It is quite hilarious how much people despise yours truly for ruining their Fantasy Baseball team because we recommended a 27-year-old like Grady Sizemore or a third-year starting pitcher like Mike Pelfrey last year.
Both went bust, big time. And we caught grief, rightly so.
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But not one -- not one -- criticized us for the disappointments in our annual Free Agents-to-Be list, which outlines the players who are playing for a big contract. Check out the '09 edition. If not for a couple of streaky halves by Matt Holliday and Jason Bay -- the top two on our list last year -- the contract years Top 10 could have been considered more of an All-Bust Team.
People are a bit too forgiving on something that believe in (to a fault).
Read our lips ... or just this line of text: Contract-year breakout theories are outdated and ineffective -- far more than our other ways to catch sleepers and breakouts before they happen. Please realize this.
Last year's No. 3 pending free agent? Erik Bedard. Back to the operating table.
No. 4? Brett Myers. Meh.
No. 5? Vladimir Guerrero. So not close to his former self, he barely found another job.
No. 6? John Lackey. He started the year on the DL and posted his highest ERA and lowest wins total since 2003.
No. 7? Rick Ankiel. Uh, this is a cruel joke.
No. 8? Khalil Greene. Clearly a cruel, cruel joke.
No. 9? Hideki Matsui. At least he wasn't terrible and did win a World Series MVP!
No. 10? Miguel Tejada. Again, not terrible, we suppose.
It is not limited to the select 10 we chose last spring either. So you can't just blame this writer again. Players heading into free agency just didn't have good years. Go ahead, name one that had a career year.
Holliday, Bay, Chone Figgins, Johnny Damon and Joel Pineiro had good years, but not their best years. Of those, only Pineiro dramatically outperformed his draft position. Figgins, Damon and Bay did about as well as projected and therefore cannot technically give credence to a contract year making a significant difference in their production.
Pineiro, taken off waivers from the Red Sox, had been in a contract year the previous season and was very, very unimpressive in 2008, so it is tough -- no, near impossible -- to make a case for him being motivated for that next contract.
Marco Scutaro certainly did have a career year and outperformed his draft position heading into free agency. But since when it is a good strategy to buy into 33-year-old career utility men? A middle infielder past the age of 32 is more likely headed for a breakdown, not a breakout.
So, why in the world of finding players who can outperform their draft position, do Fantasy Baseball owners continually clamor for this particular piece of draft prep content?
And, when they mostly all go bust, do they not hold us as accountable as they do with our prescribed other ways to value the undervalued: 27-year-old breakouts, third-year starting pitchers, overlooked sophomores, Top 25 rookies, Top 100 prospects or injury-risk sleepers?
Readers love to hate on those lists, particularly the first two that are so important to this writer. But ...
The contract year list is annually the most overrated piece to the Fantasy Baseball puzzle.
The main reason we don't buy into contract years like most of you is that free agents tend to be old and past their prime. Most players have gone through at least six years before they can become a free agent: Three years on one-year tenders and then three years in salary arbitration. And that doesn't take into consideration the mostly modern trend of locking up young players through their arbitration years and their first couple years of free-agent eligibility. Many teams are doing that now, such as Justin Upton, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander this winter.
The days of 27-year-old free agents seem to be long gone -- especially since teams now realize the premium it takes to retain or obtain a free agent in his prime. And, if you arrive in the majors at age 25, six years puts you at 31 and therefore on the way down, not up.
If we have already seen the best of a player, then chances are it will be hard for him to outperform his draft position. Name recognition tends to be a Fantasy Baseballer's No. 1 scouting tool, we are sorry to say.
There is an interesting Catch-22 dynamic to free agency, too. As teams tend to retain players they want nowadays, those actually heading for the free-agent market are ones at least one team has decided wasn't worth the asking price. The GMs that know the player best are saying, "No thanks. You're not that irreplaceable."
Additionally, pending free agency can be a temporary status. For instance, two premium contract-year guys on our list below -- Josh Beckett and Joe Mauer -- are already working on long-term deals. Does that mean the motivation for a huge year might go right to paper along with that signature on a new, fat contract?
With this said all over again (annually), we do see some pending free agents potentially motivated and well-positioned for career years. Honestly, we aren't merely furnishing this list because you are asking (demanding?) us to do so.
