11 MLB players in contract years who will crush it in 2019

Athletes in any sport wants to perform at their best the year before they’re eligible to hit free agency, and baseball players are certainly no different. This winter alone has shown how much money can be gained or lost in a contract year, with high-profile names standing out on both sides of the spectrum. Manny Machado used the best season of his career to secure a $300 million long-term guarantee from the Padres, while longtime Astros’ lefty Dallas Keuchel struggled in his walk year and finds himself still unsigned with two weeks to go until Opening Day.

Impending free agents on losing teams always deal with a degree of uneasiness around the trade deadline, when clubs hope to bring back something before letting a player leave for nothing, and it takes a certain level of professionalism to block out the noise and perform. In 2019 several players jump off the page as candidates to enjoy a big walk year. Let’s examine the list.

1. Justin Smoak 1B Toronto Blue Jays

Two years ago the switch-hitting Smoak hit .270 with 38 home runs and 90 RBI while adding 29 doubles and making the All-Star Team. Unfortunately he was unable to come close to replicating that success a year ago. In 505 at-bats, the veteran watched his stat line dip to .242 with 25 homers and 77 RBI, still a solid season but not nearly as eye-opening as his prior campaign. Entering 2019 both the Blue Jays and Smoak would benefit from a renaissance, as Toronto is exceedingly unlikely to be in the mix in a difficult AL East and would love to move him to a bat-needy team at the deadline. Smoak understands the monetary difference between his ’17 and ’18 seasons is massive.

2.  Jose Abreu 1B Chicago White Sox

Abreu has spent his entire career in the Windy City after defecting from Cuba prior to the 2014 campaign, and during his first four years in the big leagues he was one of the best run producers in the entire sport. From 2014-17 the right-handed slugger hit over .290 with 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI in each season, but last year didn’t go nearly as swimmingly. A lower abdominal injury limited the 32-year-old to a career-low 128 games, and his .265 average, 22 homers and 78 RBI were evidence of just how bothered he was by the discomfort. Now back and healthy, Abreu is a prime candidate for a huge year, as he is a proud man who fancies himself as one of the most productive hitters in the American League. A big winter payday is quite the carrot at the end of the proverbial stick.

3. Zack Wheeler SP New York Mets

After spending the majority of his career taking two steps forward and one step back, the right-hander finally arrived in a big way in 2018. In 29 starts, Wheeler dominated for much of the year, turning in a 3.31 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP in 182.1 innings while striking out 179 men and holding the opposition to just a .225 batting average. There had been some minor chatter of New York trying to extend the 28-year-old during camp, but Wheeler spoke candidly about understanding he and Gerrit Cole are the top two free agents to be starting pitchers, and it’s clear he has his eyes on the prize heading into the new season.

4. Gerrit Cole SP Houston Astros

Speaking of Cole, the former Pirates first-round pick landed in Houston as part of an offseason trade prior to last year, and while he often found himself overshadowed by teammate Justin Verlander, he was one of the best pitchers in the American League in his own right. In 32 outings the veteran turned in a 2.88 ERA with a career best 1.03 WHIP while holding the opposition to a sub .200 batting average for the first time and eclipsing the 200 innings pitched plateau for the third time in four years. His 276 strikeouts finished second to only Verlander in the AL, and the UCLA product earned a selection to his second All-Star Team. Entering 2019 Wheeler was 100 percent right that he and Cole will be the two most sought-after pitchers next winter, and provided Cole avoids serious injuries moving forward, his bank account can expect to expand by several zeroes.

5. Josh Donaldson 3B Atlanta Braves

Perhaps no offensive player is more motivated at the outset of 2019 than the 2015 AL MVP, who struggled through a miserable injury-plagued 2018 season and ultimately settled for a high value one-year, prove-it deal in Atlanta. The Braves could be getting themselves a steal as they attempt to win their second consecutive division crown, as from 2015-17 Donaldson launched 111 homers and drove in 300 runs while consistently hitting around .280 and getting on base at close to a .385 clip. Taking the pillow contract was a strategic play for the veteran, as he understood he would be overshadowed by Machado and Bryce Harper on the free-agent market this season. And if he can re-establish himself as a premier run producer in 2019, he just may break the bank next winter.

6. Scooter Gennett 2B Cincinnati Reds

In just two seasons in western Ohio, Gennett has transformed himself from a solid role player in Milwaukee to one of the best offensive second basemen in the league. Last year the 28-year-old hit .310 with 23 homers and 92 RBI while setting a new career high with a .357 OBP and eclipsing 30 doubles for the third time in his career. By all accounts the veteran is someone the Reds should want to keep around for the long haul, but in mid-February he expressed frustration over not receiving a contract extension, a potential rift to pay attention to as the summer unfolds.

