Pujols, Jackson, Wilson under special scrutiny
Thursday, October 27, 2011
ST. LOUIS (AP) — For Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson and C.J. Wilson, the future is now.
Every time they get a hit or make a key pitch during the World Series, their accomplishments are being noted by general managers and scouts throughout the major leagues.
Less than a week after the postseason's final out, they'll be on the free agent market, and their performances under the highest pressure will help determine their worth.
"Postseason value leads to the idea that you can accomplish more for a franchise above your performance levels than you would anticipate," said Scott Boras, who represents Jackson.
The World Series took a second straight day off Wednesday, when rain caused Major League Baseball to postpone Game 6 between St. Louis and Texas about five hours before the scheduled first pitch. The Rangers, who lead three games to two, will try to capture their first Series title in their half-century history when play resumes Thursday night.
In the meantime, the other 28 teams already are looking ahead to the start of baseball's business season.
Coming off a contract that paid him $111 million over eight seasons, including this year's option, Pujols is one of two premier power hitters about to hit the market, along with Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder, another Boras client.
Jackson and Wilson are among a handful of decent starting pitchers, joined by Mark Buehrle and Hiroki Kuroda — with the Yankees' CC Sabathia expected to use his ability to opt out of his contract to join them in free agency.
And, looking ahead to next year's free agent group, no player may have increased his stature more than Texas catcher Mike Napoli, who broke open Game 4 with a three-run homer and followed with a tiebreaking two-run double in Game 5, when he also threw out Allen Craig twice trying to steal second base.
"I think there is something if you're productive at this time of the year. I think you give it special attention," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "If a guy has not been a good run producer and has a hot series, I don't think you automatically say, hey, if we get this guy, he's going to be special."
"I think if a guy has proven he's been a clutch player and he goes into the playoffs and his swing is a little funky, it doesn't mean he's not a clutch player. Hitting is so fragile, his timing, his confidence. I think you pay attention to it, but there are other things that you put together," he said.
More than one team has had buyer's remorse. Carlos Beltran hit eight home runs for Houston in the 2004 NL playoffs, tying the postseason record set by Barry Bonds two years earlier, and earned a $119 million, seven-year contract from the Mets. While New York came within one win of reaching the 2006 World Series, he never lived up to the team's expectations before the Mets dealt him to San Francisco last summer.
"We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series," Mets owner Fred Wilpon told The New Yorker, a reference to himself.
Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski says it takes time to learn not to put too much emphasis on short stretches, but notes the postseason keeps expanding, creating a larger sample. How much to value postseason against the six-month grind is a tricky matter.
"Every time you see a guy's performance, you're always weighting than in," he said. "I can't tell you I have any specific formula. Every player is somewhat different, based on circumstances."
A three-time NL MVP, the 31-year-old Pujols is one of the most accomplished players ever, not just of this free agent class. He hit .300 or better and topped 100 RBIs in his first 10 big league seasons before batting .299 with 99 RBIs this year. He hit 37 home runs, surpassing 30 for the 11th consecutive year.
And then he joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game, tying records with five hits and six RBIs in Game 3. But Pujols was 0 for 12 in the other four games going into Wednesday.
"I think there's expectations that the media and the fan base have with certain players," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said. "People's expectations are Albert Pujols is capable of doing what he did the other night, and that adds to his reputation and expectations."
Wilson, a left-hander who turns 31 next month, was 6-2 with a 1.89 ERA during his final 10 starts of the regular season, finishing with a 16-7 record as the Rangers' ace. But he's gone 0-3 with a 6.08 ERA in five postseason outings, tying the record with 19 walks.
A converted reliever in only his second season as a starter, he may have worn down, raising questions about his stamina.
Jackson, a right-hander who is a younger option at 28, was a combined 12-9 for the Chicago White Sox and Cardinals and has gone 1-1 with a 5.60 ERA in four postseason starts.
And then there's Napoli. Able to become a free agent after next season, he's eligible for salary arbitration and will likely get a large raise from the $5.8 million he made this year.
Players on teams already home are jealous of the opportunities these players have in the spotlight.
"I definitely wish I was one of those guys that is getting dressed right now and be able to step on the field here in a little bit," Toronto star Jose Bautista said before Game 5.
It's easier for players who aren't All-Stars to increase their luster, so a player like Napoli could benefit more from the World Series than someone like Pujols, who has set his own high standard by producing at the highest level for a decade.
"The irony of this," Boras said, "is the greatest of players have the fewest opportunities to exhibit above-the-line performance."
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