Here are our Top 10 free agents to be, focusing on those players who can outperform even their most optimistic draft position(s). These players can spruce up their credentials before negotiations in the free market next winter.
|Player, position, team||Our 2010 projections (5x5 categories)|
|1||Josh Beckett, SP, BOS||18-8, 3.16 ERA, 205 K, 1.191 WHIP, 0 SV|
|Coming off a career high 212 1/3 innings, Beckett is ready to be his best yet; the Red Sox should sign him now.|
|2||Victor Martinez, C, BOS||.309 AVG, 27 HR, 105 RBI, 94 R, 1 SB (.390 OBP, .509 SLUG)|
|A full year in that ballpark and lineup should do wonders for V-Mart's power numbers heading into free agency.|
|3||Carl Crawford, OF, TB||.295-12-70-93-50 (.336-.438)|
|He enjoyed an age-27 comeback last year, earning his option, but now he's on the verge of true free agency.|
|4||Adam Dunn, OF, WAS||.260-40-105-85-4 (.391-.530)|
|He got an under market contract last go-around, but two more years of monster power should earn him more.|
|5||Cliff Lee, SP, SEA||(15-9)-3.40-173-1.200-0|
|His desire to test the market next fall cost him a spot on the Phils, so he definitely has pressure to be his best.|
|6||Rafael Soriano, RP, TB||(0-3)-2.96-85-26-1.143|
|This injury-plagued arm is a bat-breaker we keep anticipating having a big year; closing for the Rays should help.|
|7||Jayson Werth, OF, PHI||.265-30-90-85-16 (.361-.471)|
|His 2009 was already impressive, but the Phillies are making him earn his next contract, which could be huge.|
|8||Carlos Pena, 1B, TB||.247-39-109-91-4 (.364-535)|
|His power is unmatched when he is healthy and going well, so watch out for a potentially monumental year.|
|9||J.J. Hardy, SS, MIN||.262-21-75-70-3 (.323-.442)|
|Few like him as much as this writer, but Hardy is a streaky slugging SS who could be this year's Ben Zobrist.|
|10||Joe Mauer, C, MIN||.350-30-100-100-5 (.434-.568)|
|It'll be tough to outperform his draft position -- and we think he re-signs -- but Mauer had to be on this list.|
Top contract year players by position
(sources: AP and Cot's Baseball Contracts)
Shortstops: Derek Jeter, NYY; Jimmy Rollins*, PHI; Jose B. Reyes*, NYM; Hardy, MIN; Peralta*, CLE; Izturis, LAA; Edgar Renteria*, SF; Cristian Guzman, WAS; Willie Bloomquist, KC; Nick Punto*, MIN and Julio Lugo, STL
Outfielders: Crawford, TB; Manny Ramirez, LAD; Dunn, WAS; Werth, PHI; Michael Cuddyer*, MIN; Brad Hawpe*, COL; Jason Kubel*, MIN; Coco Crisp*, OAK; Magglio Ordonez*, DET; David DeJesus*, KC; Jose Guillen, KC; Bloomquist, KC and Eric Byrnes, SEA
Starting pitchers: Beckett, BOS; Lee, SEA; Javier Vazquez, NYY; Matt Cain*, SF; Brandon Webb, ARI; Ted Lilly, CHC; Jorge De La Rosa, COL; Ben Sheets, OAK; Aaron Harang*, CIN; Bronson Arroyo*, CIN; Kevin Millwood, BAL; Jon Garland*, SD; Chris R. Young*, SD; Jake Westbrook, CLE; Jeff Francis*, COL; Vicente Padilla, LAD; Dave Bush, MIL; Ian Snell*, SEA; Jamie Moyer, PHI; Dontrelle Willis, DET; Jeremy Bonderman, DET; Jeff Suppan*, MIL and Nate Robertson, DET
Relief pitchers: Mariano Rivera, NYY; Brian Fuentes*, LAA; Rafael Soriano, TB; Chad Qualls, ARI; Kerry Wood*, CLE; Matt Guerrier, MIN; Jason Frasor, TOR; Jon Rauch, MIN; Scott Downs, TOR; Scot Shields, LAA; Jesse Crain, MIN; J.J. Putz, CHW; Matt Thornton*, CHW; Aaron Heilman, ARI; Pedro Feliciano, NYM; Jeremy Affeldt, SF and Grant Balfour, TB
Note: Players marked with an * are those who have an option left on their current contract. They will be motivated to earn that option or to make big dollars as a free agent themselves.
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