ROBINSON CANO NYY
Cano is rumored to have turned down a 7 year $189 million contract offer. If that doesn't exude confidence I don't know what does. Cano's production is already tops at his position. However, he is in his prime and an improvement on last year's stellar output is possible. There is huge money being thrown around in LA and they have a gaping hole at second. Depending on the depth of your league Cano could warrant top 5 consideration. His RPV (Relative Posiition Value/stat created in the black Book that measures position scarcity and player value) is already 25% in a standard league size. If ever there was a year to overpay for Cano in the first round, 2013 is the year.
JACOBY ELLSBURY BOS
2011'S 32 home run spree was an anomaly for Ellsbury. Throw it out the window and focus on what he is, which is a player with .290 BA, 95R, 10HR, 35+SB potential. Now of course he is capable of more, but injuries have set back his value considerably and rightfully so. What good is talent if it is never on the field? This year it is put up or shut up for Jacoby and you can bet he will be playing through some pain in search of some cash. More games played I would count on, but higher performance than the previous stat line I presented is being greedy.
SHIN-SOO CHOO CIN
He is one of the most underrated hitters in the game. A career .847OPS makes him a great fantasy outfielder who will get on base, hit for average/power and even steal some bags. Choo is a 20/20 player who is now in a hitter's park for 81 home games and is poised for a big year. Remember a few years back when Choo got a key hit for his home country Korea and avoided military service? He is a pressure player and the dollar signs point to a great fantasy season. The transition from AL to NL should not be too tough on Choo since there is some bottom rung pitching in the Central division.
BRIAN MCCANN ATL
He was on track for a huge career, but he has dealt with numerous injuries and worn down at the end of many seasons. If his shoulder is 100% and he is in better shape, McCann can get back into elite catcher territory. The line-up around him is solid and perhaps the fact he will miss a few weeks to open the season will finally allow him a strong finish. He is worth the risk, especially in leagues where you start two catchers.
HUNTER PENCE SF
He is one of my favorite fantasy outfielders who gives you the classic roto baseline (.285BA/85R/25HR.95RBI/10SB). He had a tough stretch when he was dealt to the Giants but Pence has been too steady for too long to think he will not rebound. Some owners will be scared off by his second half dip, but look at the career consistency and pay accordingly. Guys with track records this steady always deserve the benefit of the doubt.
CURTIS GRANDERSON NYY
Yes, he has 40/100 power, but he still struggles verses lefties and at 32 years old is past his peak years of production. Looming free agency should not impact Granderson's bottom line too much as he already has many interests outside of baseball. Unlike his peers, Curtis' eggs are not in one basket hoping for one more big pay day. The injury should actually bring his value down to a more reasonable territory.
COREY HART MIL
Hart is going to miss the start of the season, but his ADP is falling way too far considering he carries dual eligibility (1B/OF) in many leagues and an .850+OPS the last three seasons. Hart's speed has fallen off, but his power numbers are strong. He is grossly undervalued and is sure to put it all on the line before he hits the open market.
NELSON CRUZ TEX
Here is a prime example of a player with talent who misses far too many games. Cruz will certainly do everything in his power (including playing hurt) to land a big contract. The question is, will this pursuit hurt his bottom line? The looming doubts surrounding his PED link to the Miami clinic should also be enough to spur Cruz to a big year. If nothing else, he is a reasonable value pay for outfield power.
ADAM WAINWRIGHT STL
In his second year back from Tommy John, everyone expects Wainwright to get back to his workhorse ways. Last year, he suffered from rust and bad luck and pitched better than his totals suggest. He can easily be drafted as a #2 starter, but will certainly put the onus on himself to perform like an ace with is contract coming up. I suspect him to not hit the free agent market, but if talks break down the thought of him pitching with a chip on his shoulder is scary.
ROY HALLADAY PHI
My extensive analysis on Halladay in this year's Black Book concludes 2013 as a good year to own him, but he is no longer a fantasy anchor or a keeper. A player with the grit and pride of Halladay will certainly put forth his best effort. If the Phillies fall out of contention he could be a trade target. His cost vs. value is very appealing and he has a lot to prove.
JOSH JOHNSON TOR
Perhaps no potential free agent needs a big contract year than Josh Johnson. At one time he was consider one of the top starters in all of baseball. Now, he is viewed as damaged goods. The change of scenery in Toronto is tough to gauge. The AL East is a tough division, but the run support and fact that he is "new" is in his favor. If you are going to take a shot on him, the contract year is the one to do it.
TIM LINCECUM SF
There is no where to go but up for Lincecum. But if you think last year's low point came out of nowhere you would be wrong. Timmy was bad for extended periods in the two seasons leading up to 2012. Even with a potential payday on the horizon, you can't in good conscience draft him as a front end starter. Yet, he will potentially be drafted in that range. His ratios were so bad they could ruin you in any format. I would let another owner pull the trigger here.
MATT GARZA CHC
The temptation is tantalizing to draft Garza in hopes of him being dealt to a contender mid-season. But his arm issues are such a huge red flag it is killing his value in real and fantasy baseball alike. Until he proves healthy you can't be lured into thinking too far into the future. Unfortunately, fantasy owners will have no clarification on Garza before their drafts as he is already back on the shelf.
PLAYING FOR OPTIONS
(players with contract options in question)
JON LESTER BOS
With his old pitching coach back in the fold as the new Red Sox skipper, things should regulate for Lester. Last year was a disaster for the whole franchise and Lester was no exception (career high 4.82 ERA). He is in his prime (29) and should be a great bounce back candidate as he looks to put up big numbers and put some big dollars in his pocket.
JAMES SHIELDS KC
He is not a true free agent, but is unclear if KC will be able to afford his option. That puts Shield in a tough spot. His stats point to the fact he will miss pitching in Tampa (3.33 career home ERA/4.54 ERA on the road). KC is a young team with potential, but they have yet to put it together. He could be in for a roller coaster of a season and the looming contract questions could be unnecessary pressure, even for "Big Game" James.