In general, the concept that players play their best in the last year of their contract is probably overblown. There’s no doubt, though, that we’ve seen our fair share of guys with dollar signs in their eyes go out and put up big and sometimes career-best seasons.
With that in mind, it’s at least worth being aware of the noteworthy potential free agents for next offseason. Here they are:
Chris Iannetta, Angels (club option) – Iannetta can void the Halos’ option for 2013 since he was traded. Obviously leaving Coors Field for Angel Stadium isn’t great news for the 28-year-old in his walk year, but he’ll also be the unquestioned full-time catcher in Anaheim, something he wasn’t for long chunks of time in Colorado.
Russell Martin, Yankees – Once appearing destined for stardom earlier in his career, Martin was great for two of six months last season in New York but terrible the other four months. He’ll turn just 29 next month, but it’s unlikely he’ll net a whole lot even if he does get a multi-year deal next offseason.
Brian McCann (club option), Braves – Barring a major injury, the Braves seem likely to exercise McCann’s $13 million option for 2013.
Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks – The D’Backs have talked extension with Montero’s representatives, and although there doesn’t seem to be a lot of momentum for a deal right now, it seems likely one will get done eventually.
Mike Napoli, Rangers – Likely because they’re focused on other contract matters, the Rangers decided not to pursue an extension with Napoli this offseason. Barring talks during the season, he’ll hit free agency next winter, and if he has another year even close to the one he had in 2011, he’ll be in line to strike it rich.
Aubrey Huff (club option), Giants – With Brandon Belt around, the Giants are unlikely to exercise Huff’s $10 option for 2013 even if he has a bounce-back year.
Adam LaRoche (mutual option), Nationals – If LaRoche shows in 2012 that his shoulder is healthy, it’s possible he’ll be back in 2013 at $10 million. Obviously it won’t happen if the Nats wind up landing Prince Fielder.
James Loney, Dodgers – It was a little surprising the Dodgers decided to tender Loney a contract this winter. It just doesn’t look like he’ll ever take that next step, so the $6.375 million he’ll receive in 2012 might wind up being a career-high for him in terms of yearly earnings.
Ian Kinsler (club option), Rangers – The Rangers want to lock Kinsler up to a long-term deal, and, even if they’re unable to accomplish that goal, will almost surely exercise his $10 million option for 2013.
Stephen Drew (mutual option), Diamondbacks – If Drew stays healthy in 2012, he’ll likely decline his portion of a $10 million option and hit the free agent market.
Jhonny Peralta (club option), Tigers – If Peralta’s numbers in 2012 even approach those he put up in 2011, exercising his $6 million option for 2013 is a no-brainer.
Chipper Jones (club option), Braves – The Braves have a reasonable $7 million option on Chipper for 2013. Even if they decline it, he’ll surely either re-sign with Atlanta or retire.
Placido Polanco (mutual option), Phillies – Polanco had an injury-plagued, disappointing 2011 campaign, and the Phillies shopped him over the winter. His $5.5 million option for 2013 isn’t bad, but he’ll need to bounce back this season to be worth it.
Mark Reynolds (club option), Orioles – Reynolds provided the power expected of him in 2011, but the O’s grew frustrated by his strikeouts and poor defense. They seem likelier to give him a $500,000 buyout rather than exercise that $11 million option for 2013.
Scott Rolen, Reds – Rolen will turn 37 in April, and his career might be over after 2012 if he doesn’t bounce back from his shoulder issues.
David Wright (club option), Mets – Wright should enjoy the new dimensions at Citi Field. The Mets have a $16 million option on him for 2013, but he can void the option if he’s traded, which is possible.
Kevin Youkilis (club option), Red Sox – A couple years ago, the Red Sox exercising Youk’s $13 million option for 2013 (or signing him to an extension) seemed like a sure thing. That’s not the case anymore after he’s had two straight injury-shortened seasons.
Michael Bourn, Braves – The Braves haven’t discussed a long-term deal with Bourn, and with Scott Boras as his agent, he’ll likely test out the market.
Melky Cabrera, Giants – Cabrera is still just 27 and will be looking for a pretty healthy long-term deal next offseason if he’s able to show in 2012 that his 2011 campaign wasn’t a fluke.
Andre Ethier, Dodgers – Ethier should bounce back nicely in 2012 if his knee cooperates, and he’s indicated that he expects it to be his last year in Los Angeles.
Curtis Granderson (club option), Yankees – Barring a major injury, Granderson will be back with the Yankees in 2013 after his $13 million option is exercised.
Josh Hamilton, Rangers – Hamilton and the Rangers would like to iron out a long-term extension, but so far it doesn’t look like anything is close. The former MVP has had numerous injury issues, which undoubtedly gives the Rangers pause in handing out a monster deal.
Torii Hunter, Angels – Hunter will turn 37 during the 2012 season and his days of playing under a multi-year contract are likely over.
Carlos Lee, Astros – Lee remains reasonably productive and has been very durable during his career. He should finish out his career as a DH.
Carlos Quentin, Padres – Quentin was probably happy to be traded to his hometown Padres, but spending your walk year at PETCO Park isn’t ideal.
Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners – Ichiro, 38, will have to show that his career isn’t over following a disappointing showing in 2011.
B.J. Upton, Rays – The Rays have flirted with the idea of trading Upton for a while and might still end up doing so since they’re unlikely to be able to afford him next offseason.
Shane Victorino, Phillies – The Phillies might wind up signing Victorino to an extension if they’re unable to bring back Cole Hamels. It’s unlikely they can afford both.
Delmon Young, Tigers – Young will turn just 27 next offseason, but he’ll need to bounce back from an ugly 2011 campaign if he wants to net a lucrative long-term deal.
