When you are competing for your league title, it is important to gain every competitive advantage. And one way to do that is to remember who are free agents in the next offseason. According to studies by Baseball Prospectus, players do perform better in their contract years. So, while every home run earns them more money, it may also earn you a league title. Without further ado, here’s a look at several players who can become a free agent at season’s end.
C Kenji Johjima – Johjima is a very solid pick as a catcher, if you miss out on guys like Victor Martinez or Brian McCann. He has the ability to hit .280 or .290 with about 15 home runs, 70 RBIs, and a fair number of runs scored. The Mariners are biding time with Johjima until Jeff Clement, who holds the record for most home runs for a high school hitter, is ready, which should be next year. Add a few points to that batting average and maybe 20 home runs, and you’ve got yourself the making of a top tier catcher for much, much less.
C Ivan Rodriguez – He is getting up there in years, but Rodriguez has a good chance at maintaining his fantasy status as a solid, middle class guy. Last year, he hit .281 with 11 home runs and 63 RBIs, but he can easily improve upon all three of those categories. Considering all of that offense around him, Rodriguez should also score much more than the 50 runs he accumulated last season.
1B Mark Teixeira – This may be an obvious pick, but Teixeira loves playing in Atlanta, is a young player just entering his prime, and should be driven for a new contract, since his agent is Scott Boras. Last year, Teixeira drove in 56 runs in 54 games, but with the talented Braves offense around him all season, he may drive in 120 with 35-40 home runs. All of this should lead up to a $20 million a season contract.
SS Rafael Furcal – With the Los Angeles Dodgers lacking many big-time middle-of-the-order bats, new manager Joe Torre will likely run Furcal and leftfielder Juan Pierre every game. Last season, Furcal had only 25 stolen bases, but, as he did in his last contract season, may approach 50. Not too bad for someone considered to be the fourth option for swipes at the shortstop position.
OF Manny Ramirez – There is one reason why a player like Ramirez hires Boras as his agent: to get lots of money. Ramirez, coming off a down year at a .296 batting average and only 20 home runs, will find a way to hit .310 with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs. He will turn 36 this season, which means he will be looking for another big contract. Need more proof Manny will be motivated this year? He actually showed up to spring training on time this year.
OF Bobby Abreu – Abreu started the 2007 season horrendously (.263/.351/.372 before the All Star Break versus .305/.390/.528 after), but turned it on in the second half. A batting eye that good (.408 career OBP) does not disintegrate, so expect Abreu to look like the guy he resembled in the second half and be playing for three-year extension.
SP Jon Garland – Garland joined the Angels after they traded shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and he figures to be a big part of their rotation. Pitching in front of a better defense should improve his pitching statistics, and the Angels’ great bullpen, one much better than the Chicago White Sox, should improve his win total. Furthermore, Garland is seeing guys like Carlos Silva getting $12 million a season, which is going to be his asking price next season. All of this lines up for Garland to be a quality number four on your pitching staff.
SP Jason Jennings – Jennings had a great 2006 with the Colorado Rockies, but battled plenty of injuries in 2007 with the Houston Astros. He has looked good in spring training this year with the Texas Rangers, and if he has a good, healthy season, he’ll earn a lot more this season than his guaranteed $4 million. He’s got the talent to be a number five or spot starter on your fantasy team, but can be very important on an AL Only squad.
SP CC Sabathia – He has already turned down a four-year, $68 million extension from the Cleveland Indians, because he wanted a longer deal. That bodes very well for him this season. Sabathia is trying to show he can pitch 220-plus innings as a MLB ace, which may make him a top seven fantasy pitcher. Grab him thinking of Roy Oswalt, except with about seven more wins.
SP Ben Sheets – “Are you feeling lucky, punk? Well…are you?” How much of a gamble do you want to put on Sheets, who has not thrown more than 160 innings the last three innings? I would not put too much faith in him considering his medical dossier, but consider that he’s put up good numbers whenever he has pitched. And he’s pitching for a new contract, which may put him out there more often.
RP Brian Fuentes – The Rockies signed closer Manny Corpas long-term, which makes Fuentes the set-up man. In that role last season, Fuentes he had a 3.08 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 61.1 innings. Add him in the later rounds of your H2H leagues because he can give you holds, strikeouts, and maybe some saves if he gets traded to a contender during the season.
RP Joe Nathan – Nathan asked for a three year, $36 million extension from the Twins. With their amazing bullpen depth, the Twins are unlikely to give that to him. Some other team, however, will, and Nathan knows it. Draft him thinking that he may be the best closer this season. Except for maybe this guy…
RP Francisco Rodriguez – Rodriguez is angry at his contract situation with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, because he lost his arbitration suit with the team. He is looking for something in the Mariano Rivera range (about $15 million a year), and with so many teams looking for young power arms to stick at the end of their bullpen, there will be no shortage of suitors. Expect him to rival Nathan, Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, and J.J. Putz as the best closers in the major leagues.
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