Wednesday, October 3, 2012
5 FAs who could boost stock in October
By Jim Bowden
In 2004, outfielder Carlos Beltran came into the season making $9 million on a one-year contract with the Kansas City Royals. By the time 2005 spring training rolled around, he was with the New York Mets making $119 million on a seven-year contract with an iron-clad no-trade clause.
Beltran was an All-Star player and soon-to-be free agent peaking for a small-market team that knew it couldn’t afford his upcoming contract demands. So the Royals traded him to Houston where he nearly led the Astros to the World Series by hitting .435 with eight home runs, 14 RBIs and six stolen bases in the NLDS and NLCS combined. It was a bonanza postseason en route to a bonanza offseason payday.
Likewise, in this year’s postseason there are five players who could use bountiful postseason performances to improve their free-agent value. For a couple, it could mean lucrative paydays. And for one, it offers a shot a redemption.
Josh Hamilton, CF Hamilton has already publicly stated that there will be no hometown discount for the Texas Rangers. With Hamilton planning on several large charitable endeavors in the near future, he is looking for a maximum contract to help get those plans started.
At age 32, Albert Pujols was able to earn a 10-year, $240 million contract last offseason. Prince Fielder earned a nine-year, $214 million deal and is four years younger than Pujols. At 31, Hamilton could be somewhere in between, although with a plethora of past health and addiction problems, the main issue for Hamilton will be length of the contract rather than average annual value (AAV). The Rangers would prefer to sign him in the five- or six-year range. My guess is any deal for Hamilton probably ends up around $23 million to $25 million per season.
Hamilton has been an All-Star five straight years, was the 2010 AL MVP and should finish in the top five in MVP voting this year. He’s powered the Rangers’ World Series runs for the past two years and has been a star again this season. Frankly, not a lot of clubs will be able to afford him anyway, but if he has a great postseason -- Hamilton’s hit five homers in the postseason the past two years -- and helps the Rangers win the World Series, that list will get even shorter.
While the Rangers continue to be the frontrunners for his services, one potential suitor is the New York Yankees. General manager Brian Cashman always has said he won’t give position players big money and big years if they’re not two-way players, excelling at both offense and defense, and Hamilton certainly fits Cashman’s description and would fit in nicely in right field if the Yankees don’t re-sign Nick Swisher. Other teams that could pursue Hamilton are the Boston Red Sox. The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays are potential dark horses.
Kyle Lohse, RHP The 33-year-old right-hander is coming off two of the best seasons of his career. He’s made 63 starts over the past two years with a 3.11 ERA. This season, his 2.86 ERA ranked fourth in the National League and his 1.09 WHIP was a career best. Besides Zack Greinke, the numbers suggest Lohse is the second-best starting pitcher to hit the market this offseason.
Pretty solid, right?
Well, of all the potential free agents, Lohse probably has the most to prove this postseason. Despite great regular-season numbers, Lohse has been horrible in the postseason. With a career postseason record of 0-4 with a 5.54 ERA, his playoff nightmares culminated last season when he was knocked out of all three of his starts by the sixth inning.
However, if he starts the wild-card game this week and is able to outpitch Kris Medlen and goes on to have a successful postseason after that, Lohse stands to increase his free-agent value by as much as $20 million over four years, or up to $5 million differential per season. He’ll be in the spotlight this postseason, and a win over Medlen might mean a very big win for him this offseason.
Michael Bourn, CF Hamilton leads the free-agent market for outfielders, followed by Bourn and B.J. Upton. Upton’s already done his free-agent preening, playing the best baseball of his career in September with 12 homers. At this point, he’s maximized his value for free agency.
Now Bourn will get a chance to do the same this October. His defense and speed in center field and his ability to get on, steal bases and score runs all will be on display. Coincidentally, the Braves -- if they win the wild-card game -- are set up to play the very three teams that will vie for his services this offseason. Bourn will be on center stage in the right place at the right time.
The Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants all could make great use of Bourn. All three need leadoff hitters. Thus, if he can orchestrate a “Dave Roberts”-type of moment, be a difference-maker with his legs, he could increase his value significantly and be setting himself up for a huge payday.
If you’re in need of a power-hitting corner outfielder, Swisher might be your best option. (That is, if you assume Hamilton will play center.)
Swisher is not an All-Star, not a Silver Slugger Award winner, but he has been an important support player for the Yankees. He has hit 20 or more home runs in eight straight seasons with a lifetime OBP of .360 OBP and was right there again this year.
The only real negative regarding Swisher is that he owns a lifetime .169 postseason average in nine different series. Last year he hit just .211 with one home run, and there are some questions about his ability to hit elite pitching. Like Lohse, his postseason reputation could get a boost from a good postseason this year and shows he can perform when needed the most. On the other hand, for Swisher and Lohse, another poor postseason could cost them, too.
Bottom line: He’s a consistent and durable guy who has played 147 games or more in seven straight seasons. And because Hamilton, who at 31 is the same age as Swisher, will be very expensive and come with injury risks but is the only other real free-agent option, that durability and consistency will pay for Swisher.
Delmon Young, LF/DH Detroit Tigers It has been a rough year for Young. The No. 1 overall pick from the 2003 draft was suspended for seven games for his arrest for aggravated harassment on April 27. The case is still pending, but the court date is Nov. 7 -- right in time for free agency.
He was taken out of his role in left field and is now a full-time DH. And according to sources, the Tigers will not be bringing him back in 2013 with Victor Martinez’s expected return. He also had a down year at the plate, putting up a .269/.299/.415 slash line with 18 homers and 74 RBIs.
The Tampa Bay Rays originally traded him to the Minnesota Twins in a deal featuring Matt Garza. The Twins turned around and traded him a couple of years later for just two fringe prospects. Because he’s a full-time DH now, the list of interested teams will be small.
If there ever was a free agent who needed to use the postseason to regain value, Young is it. And he could do it.
Last year in the ALDS, he hit put up a .316/.381/.789 slash line with three home runs and powered the Tigers to the ALCS, where he hit two more home runs. He didn’t hit very well overall in the ALCS, so he needs to show the world that the ALDS wasn’t a fluke. If the legal problems resolve themselves smoothly, he could recoup some value. He might not ever live up to the expectations of him as a former No. 1 overall pick, but he could earn a decent short-term deal from a club desperate for offense, such as the Seattle Mariners or Cleveland Indians.