Free Agent Stock Watch: April 2011 Edition

We're just four weeks into the season, so prospective free agents still have lots of time to establish their value before hitting the open market. Cliff Lee, who went on to become last offseason's most highly coveted free agent, had made just one start at this point last year. Adrian Beltre also started slowly; he was homerless with a .772 OPS last April before heating up and re-establishing his free agent value.

Other free agents used April as a springboard for standout walk years. Carl Crawford (.941 OPS, 7 steals) and Jayson Werth (.987 OPS) used the first month of the season to establish themselves as top free agents in 2010. With that in mind, here's a look at what ten members of this year's free agent class have done over the course of the first four weeks of the season:

  • Albert Pujols - It took him a few games to heat up, but Pujols has 7 homers, 18 RBI and a .258/.321/.485 line. It's nothing special, but he has been unlucky on balls in play and has hit like his usual self since the middle of the month.
  • C.C. Sabathia - Sabathia can opt out of the four years and $92MM remaining on his contract after the season and the way he's pitching, he may be able to obtain more guaranteed money that way. Sabathia is putting together another phenomenal season, with a 2.25 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.
  • Prince Fielder - Fielder leads the NL with 23 RBI and has a .326/.415/.565 line. Agent Scott Boras figures to be asking for Mark Teixeira money ($180MM) and then some this offseason.
  • Jose Reyes  - Reyes has a robust .321/.359/.459 line with 8 stolen bases and 11 extra base hits. If he keeps this up, could ask for $100MM-plus this winter.
  • Jimmy Rollins - Rollins, 32, has a .271/.346/.354 line so far this season. He's getting on base at a respectable clip, but he has never had a season with a slugging percentage this low. It seems unlikely that Rollins will have another 30 homer season, as his slugging percentage and isolated power have been in decline since 2007.
  • C.J. Wilson - Wilson's 3-0 record and 3.51 ERA look good and he's striking our nearly a batter per inning (8.4 K/9). He has a career-best walk rate so far (2.4 BB/9) after struggling with walks for years.
  • Carlos Beltran - With 3 homers and a .280/.359/.488 line, the 34-year-old Beltran is off to a strong start. Seemingly healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, he is now playing right field (though agent Scott Boras insists he can still handle center).
  • Mark Buehrle - Buehrle, 32, has a 5.12 ERA, but his peripheral stats suggest that his ERA should fall closer to his 3.87 career mark. Buehrle, who averaged 33 starts per year over the course of the last decade, leads the league with six starts in 2011.
  • Jonathan Papelbon - Elite relief pitching is arguably the biggest strength of the upcoming free agent class, so it remains to be seen whether Papelbon will have much leverage this winter. He's off to an excellent start, with 5 saves, a 1.93 ERA, 11.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9.
  • Heath Bell - Bell would like to stay in San Diego, but the Padres may not be able to afford him. If he keeps pitching like this – 0.90 ERA, 5 saves, 6.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 – someone else will be happy to pay for his services. His strikeout rate has dipped, but it's early.

Note that I haven't included Robinson Cano, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and others whose teams could exercise options for 2012.

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