Thome, Dye, etc.).
Beltran will have to either take a massive discount or prove that he can stay healthy if he wants to be signed with a team in 2012. There is almost no chance that Beltran remains with the Mets after the season.
Jose Reyes has been suffering from injuries for the past few seasons and baseball people are slowly questioning whether Reyes has the ability to stay healthy. The 2011 season will be his chance to prove he is healthy and thus look to get what will probably be the biggest contract in his career.
The Mets have said they’re interested in keeping Reyes, and Reyes has told the media he would like to stay in New York. Both have also said they are open to an in-season contract extension discussion, however many baseball insiders believe the Mets are waiting to see how Reyes performs (for at least part of 2011).
There is also the chance the Mets will trade Reyes during the season if they believe Reyes will sign with another team in the winter.
No surprise here. Albert Pujols has been the focus of much media attention lately. Between his failure to reach an agreement with the Cardinals before spring training and now his refusal to discuss an extension during the season, Pujols seems set to test the market come the end of the 2011 season. If that’s the case then Pujols, barring an injury, is in line to get a massive deal, possibly bigger than Alex Rodiriguez’s.