Players often thrive during their free-agent year, knowing that newfound -- or further -- riches are waiting for them at the end of the season.But what about those impending free agents who have struggled during their walk year, potentially harming their value this offseason? There's good news for that subset
Players often thrive during their free-agent year, knowing that newfound -- or further -- riches are waiting for them at the end of the season.
But what about those impending free agents who have struggled during their walk year, potentially harming their value this offseason? There's good news for that subset of players: There is more than a month remaining in the regular season, and given the importance of those 30-plus games, that's plenty of time to leave teams with a positive impression.
You're not convinced that a strong finish can make that much of a difference? Consider Ivan Nova: He was 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA when the Yankees traded him to the Pirates before the 2016 non-waiver Trade Deadline. He proceeded to post a 3.06 ERA and a 5-2 record in 11 starts, helping him land a three-year, $26 million deal from the Bucs.
Which players have an opportunity to raise their free-agent profile between now and November? Here are five -- as well as an honorable mention who could hit the market -- with a lot at stake the rest of the way.
Curtis Granderson, OF, Dodgers
Two months into the season, the Grandy Man looked like he might be finished. He woke up on June 4 with a .198/.275/.357 slash line and only three home runs in 204 plate appearances. A four-week resurgence saw Granderson hit .338/.467/.803 with nine homers in 90 plate appearances in 25 games, showing there was still some life in his veteran bat.
Was it a mirage? The next three weeks certainly made it look that way (no home runs, .533 OPS in 19 games), though the outfielder bounced back in August, belting six homers with a 1.081 OPS in his final couple weeks with the Mets.
With home runs in two of his first three games as a Dodger, including a grand slam, it seems Granderson has been energized by the move to a first-place team. If he finishes strong, he could be in line for a multiyear deal as he enters his age-37 season.
Jonathan Lucroy, C, Rockies
Lucroy is nearing the end of the five-year, $11 million deal he signed with the Brewers in 2012, a pact that ate up all three of his arbitration years. (A $5.25 million team option, which was picked up by the Rangers, also knocked out what would have been his first year of free agency.)
After leading the Majors with 53 doubles and finishing fourth in National League MVP Award voting in 2014, Lucroy posted a second All-Star season in 2016, swatting 24 homers with an .855 OPS for Milwaukee and Texas. But this year was a disappointment for the 31-year-old, who had only four home runs and a .635 OPS before being traded to the Rockies on July 30. A solid finish with Colorado would likely establish Lucroy as the top catching option on the upcoming free-agent market.
Eduardo Nunez, INF, Red Sox
The versatile infielder had a breakout season in 2016, making his first All-Star team with the Twins. He's been traded twice since that Midsummer Classic, spending the final two months of 2016 and the first four months this season with the Giants, trying to find that All-Star form.
Since being traded to the Red Sox before this year's Deadline, Nunez has been one of the league's hottest hitters. His OPS is more than 150 points higher with Boston, while he matched his home run total (four) from 76 games this season with San Francisco in his first nine games with the Red Sox.
Nunez's versatility should make him an attractive free agent to many clubs, but thriving in a pennant race would add another element to his sales pitch.
Carlos Gonzalez, RF, Rockies
If it seems as though CarGo has been around forever, you're not wrong -- yet he's heading into his age-32 season as he prepares to become a free agent.
The three-time All-Star and former NL batting champion posted an .868 OPS during the first nine seasons of his career, including a solid .855 mark in 2016. But things went awry this year for the right fielder, whose OPS hasn't cracked .700 since Memorial Day. The veteran has looked better since the break, hitting .278/.326/.430 in the past month or so, showing signs of life in his bat that weren't there during the first half.
It's unlikely Gonzalez will be viewed on the same level as fellow free agent J.D. Martinez or even Jay Bruce, but a strong September -- and perhaps even a meaningful October -- could remind teams just how good CarGo was for the past decade before this unusually subpar season.
Marco Estrada, RHP, Blue Jays
Estrada got off to a good start in 2017, pitching to a 3.15 ERA during the first two months. But a rough nine-start stretch from June 1 through July 21 saw him post a 9.52 ERA, likely costing Toronto a chance of dealing him away before the Trade Deadline.
Since July 26, Estrada has posted strong outings in five of his six starts, helping the Blue Jays remain on the fringe of the American League Wild Card race. Even if Toronto doesn't find its way into the postseason for a third straight season, the 34-year-old righty could firm up his status as a Tier B free agent in a top-heavy pitching class led by Yu Darvish, Jacob Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Jason Vargas.
Honorable mention: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees
Tanaka isn't technically a free agent this year -- at least not yet. The right-hander can opt out of his contract after the season, leaving three years and $67 million in guaranteed money on the table in favor of free agency.
Tanaka will turn 29 in November, placing him squarely in the middle of his prime years, though his first-half struggles -- he posted a 5.47 ERA in his first 18 starts -- left many with the impression he would not opt out of his deal. He was showing signs of improvement after the break with a 3.13 ERA in five starts, but he missed about two weeks with right elbow inflammation. Tanaka returned from the disabled list Tuesday night with seven strong innings, and while it still seems like a long shot, a solid final month (and strong postseason) could convince him to give free agency a try.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.