Teams around the majors are starting to take care of their younger players a lot more than they used to. You see teams like the Reds with Joey Votto, the Rays with Evan Longoria and many other buying out players' years of arbitration at a seemingly team friendly discount. The following are 13 of the more appealing potential free agent hitters, as well as players who are about to enter their prime and are looking for a big time pay day. It would be wise for their respective teams to lock them up now instead of potentially losing them later.
Walker is the player, along with Andrew McCutchen, that gives the Steel City hope. The all-star second baseman is arbitration eligible after the 2013 season, but don’t be surprised to see the Bucs offer him a team friendly deal in essence buying out his remaining arbitration years. He is able to become a free agent after the 2016 season, and if the Bucs want to keep getting people in the seats and bring some hope back to Pittsburgh baseball, they would be wise to extend Walker now.
I’m putting Cuddyer on this list not as a Twins fan, but as a fan of what’s right with baseball. In a season of absolutely failure for the Twins, Cuddyer has been out there as much as humanly possible, playing positions other players wouldn’t ask to play at all. He has played second base, first base, DH, right field and has even pitched. He is in the last year of his contract with the Twins and is set for free agency this offseason. Because of his versatility, Cuddyer will be paid handsomely for his services even at the age of 32.
This kind of goes without saying as Pujols ventures out into the free agent waters this offseason. His 11 consecutive years of 30-plus homeruns, his annual .300 plus batting average and his ever improving defense ranks him in the top two for free agency this season. He will sign a huge contract, and unlike other players (Joe Mauer), will continue to put up numbers, already making him almost a for sure first ballot hall of famer.
One of two MVP candidates from the Brewers, along with Ryan Braun, Fielder is definitely setting himself up for a huge pay day come November or December. Like Pujols, Fielder is a consistent threat to hit 30 plus home runs and drive in over 100. Last year was a down year for Prince, but he is making up for it this year with a stellar season. It will be interesting where Fielder gets his money from. The Brewers locked up Braun in the spring and may need to do some rearranging to get their "Prince" back in Milwaukee.
Like Walker, McCutchen is a cornerstone of the rebuilding project in Pittsburgh. Also like Walker, McCutchen is arbitration eligible after the 2013 season and is able to become a free agent in 2016. It almost is a spitting image situation that the Pirates are in with Walker. I fully expect the Bucs to extend McCutchen and finally be in a place where they can compete with the rest of the NL Central and bring some respectability back to Pittsburgh.
Kemp is in the final season of a two-year, $11.5 million contract. He picked a good year to have his best year as a big leaguer. He has already set a career high in home runs and will set highs in runs batted in and stolen bases. The issue here is the Dodgers. The way Frank McCourt has hung the Dodgers out to dry, you wonder if they will have the money to resign Kemp. If I were the Dodgers, I would scrape up every last penny I could and offer to buy out his remaining arbitration year and give him a contract that makes him one of the highest paid outfielders in the majors. This season shows he is capable of playing like one year in and year out.
I kind of go both ways on Grandson for this reason: He is under team control next year then can become a free agent. Undoubtedly, he must be mentioned in the MVP talk for the American League with his 36 home run and his 103 runs batted in to go along with 119 runs scored. The problem is, he hasn’t come close to any of these numbers across the board before. Is GM Brian Cashman willing to pony up Yankee money for a centerfielder like Grandson, or is there somebody else out there that he likes better? I’m sure Granderson is hoping the Yankees lock him up with the usual New York payday.
The Yankees have team control of Cano until after the 2013 season has been completed. With all due respect to Dan Uggla, Brandon Phillips and Neil Walker, there isn’t a second baseman in the majors with the game that Cano has. It seems to be a situation where the Yankees are locking up their own and filling in the holes later. They paid Jeter his money albeit when he became a free agent, but I don’t think the Yankee brass will allow Cano to even test the waters.
McCann has been a huge power source for the Braves this year and has handled a fantastic pitching staff as well. He is making a move to become the best catcher in the game, already passing Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. McCann will be a free agent in 2013, and the Braves will have to pony up some money to keep him, but I think McCann will remain with the Braves for the foreseeable future.
Hamilton’s biggest hindrance right now is his ability, or inability, to remain healthy. When he’s on, he is one of the best players in baseball as shown last year with his MVP award. When he’s off, he is often out for long periods of time, not helping out the team much. He will be 32 years old when he is eligible for free agency in 2013. I think club president Nolan Ryan will take a chance on Hamilton, knowing what he’s capable of doing, and give him the money he deserves.
Bourn is on this list because of what he can bring to the table. Sure, he will be 30 years old after the 2013 season, but the market for a legitimate lead-off hitter who can handle the bat and steal bases is worth the price. Having Bourn in Atlanta with the likes of Brian McCann. Freddie Freeman, Jayson Heyward and Dan Uggla have given the Braves a line-up unlike anything they’ve had since the 1990’s. Atlanta will extend Bourn, and it will continue to be the Braves and Phillies in the NL East.
Ellsbury has added power to his game during the 2011 season setting a career best 23 home runs and counting. His numbers across the board will all be career highs, except his stolen base total. With the line-up that the Red Sox can put out there though, they don’t need him running like he used to. Ellsbury is signed through the end of this season and will be arbitration eligible until 2014. I don’t see GM Theo Epstein playing the waiting game here to see how much they can negotiate year in and year out. I would expect Epstein to make an offer to Ellsbury sooner rather than later to pay him like the other great lead off hitters in the game today.
Gordon is putting up the numbers the Royals hoped he would when they drafted him in 2005. He has set career numbers across the board and has a $1.4 million contract for this year. Like so many other young players, he has three years of arbitration left and could have a huge pay day this year if it comes to that. The Royals seem committed to signing the core of their talented young team, and Gordon seems to fit this bill. He will get his either this offseason or the next. The Royals can’t afford to let him walk.