Would-Be Walk Years

If not for an extension widely expected to be signed with the Red Sox, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez would be entering his walk year with a chance to join Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols on the free agent market.  What other players would have been free agents for the first time after the 2011 season, if not for multiyear deals signed earlier?

  • Ryan Howard, Phillies: When we talked about the idea of Pujols, Gonzalez, Fielder, and Howard all hitting free agency at the same time, we knew a few would be plucked off for extensions.  In Howard's case it was a much-maligned five-year, $125MM deal signed a year ago.
  • Hanley Ramirez, Marlins: Ramirez, 28 in December, surely would have vaulted past $100MM as well.  The free agent market is always fun.  But if players didn't sign these types of extensions, the free agent market would be insane.
  • Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals: Zimmerman signed two years ago, giving up a pair of free agent years in the process.  He'll be 27 in September and would have been another candidate to fly past $100MM as a free agent.
  • Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Turning down the Jays' five-year, $65MM offer would have been tough for Bautista, even coming off a 54 home run campaign.  Perhaps if he hits 40 this year he'll wonder what might have been.
  • Brian McCann, Braves: McCann would be coming up on free agency, set to turn 28 in February of 2012, if not for an extension signed four years ago.  He'd easily have been the best available catcher, perhaps with an eye on topping Victor Martinez's deal.
  • Corey Hart, Brewers: Rather than test the free agent market after '11, Hart signed an extension in August of last year in the midst of a strong bounceback season.
  • Nick Markakis, Orioles: Markakis signed two years ago, taking $44MM over three free agent years or $59.5MM over four.  His power has been slipping, but as a durable 28-year-old the free agent market still would have been kind.
  • Shane Victorino, Phillies: The Phillies locked up his first free agent year at $9.5MM one year ago.  Victorino is looking to bounce back in what would have been his walk year.
  • Curtis Granderson, Yankees: Granderson was coming off a huge 2007 season when he signed, but his last two years have been disappointing.
  • Dan Uggla, Braves: Some believe Uggla could have gotten $14-15MM per free agent year rather than the $13MM salary the Braves gave him over four.
  • Aaron Hill, Blue Jays: Hill signed his extension three years ago, giving the team flexibility with three club options.  The Blue Jays are probably glad they can wait and see how 2011 plays out before deciding Hill's future. 
  • Ian Kinsler, Rangers: The Rangers have Kinsler's first free agent year at $7MM and a $10MM option on another from a deal signed three years ago. 
  • Robinson Cano, Yankees:  Locking Cano up three years ago proved wise, as the Yankees have club options on his first two free agent years.  After that, Scott Boras will make sure he gets paid.
  • Rickie Weeks, Brewers: The 2012 free agent second base market could have been one for the ages, with Weeks, Uggla, Cano, Kinsler, Hill, Brandon PhillipsKelly Johnson.
  • Matt Cain, Giants: Cain will be just 27 in October, and another strong healthy season might have meant a $100MM+ free agent contract.  Instead, the Giants snagged his first free agent year for $15MM.
  • Felix Hernandez, Mariners: If you think a 27-year-old Cain would have been appealing, how about a 25-year-old King Felix?  Barring injury, Hernandez would have signed a record deal for a pitcher, perhaps approaching $200MM.  Instead, the Mariners have him through 2014 at less than $20MM per free agent year.
  • Justin Verlander, Tigers: Verlander's deal topped Hernandez's by $2MM; he recently turned 28.  Pitchers like Cain, Felix, Verlander, and Johnson rarely hit free agency these days.
  • Josh Johnson, Marlins: Another big arm to add to the mix, Johnson will be 28 in January of 2012.  The Marlins' first year at the new stadium will thankfully include Ramirez and Johnson.
  • Ervin Santana, Angels: Santana inked a four-year extension two years ago, a deal that became the model for Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, and Ricky Romero.  Santana turns 29 in January of 2012.
  • Wandy Rodriguez, Astros: Upon signing in January, Rodriguez took a discount of around $2MM for his 2011 salary, also giving up a pair of free agent years for $25.5MM.  A third free agent season can vest based on performance.  Rodriguez made a sacrifice to remain with the Astros, especially just one year away from free agency.
  • Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: After missing 2011 with Tommy John surgery, what would Wainwright have gotten as a free agent?  Would he have insisted on a one-year deal?  As it stands, the two years and $21MM left on his deal are a pittance compared to free agents who have signed for a similar amount.
  • R.A. Dickey, Mets: A stint in the free agent market as a more established pitcher might have added even more intrigue to Dickey's memoirs.
  • Michael Wuertz, Nate McLouth, Yuniesky Betancourt, Paul Maholm, Ryan Doumit, Ronny Cedeno, Kelly Shoppach, Jason Bartlett, Matt Belisle, and Mark Teahen also signed extensions that gave up their first free agent season or at least gave the club an option for it.
  • For a look at players that would have been on the 2010-11 free agent market if not for extensions, click here.

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