04/05/10 11:33 AM ET
Pay for play: Who's eyeing free agency?
Sluggers Pena, Dunn among stars set to enter contract year
By Matt Chaprales / MLB.com
A player entering the final year of a deal naturally has money on the mind, which can sometimes have an adverse effect on performance.
With a big selection of marquee players -- including a handful of the game's most elite talents -- set to hit the open market after the 2010 campaign, let's take a closer look at who's primed to get paid and who could be left in the lurch once the feeding frenzy begins:
Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: The last time Pena had something to prove was in '07, when he was looking to stick in the bigs after logging just 33 at-bats the previous campaign. After signing a modest deal with the Rays, he proceeded to bash his way to 46 homers and 121 RBIs. The club opted to pen him a new contract to avoid arbitration in '08, and he responded with back-to-back seasons of 30-plus jacks and 100-plus RBIs. At 31, the slugger is still in his prime, and a contract year should bring out his finest.
Adam Dunn, 1B, Nationals: Though Dunn has bounced from Arizona to Washington over the last two seasons after seven-plus years as a fixture in Cincinnati, he's remained one of the steadiest sluggers in the game. Clearly, nothing fazes the towering masher, who's played at least 152 games and cranked an average of 41 blasts over the last six seasons. Barring injury, Dunn will become one of the most sought-after free agents in the '11 pool.
Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: Konerko's last contract year was '05. He responded with a .283 average, 40 jacks and 100 RBIs, a strong showing that netted him a five-year, $60 million deal. While he's certainly proven he can handle the pressure of playing with an expiring pact, Konerko is 34 and entering his 12th full season, which suggests he'll have a hard time matching the production of fellow free agents Pena and Dunn.
Jorge Cantu, 1B/3B, Marlins: Cantu, who's averaged more than 22 homers and 97 RBIs over the last two seasons, has an excellent opportunity to lock down his first big contract if he can put up similar numbers in '10. However, the combination of an uneven track record and the added pressure of a contract year could be an issue for the 28-year-old corner infielder.
Brandon Inge, 3B, Tigers: Inge is coming off a deceiving '09 campaign. Yes, he did match his career high with 27 homers and set a personal best with 84 RBIs, but he also endured a ghastly second half in which he batted just .186 with six jacks. Going into the last year of his contract, the veteran hot cornerman will be battling age (he turns 33 in May) and chronic tendinitis in both knees, factors that suggest a repeat of his '09 numbers is unlikely.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees: Jeter and pinstripes is like apple pie and America: the two are inextricably linked. The fact that the Yankee captain is entering the final season of a 10-year, $189 million deal is certainly news, but it would be borderline ludicrous to suggest his '10 output is going to adversely affect his chances of gaining a new contract with the Yankees. Regardless, there aren't many fiercer competitors in the game than Jeter, and he should rise to the occasion as usual.
Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: Crawford slowed down after pilfering bases at a furious pace over the first two months of '09, but he still finished with a career-high 60 swipes while batting .305. At 28, the fleet-footed left fielder is in line for a major payday if he stays healthy, as he will enter the free-agency period as the cream of the crop.
Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers: Like all things Manny, the enigmatic slugger's '09 season was difficult to appraise, as he started out on a tear but couldn't regain his stroke after a 50-game suspension. He's already declared that '10 will be his last season with the Dodgers, though he later backed off the comment. The simple fact is no one can predict what the future will hold for the veteran slugger, but he seemingly has an axe to grind after the disappointment of last year.
Jayson Werth, OF, Phillies: Werth, who signed a two-year deal worth $10 million before the start of '09, is coming off a breakout campaign in which he slugged 36 long balls and swiped 20 bases. He then cranked another seven dingers and knocked in 13 runs over 15 postseason games, sure signs that the 30-year-old outfielder is up to the task of coming through in a contract year.
Ramon Hernandez, C, Reds: Since clubbing 23 long balls and knocking in 91 runs in '06, Hernandez has seen his production tail off. Part of that is because he's had difficulty staying on the field -- particularly last year, when he missed the final two and a half months of the season following knee surgery. Now fully recovered, Hernandez will look to regain his power stroke so he can earn a fresh contract, but there's only so much that can be expected from a 33-year-old backstop.
Jorge De La Rosa, SP, Rockies: The Rockies avoided salary arbitration in January by signing De La Rosa to a one-year, $5.6 million contract with an additional $300,000 in performance bonuses. Chances are good he'll be in store for a healthy payday next offseason if he pitches well enough to activate his incentives. With the return of Jeff Francis to an already deep Colorado rotation, De La Rosa won't be counted on to carry the staff, which should help him power his way to another strong season.
Jeremy Bonderman, SP, Tigers: A blood clot in Bonderman's pitching shoulder limited him to just 13 starts over the last two seasons, though he was still paid handsomely thanks to the 13 wins and 164 strikeouts he averaged from 2005-07. It's a tall order to expect a pitcher to return from a shoulder injury in a contract year and put up big numbers, something to keep in mind before investing in the right-hander.
Rafael Soriano, RP, Rays: Soriano, who signed a one-year deal with the Rays in December, makes his return to the American League after three years in Atlanta. While he took a few lumps after ascending to the closer role with the Braves last year, posting a 4.91 ERA in the second half, his overall numbers were very strong. There will be no ambiguity about Soriano's responsibilities in Tampa Bay; he is unquestionably the closer, a role that should bring out the best in the 30-year-old fireballer.
Javier Vazquez, SP, Yankees: Even though Vazquez is fresh off the best season of his career and is now part of the defending World Series champs' rotation, there is a great deal of pressure on the veteran righty heading into a contract year. His first go-round in the Bronx was no picnic, and at 33, his prospects of gaining another lucrative multiyear deal hinge on his ability to perform in a city where every bad start will be dissected and magnified.
Josh Beckett, SP, Red Sox: Many questions surround Beckett as the season draws closer. Will he work out a contract extension with the Red Sox? If not, will the club re-sign him in the offseason or let him go altogether? Players typically say they don't allow their contract status to affect their states of mind, but that's not always the case. It is with Beckett: He's 29, has won two rings and never takes the hill without a chip on his shoulder. Deal or no deal, the big Texan will be bringing it in 2010.
Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.