Prince Fielder has a sense of timing. His two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday doubled the Milwaukee Brewers' lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1 of their NLDS, and immediately made him a part of the story of this Brewers postseason. That single swing might have been worth $2 million to Fielder.
Nor is he the only man who stands to gain with every big hit (or out) with which he comes up this October. Albert Pujols is in a similar situation. Both men are generally elite sluggers, and each will be free agents at season's end, but each has given his potential suitors reason for pause this season at one point or another.
To make a good last impression, and to prove (for whatever it's worth, and many teams value it more highly than they should) that they are good in the clutch, both men need to show what they can do this fall.
On the other hand, either (or both) could fall flat, become a post-season goat or (worse) get hurt, as Pujols apparently has already done, and cost themselves millions. The spotlight could shine as brightly on failure as on success. Here are the top 10 players in those precarious but potentially profitable positions during these playoffs.
Furcal's second consecutive three-year deal will end at the close of the season, but it's hard to imagine he will get any sort of multi-year deal beginning next year at age 34. An inability to stay healthy has haunted him, and no matter what he does, teams will weigh that heavily before investing in Furcal.
That said, he has already done a few things to boost his stock going forward. An unexpected power display down the stretch has to have caught some eyes, and his dramatic home run helped win a key game as the team streaked to the postseason.
Furcal remains a solid defender with an absolute rocket arm, and perhaps the most important thing for him to do this October is to demonstrate that he still has good feet and quick hands afield.
Damon continues to provide value via volume, and while this sort of soft factor should not come into play in contract negotiations, Damon also brings an energy and a confidence that lends itself well to winning.
He really hasn't substantially outperformed his $5.25 million contract, but consider moments like the one in Game 1 of the ALDS, in which he worked southpaw C.J. Wilson, opened his stance, waited and got an inside fastball, and yanked it out of the park.
Damon is a smart and not decrepit hitter, and by continuing his good showing going forward, he should be able to secure a raise over the winter.
Though he got just $4 million as a base salary from New York, they built incentives into his contract based on games played at catcher, and Martin met (literally) all of them. His final salary for 2011 was $5.375 million.
At the plate, though, he was as uninspiring as usual, and with Red Sox catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway having been revelations this year, Martin will not have the same inflationary pressures on his side this winter.
In order to make as much dough in 2012, he needs to come up with big hits, or at least showcase his very good Yankee face.
Even as the Yankees blew out Detroit, Posada took the first step toward losing money this winter. It was a misstep (well, four or five, really) down the third-base line on a ground ball right to Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge in the bottom of the second inning Saturday. With nobody out, Posada inexplicably and indefensibly ran himself into an out.
He doesn't deserve to be on the Yankees' playoff roster. Jesus Montero should be the DH, and even though Joe Girardi has managed scared the past few weeks, Posada might actually suffer the indignity of a mid-series benching if he goofs up as badly again in the near future. Either way, he has the world to prove this fall.
Being on the mound when your team's season ends usually will not help you make money, but Jackson has the stuff and the track record to pitch very well even against the Phillies.
Even if he gets but one chance to show what he can do (in Game 3 of the NLDS), Jackson will get a rare spotlight in which to pitch.
Once he does, AL East teams will come calling this winter. Jackson's power arsenal is not enough to make him elite, but he is among the small class of pitchers fit to pitch in that crucible.
A nationally-televised game against the Phillies will be a great chance for Jackson to put himself on the map, making his name one that fans in Boston, New York and Toronto will more readily accept.
As old as Garcia is, he's only 34. As inconsistent as he is, he walks fewer than one in 13 batters. Garcia is not a useless player, and in 2011, he unexpectedly did exactly what a healthy Freddy Garcia can usually be expected to do.
All that said, no one in baseball is buying his 3.62 ERA, and well they shouldn't. Garcia's xFIP is a much less impressive 4.36. The consensus seems to be that this season has been either the last gasp of a dying career, or a fluke driven by good luck.
Those assumptions will stick to Garcia, though, if and only if his playoff performance confirms those notions. If Garcia improbably shuts down the Detroit Tigers Sunday, and if he can hold up the back end of a very fluid Yankees post-season rotation, he might just get a meaningful look from several teams this winter.
Wilson could be another big loser this month. He struggled badly against the Rays Friday, which has to raise red flags for AL East teams who would normally be very interested.
A Nation and an Empire seem on the brink of a war featuring 1,000 ships launched by C.J. Wilson, but if Wilson scuffles again when he faces the Rays in Game 4 or 5 of this ALDS, he could suddenly find his market much diminished.
Prince Fielder has a swagger. He has a chip on his shoulder. When the Diamondbacks elected to pitch to him Saturday, with first base open and two out and a right-handed pitcher on the mound, Fielder took the first pitch.
He stepped out of the batter's box, rolled his neck as though working out a cramp, smiled downward, and waded back in. It was awesome. Long before Ian Kennedy released the next pitch, which Fielder destroyed, the outcome was evident.
Doing that five more times would make Prince Fielder the richest first baseman ever. Winning a World Series and doing it would make him a $200 million man without breaking a sweat.
He's fat, but Fielder can hit, and escape from baseball's smallest media market to good ol' TBS will really help him find some recognition.
I counted two plus and one plus-plus defensive play on Saturday alone from Rollins, who simply needs to keep flashing that leather to make himself valuable this winter. If he wants a four-year deal with an eight-figure annual average value, though, Rollins would do well to also keep hitting.
He had a good year in 2011, but post-season hits engender more confidence from outside execs and make one more popular among the home folks, therefore applying pressure to incumbent management.
Rollins' degree of variance in potential outcomes this winter makes these games perhaps as important to him as to any player there.
Playing every inning of every game has to be Pujols' priority in these playoffs. The heel injury that left him in such obvious pain going down the first-base line in the sixth inning Saturday will scare some would-be suitors up a tree this winter, especially if they suspect (and many do) that he is older than he claims to be.
Pujols got a nine-year offer from the Cardinals last winter, according to multiple reports, which would have paid him just under $200 million.
That's laughable, considering that Mark Teixeira got $180 million over eight seasons and is a substantially less valuable player, but if Pujols wants to get measurably more this winter, he needs to play, and frankly, to play as though nothing in the world is wrong.