MLB Free Agency 2012: Five Impact Names Who Could Provide Missing Piece
Even though we're just underway in the 2011 season, it's not too early to begin looking at the free agent class of 2011.
Teams try and position themselves financially to make a run at key guys.
While this year's crop may not be as deep as others, there are some big names coming to the end of their contracts.
Will it be worth the gamble? With big name stars, it's about getting fans to the ballpark. If they can put more fannies in the seats, the investment pays off, even if the player has a subpar year.
Here are five guys who should get plenty of interest during this year's off season.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Raise your hand if you've heard of Heath Bell.
That may sound funny, but to the casual baseball fan, Heath Bell is not a familiar name.
He's gone about his business on the West coast, pitching when most of us are in bed asleep.
He also may be the best closer in the NL.
Tuesday night, he recorded his 41 consecutive save, tying Trevor Hoffman for the club record.
Good closers are always valuable. Expect this one to rake in a bundle.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
They tried to trade him.
They tried to write him off.
Now that he's in the walk year of his contract, Jonathan Papelbon seems to have righted himself.
So far in 2011, Papelbon is five for five in save attempts, with 14 strikeouts and only two walks.
Lots of teams who passed on him during the winter will get another chance, but it will be more expensive.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Ozzie Guillen recently commented that if he had a vote, Mark Buehrle would be a Hall of Famer.
He just recorded his 150th career win and he's just 32 years old.
He may not have the glitz and the glam of a Cliff Lee or the spit and the shine of Roy Halliday, but he wins just like they do.
He has an uncommon ability to avoid the big inning. When the bases are juiced, he's at his best.
For the big market teams who have the money to afford him, he may not slot as their number one pitcher, but he will be very good as somebody's number two or three.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
If it were any other year, Prince Fielder might be looking at a mega contract.
While he'll still get really good money, the truth is, he is playing second fiddle in this free agent crop.
He's not acting like it.
After a slow start, Fielder has come around, hitting .318 with six home runs and 26 RBI.
He also seems to have cut his strikeouts down with only 11 in 107 at bats.
Fielder may have the best value in this year's free agent group. He'll turn just 27 next week.
He's already one of the most feared sluggers in the game.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Holy Grail.
Pujols is that once in a generation hitter who just crushes anything pitchers throw up there.
He's also made himself into a pretty good first baseman.
His work ethic is legendary. He strives to get better everyday.
He could choose to chase the money and may land the greatest contract ever.
He cut off negotiations with the Cardinals so he could concentrate on the season.
Even though it's early, his power numbers are solid, with seven home runs in April. His average is down a bit, and his strikeouts are up a bit, but he's still making pitchers nervous.