MLB Free Agency 2012: Five Impact Names Who Could Provide Missing Piece

J. David LeeContributor IIIMay 4, 2011

MLB Free Agency 2012: Five Impact Names Who Could Provide Missing Piece

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 01:  Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals chases after a bunted foul ball hit by Alex Gonzalez #2 of the Atlanta Braves in the seventh inning at Turner Field on May 1, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    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.

Heath Bell

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    HOUSTON - APRIL 15:  Pitcher Heath Bell #21 of the San Diego Padres throws in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 15, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    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.

Jonathan Papelbon

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    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 28:  Pitcher Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox delivers to a Baltimore Orioles batter during the ninth inning of their 6-2 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 28, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Get
    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.

Mark Buehrle

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    CLEVELAND - APRIL 01:  Mark Buehrle #56 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against  the Cleveland Indians during the Opening Day game on April 1, 2011 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    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.

Prince Fielder

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    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17:  Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers in the on deck circle against the Washington Nationals during the second game of a doubleheader at Nationals Park on April 17, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
    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.

Albert Pujols

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 01:  Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks back at the homeplate umpire after striking out against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 1, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    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.