7. Marcell Ozuna OF St. Louis Cardinals

When the Marlins were selling off everyone and everything that wasn’t nailed down prior to last season, the Cardinals were happy to swoop in and take the right-handed-hitting Ozuna off their hands. The Dominican Republic native had just completed a season that had watched him hit .313 with 37 homers and 124 RBI while earning a trip to his second straight All-Star Game, taking home his first Silver Slugger award and even winning his first Gold Glove. St. Louis fantasized about adding that type of production to the middle of its lineup, but unfortunately it took the veteran some time to get used to his new surroundings. When all was said and done, Ozuna’s numbers slid to .280 with 23 homers and 88 RBI, still solid but not what the Cardinals were expecting. Entering Year 2 in Missouri, this lineup is now home to slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who will take pressure off Ozuna to be the premier right-handed bat and, in theory, add a substantial amount of RBI opportunities. It should come as no surprise if the 28-year-old delivers a monster season.

Angels have considered offering 10 years, $350M to Mike Trout

With Mike Trout down to his penultimate season of team control, the Angels have recently considered offering the center fielder a record-breaking contract – a $350M extension over 10 years – though it’s unclear if they’ve actually proposed it, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (subscription required). Per Rosenthal, the accord would run from 2021-30, Trout’s age-29 to 38 seasons, meaning the future Hall of Famer would finish out the remaining two years and $66.5M on his current contract before the extension would take effect.

A $350M guarantee would be the highest in the history of baseball, quickly unseating the $330M pact Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper received this week. It would also set a new high-water mark for average annual value at $35M, defeating Diamondbacks right-hander Zack Greinke’s $34.4M per year. Still, as Rosenthal rightly observes, neither number appears adequate for Trout – a seven-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP who, at age 27, is already one of the greatest players in the history of the game.  Since his first full season in 2012, Trout has posted a ridiculous 64.0 fWAR, just over 27 wins more than second-place man Josh Donaldson, while easily leading the majors in wRC+ (174, 17 percent better than runner-up Joey Votto) and slashing .310/.420/.579 with 235 home runs and 185 stolen bases across 4,538 plate appearances.

Just as Trout has lapped his competition on the diamond, he’s on track to do the same on his forthcoming deal – whether he signs an extension in the next two years or reaches free agency after 2020. Harper, the Padres’ Manny Machado (10 years, $300M) and the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado (eight years, $260M) have each signed enormous contracts in recent weeks, but as superb as they’ve been, their careers pale in comparison to Trout’s.

Since he first graced the majors in 2011, Trout has produced nearly $500M in on-field value, according to FanGraphs. Trout has a case to aim for that figure (or $400M-plus at minimum) on his next contract, but it doesn’t seem he’s in any rush to determine his long-term future just yet, having already achieved financial security when he landed a $144.5M extension back in March 2014. When asked Friday if he’d be open to discussing a second extension with the Angels this spring, Trout didn’t slam the door shut, but he did suggest he’s more worried about readying himself for the regular season.

If Trout holds off on an extension, the Angels’ performance as a team this season could impact whether he’ll be open to discussions next winter. Trout “desperately” wants to win and has done everything in his power to carry the Angels to glory, but they’ve been startlingly inept despite his presence. Through the first seven full campaigns of Trout’s career, the Angels have earned just one playoff berth and haven’t even won a single postseason game. They’re now mired in a four-year playoff drought and haven’t finished above .500 since 2015.

Original Article

By: Connor Byrne

Josh Donaldson Hit’s Three Dingers As Jays Win

Written by Rosie Dimmano at The Star.com

A fastball fouled off the right kneecap and Josh Donaldson went down like . . . well let him tell it.

“I’ve never been shot before,” he said. “But if I could somehow relate it to that, I felt like I’d just got shot in the knee.”

It left him pogo-hopping in pain at the plate in the first inning, and grimacing when he dropped to the dirt.

“Yeah, it hurt pretty bad.”

Manager John Gibbons, rightly concerned, suggested to his MVP third baseman that, maybe, they should do the prudent thing and pull Donaldson from the game. “Keep it from turning into something worse, where you’re out for a while.”

Donaldson wasn’t having any of that.

“I don’t ever want to not be in the lineup. If it’s something that I can still stand, and I can continue to go out there and still be effective for my team, I’m going to try to stay in as much as I can.”

Because that’s what a stand-up teammate does. Even when standing up on that peg was agonizing.

So Donaldson retrieved his bat, stepped back into the box, and flew out to centre, with Jose Bautista scooting to third. Bautista scored a batter later, on an Edwin Encarnacion sac fly, for the Jays’ first run Sunday against the Twins.

Out of everything Donaldson would accomplish on this glittery afternoon — his first-ever three homer game — Gibbons took note especially of that first-inning parabola.

“That one out that he made was a productive out. He knows he’s got a guy at second, no outs, he’s got to get him to third. So he’s not thinking selfishly. Pops to centre and gets Bautista to third. That’s his mentality.:

It is not what this 9-6 win over Minnesota — completing a Blue Jays weekend sweep — will be best remembered for. But it was a grace note in a momentous performance.

As the game progressed, Donaldson received treatment to keep the blood circulating.

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