Below are hitters with fantasy relevance who are entering the final year of their contract. These players could produce monster numbers in hopes of earning big bucks, or they could be traded before the July 31st deadline and finish the season with a new team.
- 2B, New York Yankees
More than likely this is a "nothing to see here" situation. Just about all reports indicate the Yankees want to make Robinson Cano a Yankee for life, and Cano has been, and will continue to be for the near future - the top second baseman in fantasy baseball. A contract year or a bigger payday will probably not change his production, expect him to stay with the Yankees for all of 2013 and beyond.
- OF, Boston Red Sox
Two out of Jacoby Ellsbury's past three seasons have been plagued with injury. A breakout in 2011 shows there is definite potential there for a tremendous player, but even without all of the injuries, previous-to and since, 2011 looks like a career year. If he can stay even moderately healthy throughout the season, and the Red Sox are not in contention come July, look for Ellsbury to be on the move. He, and the team, will probably be more willing to allow him to play through the nagging injuries this year, with both parties hoping for a performance other teams are interested in investing in. Jackie Bradley Jr. has been impressive in spring training, potentially making it easier for Boston to move Ellsbury. A move to the Texas Rangers, or even the Cincinnati Reds, may be in the cards for 2013.
- OF, Cincinnati Reds
With his recent move to the south side of Ohio, Shin-Soo Choo is set up for a monster year. Choo's recent injuries have been of the accident fashion, and should not worry teams about his health. The Reds project to be in contention for the NL Central title, and shouldn't be looking to trade their new centerfielder at the deadline. He will turn 31-years-old right before the trade deadline, so this will be his last chance at a big contract. If he can improve against lefties (three-year average slash line of .239/.329.318) he could turn into a Top-15 outfielder by the end of the year, instead of a Top-25.
- C, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves have made big upgrades to their lineup, and their once top-tier offensive catcher has become an after thought to most fantasy owners. Brian McCann has a lot to prove this year if he wants to sign a three-year, or longer contract, at the conclusion of the 2013 season - first of which is his health. If he does not start the season on the disabled list, he will not be playing every day. Even though putting up big numbers will help with his future contract, it is doubtful he will be an impact player until the second half of the season. The Braves do have the luxury of not needing his bat in the line-up, but if Evan Gattis continues to impress, look for McCann to be shipped out of town to fill a hole for the team.
- C/1B, Boston Red Sox
This time last year, Mike Napoli was looking forward to a big year in order to secure a lucrative long-term deal after a productive walk year in 2012. Unfortunately, a hip injury stood in the way of that outcome, and heading into 2013 he has to prove that he is healthy, can stay healthy, and is still that player that can hit 25-plus home runs a year. Because of the labrum problem in his hip, doctors were also able to find a degenerative condition early on and have been able to keep it from progressing at this time. If the Red Sox are in the same spot this July, as they were last July, they surely will look to shop Napoli - possibly to an NL team if he can show he is still capable of being a league average defender at first base or behind the plate.
- OF, San Francisco Giants
Hunter Pence struggled at the plate after his mid-season trade to the Giants in 2012, but what he does this year will probably dictate whether or not he will receive one more long-term deal in his career, or if he will be reserved to taking a two or three-year deal here and there for the rest of his career. Turning 29-years-old shortly after the start of the season, Pence is still young enough to have a few years of high production. An adjustment to AT&T Park should happen, and the Giants will have no reason to move him at the deadline if they perform as expected.
- OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Carlos Beltran sprinted out of the gates last season, seemingly putting his recent injuries behind him. Unfortunately, nagging injuries caught up to him in the second half, and even though he played in 151 games last year, he probably could have benefited from a few more days off after the All-Star Break to help his overall game. He is at the end of his career, but would still make a great hybrid Designated Hitter/Outfielder for an American League team, and look for St. Louis to explore that option in a trade. However, they may not wait to the deadline to do so, with the "ready-to-go" prospect Oscar Taveras sitting at Triple-A waiting for his chance in the big leagues.
- OF, Texas Rangers
After losing teammate Josh Hamilton to free agency this season, Nelson Cruz may be the next Ranger outfielder to see his way out of town. The streaky, often injured, and late-blooming Cruz is already 32-years-old, and will more than likely need to have a big year to receive a multi-year contract following this season. He seems to be well prepared for 2013, performing quite well with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. There is an outside chance that the Rangers move Cruz at the deadline with Mike Olt waiting in the wings, but teams will probably not be willing to give up what the Rangers think he is worth because of the injury history.
- OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Like many others on this list, Corey Hart has often dealt with an injury causing him to miss time the past few years. There has been talk of the Brewers extending Hart, but my money would be on the team trading him at some point in the season to help replenish their depleted farm system. Hart, 30, will be playing this season for one more good multi-year deal, and mixed league owners should take advantage of his drop in average draft position, but NL-Only owners should take caution because of a possible AL destination at the trade deadline.