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Hitters in Contract Years: Contractually Obligated to Have a Good Fantasy Year

Players in their “contract year,” or next year’s free-agents-to-be, have a little incentive to perform above their career averages in their current year so they can ensure they will get paid. Historically, it all balances out. Certain players play well and subsequently get handsomely overpaid in free agency, and some players just absolutely tank and never are heard from as a professional again.


In the world of Fantasy Baseball, decisions need to be made in haste when drafting, no matter the style. You can just go by average draft position that sites have already available if you don’t construct your own rankings, you can go by gut feeling, by home cooking (selecting all your favorite teams’ players), pitching heavy, power heavy, speed, on-base percent or hitters in contract years.

No matter your strategy, you need all the information you can to draft the winning team.

When you know a player will be extra motivated for a contract this season, it provides you with a little separation when you are faced with comparable players at the draft table.

What Do Hitters in Contract Years Offer?

Hitters in contract years — or next year’s free-agents — have a little incentive to perform above their career averages in their current year, so they can ensure they will get paid.

Historically, it all balances out. Certain players play well and subsequently get handsomely overpaid in free agency, and some players just absolutely tank and are never heard from as a professional again.

But there are definitely more than a handful of cases where a player has an all-star caliber season when faced with the pending contract on the horizon. As you look for anything to tip the scales into a more informed decision in your drafts, I have compiled a list of key players at every position (and age) that are in their contract seasons fighting for a future contract with whoever will pay them.

Catchers in Contract Years

  • Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers (28)
  • Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles (28)
  • Chris Iannetta, Los Angeles Angels (31)
  • John Jaso, Tampa Bay Rays (31)
  • Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays (31)

With Russell Martin in the picture in Toronto now, I’m less enamored with Navarro this season. He was hitting in a prime spot of the lineup in the highly potent Blue Jay offense and producing. He will most likely split his time at catcher and designated hitter and sitting. This makes Wieters as my top 2016 free-agent catcher to target. This once uber-prospect needs to just stay healthy for a full season and he would be near the top of the offensive categories of all catchers for the year. Baltimore’s park and lineup lends itself to run producing and Wieters should help himself and his fantasy owners by putting up some numbers.

First Basemen in Contract Years

  • Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (29)
  • Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox (33)
  • Steve Pearce, Baltimore Orioles (31)
  • Garrett Jones, New York Yankees (33)

Pearce will get time at first and in the outfield in Baltimore and again I am liking this Oriole out of the contract-year group. He burst on the scene last year as his prodigious spurts of power over short stretches of games became almost legendary (especially in the DFS world).

Steve Pearce, Hitters in Contract Years, Keith-Allison

Orioles 1B Steve Pearce hit 10 homers in August and September combined last season.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Napoli was more intriguing when he had catcher eligibility in years past. That is long gone now and even his playing time at first base may start to dwindle with the addition of Pablo Sandoval to go along with the rest of the infield crowd in Boston.

Chris Davis, who knows?

Second Basemen in Contract Years

  • Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels (31)
  • Daniel Murphy, New York Mets (29)
  • Ben Zobrist, Oakland Athletics (33)

Murphy, coming off his first all-star year, is one of our favorite players in a contract year. The seemingly endless trade talks involving Murphy may finally come to fruition this year as the Mets look to continue to rebuild cheaply. He is a career .290 hitter that provides 40 doubles, 15-20 stolen bases, and about 10 home runs; he stays healthy and plays every day. Will the motivation factor in to provide some extra incentive for Fantasy owners to benefit this year? Hopefully.

Shortstops in Contract Years

  • Asdrubal Cabrera, Tampa Bay Rays (29)
  • Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals (29)
  • Jimmy Rollins, Los Angeles Dodgers (36)

Desmond may be the No. 1 free-agent-to-be in all of baseball for 2016.  If he can provide a fourth consecutive 20-20 season this year, combined with the position he plays, teams will be lining up to pay a premium price. And you should grab him in your drafts this year to reap the rewards of his incentivized work.

Third Basemen in Contract Years

  • David Freese, Los Angeles Angels (31)
  • Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers (36)

Nothing to see here; not targeting either of these players. Ramirez is old, but can hit for a decent average still. Freese shows the occasional hot streak where he’ll pop off a few homers in a short stretch, but basically disappear the rest of the year.

Outfielders in Contract Years

  • Yoenis Cespedes, Detroit Tigers (29)
  • Alejandro De Aza, Baltimore Orioles (30)
  • Rajai Davis, Detroit Tigers (34)
  • Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs (29)
  • Corey Hart, Pittsburgh Pirates (33)
  • Jason Heyward, St. Louis Cardinals (25)
  • Torii Hunter, Minnesota Twins (39)
  • Matt Joyce, Los Angeles Angels (30)
  • Austin Jackson, Seattle Mariners (28)
  • Gerardo Parra, Milwaukee Brewers (28)
  • Denard Span, Washington Nationals (31)
  • Drew Stubbs, Colorado Rockies (30)
  • Justin Upton, San Diego Padres (27)
  • Will Venable, San Diego Padres (32)
  • Shane Victorino, Boston Red Sox (34)
2015 Fantasy Sleepers
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There is a plethora of primed-for-breakout outfielders with some high-end names to deeply consider. The Braves’ castoffs in Upton and Heyward should be interesting, as they both only have a one-year deal inked with their respective teams. Both landing sites don’t necessarily lend themselves to the power department more than Atlanta did, but maybe the change in scenery will do some good.

Cespedes will be hitting in the middle of a decent lineup in Detroit probably giving Miguel Cabrera some protection and classically that hitter is usually in a great spot to produce.

There are plenty of players on this list with some speed, so look for extra incentive to rack up the stolen bases with guys like Davis, Stubbs, Span, Venable, De Aza, Jackson and Fowler — probably in that order.

With so many interesting hitters in contract years at different positions this season, you should have enough information to help you break any ties when your turn to pick comes up.

Ian Desmond Photo Credit: Keith Allison

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