- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Potential Contract Year Players: Hitters

Ah yes, the contract year. It’s a very real phenomenon, something our own Dayn Perry brilliantly analyzed in Baseball Between The Numbers. Fantasy teams benefit from contract years just as much as real teams do, and if you’re lucky you’ll roster one or two such players a year. This is 100% subjective on my part, but I put together a list of five position players that could be primed to explode in 2011 with their eyes on a contract for 2012. Tomorrow we’ll tackle some pitchers.

Jorge Posada

The last time Posada was playing for a contract (2007), he put together a six-and-a-half win season that featured a .417 wOBA and a sixth place finish in the MVP voting. Now 39, he obviously won’t perform to that level this time around, but he has a new position as a full-time DH that should (in theory) keep him healthier and fresher over the long season. Nagging injuries suffered on hit by pitches and foul tips and what not limited him to just 451 PA in 2010, but he still produced at a .248/.357/.454 clip with 18 homers when he was on the field. With catcher eligibility and one last shot at contract as one of those Yankee “legacy” players, Posada could be in store for big things this year.

Prince Fielder

We know Prince is taking this contract year thing seriously, dude’s already lost a whole bunch of weight. He’s also got an every other year thing going on, and 2011 is scheduled to be one of his “on” years. That’s not to say he’s bad in the “down” years, because he’s certainly not (~.415 wOBA’s vs. ~.375), but with Scott Boras dangling the nine-figure contract carrot in front of his face, Fielder could be in store for a monster season. Oh, and he’s just hitting his age 27 season as well, so he’s at his peak age right now. Keep that in mind when you’re deciding between Prince and guys like Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard.

Jose Reyes

The last two years of Reyes’ career have been hampered by injuries, though he did manage to come to plate over 600 times in 2010. He did steal 30 bases and go deep 11 times with a .282 AVG last year, but it wasn’t the same .290+/12+/60+ guy we’ve become accustomed too. The Mets’ brain trust has talked about signing Reyes to a long-term contract extension, but given the continued uncertainty surrounding the team’s financial (and now ownership) situation, there’s no guarantee that they can afford him. Paul Swydan ran down the teams that could trade for Reyes at the deadline, and the motivation that comes from going from a pretender to a contender can be a powerful thing. Reyes won’t turn 28 until June either, so he’s still crazy young and in his peak years.

Aramis Ramirez

Ramirez looked done early last season, like done done. He was hitting just .168/.232/.285 with five homers in just about 200 PA before hitting the disabled list with a sprained thumb in mid-June. The time off seemed to do the trick, because Ramirez came back and hit .287/.333/.556 with 20 homers in his final ~300 PA of the season. Now 32 (33 in June) and facing what is likely the last chance at a big payday of his career, Aramis could put together a monster season with his sights set on an Adrian Beltre-esque contract, not matter how unrealistic that may be. That’s something to remember when you’re trying to decide between Ramirez and say, Casey McGehee.

Jason Kubel

The Twins have really beefed up payroll over the last two or three years, but they’ve got to save somewhere. Joe Mauer‘s making big bucks now, Justin Morneau has been for a few years, and after the season they’re going to have to retain Joe Nathan and/or Matt Capps. And don’t forget that an extension for Francisco Liriano isn’t that far away either. Kubel could be the odd man out. He’s in a bit of a bind because he’s going to have to battle Jim Thome and Michael Cuddyer for playing time, plus his home park was no better than neutral offensively in its inaugural season, so he’s at a disadvantage right off the bat. Twenty homers and 80 or more RBI is fine production for a third outfielder, but there’s a chance he forces his way into more playing time at age 28 (29 in May) and sets himself up for a handsome pay day somewhere else after the season.

Go here to submit your fan projections for Posada, Fielder, Reyes, Ramirez, and Kubel.