Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If you want the big money at contract time, you have to perform at a level deserving of a massive reward. Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character in the movie "Jerry Maguire," Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell, did just that and in real life it seems to happens more often than not.
One of the most noted examples of this cause and effect can be seen in Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre.
Beltre was playing third base for the Los Angeles Dodgers at the time (2004) and blossomed from a borderline fantasy-worthy player to a fantasy MVP candidate. He blasted a league-leading 48 homers that season, scored 104 runs, knocked in 121 runs, batted .334 and posted an OPS of 1.017 - all career-high numbers.
And if you think lightning couldn't strike twice, Beltre had another huge season for Boston in 2010 when he was again in the final year of a contract. In that season, he batted .321, scored 84 runs, hit 28 homers and knocked in 102 runs. And Beltre isn't the only one, he's just the clearest example.
The theory certainly seems sound as we all do our best job when we know a good performance will directly relate to the next paycheck size.
So let's take a look at 10 players whose contract is up at the end of the 2012 baseball season. If our theory holds true, they should have an above-average seasons and some maybe even a "career year."
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas (ADP 20) - In 2011, Kinsler produced a career first - a season without a trip to the disabled list. He rewarded fantasy owners who took the gamble on him with the second 30 home run-30 stolen base season of his career along with a career-high 121 runs scored. If he can again avoid the dreaded injury bug, he could end up being the best at a very talented second base position.
David Wright, 3B, New York Mets (ADP 29) - This could be the perfect storm for Wright and fantasy owners. An injury-filled 2011 has kept expectations under wraps, the Mets have moved the fences in at Citi Field and Wright's playing for a fat, new contract. If his spring training injury is not serious, it has all the makings of a big season for the Mets third baseman.
Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia (ADP 32) - Hamels wants to stay with the Phillies, but the team likely needs a little push to draw up another $100 million contract. Hamels pitched just below the Roy Halladay/Clayton Kershaw level, but his 2.79 ERA and 0.986 WHIP are still elite numbers. He'll need 18-20 wins to garner the big contract and that incentive should work. While spring training results rarely mean anything, Hamels is pitching very well already, which isn't his usual exhibition season modest operandi. Select Hamels in the third round and enjoy the ride.
Mike Napoli, C, Texas (Yahoo ADP 53) - Napoli is already coming off the best season of his career (.320, 30 HRs, 75 RBIs, 1.046 OPS). As the second catcher off the board (behind Cleveland's Carlos Santana), it will be hard for the Rangers' C/1B to improve on last year's statistics, but the added incentive of a huge contract could certainly lead the way for him to repeat last year's numbers, which would make fantasy owners ecstatic.
Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco (ADP 54) - Cain receives a lot of respect in the fantasy world, but his statistics haven't lived up to the hype. His ERA and WHIP have been very good, but he was just 13-11 in 2010 and 12-11 last season. The talks between his agent and the Giants haven't gone well and seem to be at an impasse. If Cain comes through with a big season, he could earn a $100 million contract. If that doesn't get him to pitch his best ball, it's doubtful he will ever reach his potential. This is a put-up-or-shut-up season for Cain, and the smart money says he pitches well.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B Boston (ADP 60) - Over the past two seasons, Youkilis has struggled with health - missing 102 games during that span. When healthy, he's highly productive and particularly valuable at the weak third base position. Youkilis seems fully recovered from hernia surgery and should return to his 2008-09 type numbers. In the heart of the powerful Red Sox lineup, the fifth-round selection is a bargain waiting for you to take advantage.
B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay (ADP 69) - Upton usually makes the highlight shows with a great catch, but the Rays center fielder is very productive at the plate despite a low batting average. Over the past two seasons, Upton has averaged 20 homers and 39 steals, which more than makes up for a .240 batting average. Add in an eight-figure contract at the end of the season and Upton could certainly be one of the league's best overachievers as a sixth-round selection this season.
Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 110) - Ethier was on a roller coaster ride in 2011. In April, we saw him produce a 30-game hitting streak and he was batting around .360. After the All-Star break, he hit just .252 with two measly homers and 18 RBIs. Maybe all he needs is a financial incentive to finish the season the way he starts it.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Seattle (ADP 116) - After leading the league in hits for five straight seasons, Ichiro struggled to post just 184 hits in 2011 and a career-low 0.645 OPS. This means you can put the Mariners outfielder in your lineup with a lowly 10th-round pick. With an improving lineup around him, Ichiro should score close to 100 runs and is always good for 40-plus steals. That by itself would make him a bargain, but he figures to return to the land of the .300 hitter and the incentive of one last contract should make it so.
Erick Aybar, SS. Anaheim (ADP 157) - Aybar isn't usually thought of by fantasy owners on Draft Day, but he's improving his game to the point where he could produce decent fantasy value. In an Angels lineup that has been greatly improved by the arrival of Albert Pujols and the return of Kendrys Morales, Aybar should set career highs in runs and RBIs.
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