'Contract year' has a whole new meaning 

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
8:54
AM ET
Justin Masterson AP Photo/Tony DejakJustin Masterson is the kind of guy who could be in free-agent limbo next winter.
Draft-pick compensation was never an issue for Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo or Brian McCann. The loss of a draft pick didn’t discourage the Mets from signing Curtis Granderson, but probably only because their first-round pick is protected, meaning they only had to give up a second-rounder instead.

But it has been more than a month since any free agent who turned down a qualifying offer has signed, with five remaining on the table -- Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.

The players scheduled to hit the market next fall can draw an important lesson from this group: Don’t get caught in the "Dead Zone."

If you’re traded during the season, as Matt Garza was last winter, then your team can’t extend a qualifying offer, and you avoid draft-pick purgatory. If you have a great season, as Choo did, then you shift out of the Dead Zone.

But if you are a good veteran who has a solid season -- but not a great season -- well, then you might get stuck.

Consider the players who could be free agents next fall.