For free-agent nerds, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are clearly the players to watch during the 2011 MLB postseason. As such, I will not be discussing them here since it's already been done to death.
I'm much more interested in reading about the overshadowed and under-the-radar players looking to cash in this winter.
This is a game within the game. One of those interesting, anecdotal tidbits baseball fans love to discuss over a beer and a hot dog between pitches.
So, who can come out of seemingly nowhere and set themselves up with a fat contract? Who has so much to gain and even more to lose based on their playoff performance?
Here are five players that I'll be watching over the course of the next several weeks.
Current Salary: $5 million with an $8 million club option next year
.249 AVG, 8 HR, 61 RBI (.314, 2 HR, 16 RBI in 32 games with Arizona)
Pros: Above-average defense, age, power
Cons: Offense disappeared after breakout 2009 campaign, so is resurgence with D'Backs for real?
With Kelly Johnson the only other potential free-agent two-bagger this winter with any legitimate offensive chops, even an average playoffs could pay dividends for Hill.
However, if Arizona goes deep into the postseason and Aaron Hill looks like the 2009 version when he hit .286 with 36 HR and 108 RBI, he could find himself the recipient of a very lucrative deal.
Current Salary: $8.5 million
.271 AVG,16 HR, 63 RBI, 30 SB
Pros: Above-average defense, rare power-speed combo for position, as well as World Series experience
Cons: Age, potential for injury, so will he accept a two- to three-year contract?
Jimmy Rollins is in a similar position as Aaron Hill with regards to free-agent competition. After Jose Reyes is off the market, Rollins is the shortstop left with an All-Star pedigree.
However, his age may still scare some teams away from anything more than a three-year contract, regardless of how he performs in the postseason.
Having said that, if Rollins plays like an MVP he could still cash in with a tasty contract as a reward.
Current Salary: $3 million with $4 million club vesting option
2.39 ERA, 0.72 WHIP
Pros: High strikeout ratios, durable, control
Cons: Age, gives up the long ball too often
I've always felt that Koji Uehara had closer stuff and would be at least average in that role if ever given a shot. He clearly won't get that in Texas, but if he continues to mow down hitters in the playoffs as Neftali Feliz's setup guy, he may finally get his shot.
The big names on the market this winter are clearly Heath Bell, Jose Valverde and Jonathan Papelbon. However, after they're gone there will be several teams still looking for back end help and Uehara can do himself a huge solid with a great postseason.
Current Salary: $7 million
16-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 206 K's
Pros: High strikeout ratios, durable, age, playoff experience
Cons: Inflated contract demands, can he handle East Coast spotlight (if he signs with an East Coast team of course) after seven seasons in Texas?
The prize of the 2012 free-agent pitching class, closer-turned-starter CJ Wilson is in line for a significant pay increase regardless of playoff performance.
However, if he puts the Rangers on his back and carries them deep into late October, he could wind up one of the richest hurlers in baseball.
Current Salary: $4.5 million
2.41 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 32 SV
Pros: Make-up, mound presence, playoff experience
Cons: Can he perform on a lesser team, will he accept a non-closer role?
Potential Suitors: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Marlins, Mets
Drafted in 1998, it seems like Ryan "Mad Dog" Madson has been around forever. It also seems like he's been the closer-in-waiting for almost as long.
Now that he's finally been given the chance after the Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras injuries earlier this year, he's emerged as one of the National League's best closers. With a 16:1 save-to-blown-save ratio and a stingy two home runs allowed all season, the Phillies will be looking to Mad Dog to shut 'er down throughout the postseason.
If he can carry over his regular-season success, Ryan Madson may set himself up for the rest of his career with Joe Nathan-type money—four years, $47 million.