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Experts predict D-backs’ Pollock will receive big payday in free agency

Arizona Diamondbacks' A.J. Pollock (11) flips his bat in the air after striking out as Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann, right, looks on during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The letters M-V-P have lately been tagged as a descriptor next to the name of Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock.

April’s National League Player of the Month and this past week’s player of the week deserves the hype for his hot start, but regardless of any upcoming regression, the beginnings of 2018 have foreshadowed a pickle for the D-backs.

Pollock will hit free agency after this season.

Considering he’s been the team’s best player to this point, Arizona stares down a path to determine what he could make in the free agent market.

Pollock’s next contract, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, will pay him a lot of money.

Rosenthal points out several other deals signed by center fielders as a starting point. The St. Louis Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract, and the Milwaukee Brewers paid Lorenzo Cain $80 million over five years.

Like Pollock, who is going on 31 years old, they were in their early 30s upon signing those deals.

If Pollock stays healthy and keeps performing at a high level, he might end up with a deal closer to Charlie Blackmon’s recent six-year, $108 million contract with the Rockies — if not above.

Blackmon, who turns 32 on July 1, negotiated his deal without the benefit of free agency. Pollock, who will hit the open market entering his age 31 season, owns the same career OPS-plus as Blackmon, though in 1,125 fewer career plate appearances. Both have an OPS-plus of 117, meaning their OPS is 17 percent above major-league average when adjusted for league and ballpark.

Pollock also is the highest-rated defender of the players listed above — he currently is fourth among center fielders in defensive runs saved, and has never been below 10th in his healthy seasons.

The red flag that will hurt Pollock’s value is no doubt his injury history that includes hand, elbow and groin issues.

None of those things have held him back this year. Pollock is slashing .306/.362/.669 with 29 RBIs, 10 home runs and 22 runs scored. He’s first in the National League in Wins Above Replacement (2.0) and OPS (1.032).

A star-heavy free agency class next summer would make Pollock a nice second-tier option after teams with the money to spend fight for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Rosenthal adds.

So what’s the likelihood Arizona can retain Pollock’s services?

FanRag’s Jon Heyman gives the D-backs 6:1 odds to keep the center fielder but points out his future is intertwined with that of two other key upcoming free agents.

They’d like to keep him, but they’d also like to keep star pitcher Patrick Corbin, and in a year from now, franchise man Paul Goldschmidt.

Arizona, according to Heyman, has the third-best odds to retain Pollock, behind the rival Los Angles Dodgers (4:1) — vice president of baseball ops Josh Byrnes worked for the D-backs as GM when they drafted Pollock — and the Texas Rangers (5:1).

For the Diamondbacks, any pre-trade deadline moves could indicate the team’s intentions, but its hands are tied in a number of ways. This summer, it appeared more likely that the Diamondbacks could move a large sum of money with the idea of re-signing slugger J.D. Martinez, or looking further ahead to keeping Pollock or extending Goldschmidt.

Reports brought up Corbin, who is also on an expiring contract, as a name to keep an eye on.

But so far in 2018, as he and Pollock have become Arizona’s two best players, that has turned into a moot point with the D-backs looking like contenders.

So does the already-unlikely scenario of the D-backs finding a trade partner for ace Zack Greinke, who will make upward of $34 million a year through 2021. Again, the problem is making any trade of a key player while remaining in contention. Injuries to fellow pitchers Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker and Shelby Miller zapped the rotation depth, making Greinke unexpendable if the D-backs don’t want to fall off.

All logic points to the Diamondbacks waiting this out and looking for answers in the offseason.

However, with two of their best players potentially leaving next year, the front office assuredly is kicking the tires on all options now.

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