Travis Hafner (club option), Indians – The Tribe won’t be retaining Pronk for $13 million in 2013, but it’s possible they could re-sign him on an incentive-laden deal.
David Ortiz, Red Sox – Big Papi wanted a two-year deal from the Sox this offseason, but they were content on going year-to-year with him. At 36, it might have been his last shot at a multi-year contract.
Scott Baker (club option), Twins – Baker probably pitched the best he has in his career in 2011 when he was healthy. He’ll be 31 next offseason and should be able to net a multi-year deal if the Twins don’t exercise his $9.25 million option for 2013.
Matt Cain, Giants – The Giants have talked to Cain’s representatives about an extension, and the negotiations seem to be going well. It will be interesting to see if they can afford long-term deals for both Cain and Tim Lincecum, who is slated for free agency after 2013.
Jorge De La Rosa (player option), Rockies – De La Rosa will surely exercise his $11 million option for 2013, especially since he’s slated to miss the first couple months of the year while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Gavin Floyd (club option), White Sox – The Sox have a pretty reasonable $9.5 million option on Floyd for 2013, but they might opt to trade him instead.
Zack Greinke, Brewers – The Brewers want to lock Greinke up on a long-term deal, but so far no talks have gone down. He’ll be just 29 next offseason, and the team might not be able to afford him.
Cole Hamels, Phillies – Hamels netted $15 million in his final year of arbitration and is set to hit it big in free agency. The Phils are open to an extension, but he’s likely to test the market.
Dan Haren (club option), Angels – The Angels’ $15.5 option on Haren for 2013 is pretty expensive, but when you consider it comes with a $3.5 million buyout, it’s really a no-brainer to exercise it.
Tim Hudson (club option), Braves – Hudson isn’t going anywhere, as the Braves can bring him back for just $9 million in 2013.
Colby Lewis, Rangers – With the Rangers having other contracts on the team to worry about and Lewis having completed a club-friendly deal after 2012, he seems likely to test out free agency.
Francisco Liriano, Twins – At 28, Liriano could potentially net a large contract next offseason if he manages to stay healthy and perform in 2012. The odds of both happening are slim, though.
Shaun Marcum, Brewers – The Brew Crew have indicated a desire to hammer out a long-term deal for Marcum, and they might have a better shot of locking him up than they do Zack Greinke.
Brandon McCarthy, Athletics – McCarthy is slated to turn 29 during the season and could get a multi-year deal if he follows up nicely on his 2011 season. He’ll likely want to remain in another pitcher-friendly environment.
Brett Myers (club/vesting option), Astros – Myers’ $10 million option seems likelier to be picked up after you consider the $3 million buyout. The Astros are looking to save money, though, and might let him walk if they don’t trade him first.
Carl Pavano, Twins – Pavano has been solid in his time in Minnesota and has stayed surprisingly healthy. Even at 36, he might be able to net another two-year deal.
Jake Peavy (club option), White Sox – Peavy’s $22 million option for 2013 obviously won’t be picked up, but he can probably get a multi-year deal if he shows he can stay healthy this season. That’s a huge “if,” of course.
Anibal Sanchez, Marlins – After two straight healthy seasons and a particularly impressive performance in 2011, Sanchez could wind up striking it rich next offseason if he takes advantage of the Marlins’ new park’s spacious dimensions.
Jonathan Sanchez, Royals – The enigmatic left-hander has only one great full season on his resume, but loads of potential. Perhaps he might again put it together during a contract year.
Ervin Santana (club option), Angels – The Halos have an expensive $13 million option on Santana for 2013 and reportedly were willing to listen to trade offers for him this winter. With Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson locked into big deals and Dan Haren needing one, Santana could be expendable.
James Shields (club option), Rays – The only way Shields will be leaving Tampa soon is if they decide to trade him. The team has two relatively club-friendly options on him for the next two years.
Carlos Zambrano, Marlins – Big Z agreed to waive his vesting option for 2013 when he was dealt to Miami. If he can rein in the attitude, he could have a nice bounce-back year in what looks to be a pitcher-friendly home park.
David Aardsma, Free Agent – Aardsma is coming back from Tommy John surgery and is currently unsigned. He’ll be hoping to come back and pitch well in the second half for someone before looking to land a deal as a closer next winter.
Mike Adams, Rangers – The Rangers would like to extend Adams, but he could be looking for a closer job somewhere next offseason, something Texas probably can’t offer him.
Grant Balfour (club option), Athletics – The A’s are likely hoping Balfour can put together a nice first half as their possible closer before dealing him at the deadline. His $4.5 million option for 2013 is likely a little too pricy for them.
Rafael Betancourt (club option), Rockies – If Betancourt has a successful year as the Rockies closer in 2012, picking up his $4.25 million option for 2013 becomes a likely scenario.
Brandon League, Mariners – The Mariners have been shopping League, as they probably don’t expect to have a good shot at retaining him through free agency.
Sean Marshall, Reds – Marshall has really settled into a setup role the last two years, but it’s possible he’ll look for a ninth inning role next winter or maybe even a shot to return to starting.
J.J. Putz (club option), Diamondbacks – Unless he gets injured, Putz will be back in the desert in 2013 after the D’Backs pick up his $6.5 million option.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees – Mo will either re-sign with the Yankees or retire next winter. The latter is probably more likely.
Joakim Soria (club option), Royals – Soria had a disappointing showing in 2011, but if he bounces back close to previous form, his options for 2013 and 2014 will almost certainly be picked up. That’s assuming he’s not traded, of course.
Huston Street (mutual option), Padres – The Padres are likely hoping Street can have a nice bounce-back performance in the first half before trading him at the deadline.