Playoffs could raise Crawford’s stock

The playoffs are baseball’s version of a magic phone booth, something from which the ordinary can emerge extraordinary and turn a good player into Superman.

Six years ago, Carlos Beltran(notes) parlayed one of the greatest postseasons ever into perhaps $40 million extra on the free-agent market. And he’s far from the only one. The playoffs are the last sniff of baseball every year, and standouts stick out in the minds of decision makers.

Peforming in the postseason may boost Carl Crawford's offseason earning potential.
(US Presswire)

The top three free-agents-to-be this offseason will play this October. Cliff Lee(notes) gets to pitch the opening game of the division series for Texas. Jayson Werth(notes) will hit fifth for Philadelphia. And Carl Crawford(notes), perhaps the most intriguing player available because his skill set is so unique – an unparalleled combination of game-changing speed, extra-base power and superlative defense – will try to pull a Beltran.

“All the hard stuff individually is done,” Crawford said. “I had a good year. So I can just go out and play baseball now.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m clueless. I can’t say what I’m gonna do. I have to wait. That’s why I never have an answer. I wish I did. I don’t like being in the position where I don’t know.”

Oh, to be in such limbo. Teams are going to fight to drop a $100 million deal on Crawford, and he stands to approach Beltran-level dollars – seven years, $119 million – with big numbers and another run by Tampa Bay to the World Series.

The cash won’t be coming from the Rays, not after owner Stu Sternberg recently announced the team will slash payroll in 2011.

“What can I say to that?” Crawford said. “I want to be here, but … “

He laughed.

“I did absorb every day, every game, had a lot of fun with this team,” Crawford said. “I’ll always have the memories here.”

Wherever he takes them – “South, North, here, there, anywhere,” he said – Crawford has plenty to gain this postseason, as do others in a weak free-agent class.

Thus, a list of the 10 free-agents-to-be with the most to gain and lose in the playoffs. This isn’t ranking best to worst. It doesn’t include Adam Dunn(notes) and Adrian Beltre(notes) and Paul Konerko(notes) and others who missed the postseason. Nor does it have Mariano Rivera(notes), who could implode this October and still get the same deal from the Yankees.

It is as much about volatility as anything, and those closer to the top have more to gain – and more to lose.

1. Cliff Lee, SP, Texas Rangers: While a midsummer swoon didn’t destroy Lee’s value, it made fawning executives consider the danger in offering a 32-year-old anything beyond a four-year deal. Lee wants at least six, and at CC Sabathia(notes) dollars, a price few can afford. Yet if Lee mimics his 2009 postseason – 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, averaging more than eight innings a start – teams will join the bidding. And the Yankees will be at the front of the line.

2. Jayson Werth, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: This is shaping up as the Offseason of Werth – of debates over his value, of questions whether he can play center field into his mid-30s and of Scott Boras digging deep into his suitcase of tricks to secure a nine-figure deal for a player who didn’t start full-time until his 29th birthday. Since then, Werth has been a virtue of pop and patience. With so many teams in need of big outfield bats, he’ll sign a contract paying him more in one season than he has made his entire career ($13.5 million). A powerful postseason could guarantee the $100 million.

3. Carl Pavano(notes), SP, Minnesota Twins: He’s doing it again. No, Pavano isn’t going to find himself lavished with another four-year deal anytime soon, but, aided by an excellent Minnesota infield, he has pitched himself into a certain multiyear contract. Just how high the bidding goes could depend on Pavano’s postseason. He was excellent against the Yankees last year in the division series, and if the Twins advance, he’ll have an even greater chance to distinguish himself as – gulp – the second most-desired starter in the class.

4. Carl Crawford, LF, Tampa Bay Rays: Crawford knows himself awfully well. His own scouting report: “I don’t have the big, bubbly home run number, and I don’t drive in 100 runs, but you know what you’re gonna get.” Which is around: .300 batting average, .350 on-base percentage, .475 slugging percentage, 55 extra-base hits and 50 steals. Since he is so consistent, his value would neither skyrocket nor plummet depending on his October. Though if he can cause havoc on the basepaths and knock a couple home runs, teams already frothing for him are going to need megadoses of rabies shots.

5. Rafael Soriano(notes), RP, Rays: The last reliever to enter the marketplace with numbers commensurate to Soriano’s was Francisco Rodriguez, and he went from seeking $75 million over five years to settling for a three-year, $37 million deal. The days of the B.J. Ryan(notes) and Francisco Cordero(notes) contracts are gone, and with the closer’s market flush with possible trades (Jonathan Papelbon(notes)) and non-tenders (Bobby Jenks(notes)), Soriano needs more than sparkling regular-season numbers to distinguish himself.

6. Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: What Evan Longoria(notes) and B.J. Upton(notes) did in the 2008 postseason Pena needs to do this year. Because even if he does have 28 home runs, and even if he does have 86 walks, and even if his batting average on balls in play is a criminally unfair .221, Pena’s .196 batting average is so unsightly, it will scare away suitors. Should he start hitting big playoff home runs, it will at very least mitigate some of his 2010 awfulness – and, perhaps, put him back in a place where he can snag a multiyear deal.

7. Javier Vazquez(notes), SP, New York Yankees: Now, all of this is contingent upon the Yankees using him this postseason, which is mighty unlikely following his 4 2/3-inning, 10-hit, seven-run, three-homer, no-strikeout gem that followed another beaut in which he hit three consecutive hitters. Vazquez deserves a place on this list as much as anyone, though, because he has been so miserable. All it takes is one solid postseason for him to go from one-year, make-good contract to a pitching-desperate team caving for two or three.

8. Derrek Lee(notes), 1B, Atlanta Braves: Ah, the aging first baseman. Lance Berkman(notes) qualifies here, too. Both are one-time MVP-caliber players in their mid-30s who want one more contract. Lee has been better than Berkman, getting on base at a .372 clip in six weeks with Atlanta, but the power from last season is almost gone. Lee’s .417 slugging percentage this season is his lowest since 1999, and power and age are almost always inversely proportional.

9. Juan Uribe(notes), IF, San Francisco Giants: He’s walking more. He’s striking out less. And those 23 home runs look pretty. Same as always, however, is Uribe’s on-base percentage: hovering around .300, which is the true Mendoza Line. How he has survived a decade in the major leagues is a testament to his occasional power and a glove that isn’t close to what it used to be. And still, providing that extra spark for a Giants lineup in need of one would net him a two-year deal this offseason.

10. Derek Jeter(notes), SS, Yankees: Jeter is going nowhere, of course, and he’s at the bottom of the list because nothing he does this postseason is likely to affect his value demonstrably. If he happens to have another huge October, though, one that pours into November, the Yankees happily will oblige him a couple extra million.

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Oct 1, 2010