MLB's All-Value Contract Team, Position by Position
In an era of quickly rising salaries and multimillion dollar demands from amateur players who are selected high in the draft, it's incredibly difficult to find true value in baseball.
But there's value to be found if you look hard enough.
To be fair, I've excluded players who are still being paid at the minimum levels set by their rookie contracts. So you won't find the likes of Josh Donaldson, Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, Garrett Richards or Kyle Seager on this list.
Additionally, I've held players who signed a one-year deal to avoid arbitration out of the running for a starting spot, though some of those players provided so much value that they needed to be included as honorable mentions.
So, basically, we're looking at players who either signed with a team as a free agent or who signed an extension with their current club.
How did I quantify value?
I could have looked at a player's WAR and compared it (and his contract) to that of his counterparts around the game, but I'm not a fan of WAR. It's hard to put much stock into a statistic that doesn't have a universally accepted formula.
Instead, I examined the contracts of the most productive players at every position and, using nothing more than my own two eyes, determined which player offered his respective team the most bang for the buck. Sometimes, the traditional eye test is the best option available.
Who made the cut? Let's take a look.
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
Contract: Five years, $11 million
Years Covered: 2012-2016
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $2 million (19th)
2014 Stats: .303 BA, .858 OPS, 55 XBH (13 HR), 58 RBI
We can't call Jonathan Lucroy underrated anymore, but we can certainly call him underpaid. Eighteen catchers are making more than him in 2014, and the vast majority aren't half the player that he is.
Arguably the best catcher in baseball, the 28-year-old leads all backstops in extra-base hits with 55, including an MLB-leading 40 doubles. You'll find his name among the leaders at the position in nearly every other offensive category as well.
He's not great when it comes to controlling the opposition's running game, throwing out only 25.6 percent of would-be base stealers, but Lucroy has become one of the better pitch-framers in the game and is a major reason why the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff owns baseball's 13th-lowest ERA (3.61).
As it stands now, Lucroy will be the 13th-highest paid catcher in 2015 ($3.1 million), finally cracking the top 10 in the final year of his deal with a $4.1 million salary that would make him the seventh-most compensated backstop around.
Yan Gomes (CLE): Six years, $23 million, $600,000 salary in 2014
Salvador Perez (KC): Five years, $7 million , $1.5 million salary in 2014
Kurt Suzuki (MIN): One year, $2.75 million
First Base: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Contract: Five years, $32 million
Years Covered: 2014-2018
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $1.1 million (36th)
2014 Stats: .300 BA, .938 OPS, 59 XBH (19 HR), 69 RBI, 156 wRC+
The Arizona Diamondbacks are paying a reserve infielder who has fewer plate appearances (117) on the season than Paul Goldschmidt has hits (122)—and Goldschmidt hasn't played since Aug. 1 when he broke his hand—nearly three times as much as they're paying a perennial MVP candidate in Goldschmidt.
That's right: Cliff Pennington ($3.25 million) is making nearly three times as much as Paul Goldschmidt is in 2014.
But neither that nor the fact that Goldschmidt ranks 36th on the pay scale list for major league first basemen will really blow your mind.
This season, more than 400 players are taking home a bigger paycheck than Goldschmidt. Think about that for a second—400 players. If we were building 25-man rosters, regardless of position, that's enough talent to comprise 16 full squads.
Expect to see the 26-year-old on this list for quite a while. He won't start pulling in more than $10 million a season until 2018—three-and-a-quarter seasons from now.
Lucas Duda (NYM): One-year, $1.64 million
Anthony Rizzo (CHC): Seven years, $41 million, $1.25 million salary in 2014
Carlos Santana (CLE): Five years, $21 million, $3.5 million salary in 2014
Second Base: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Contract: Four years, $12.5 million
Years Covered: 2014-2017 (plus two team options)
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $1.25 million (25th)
2014 Stats: .339 BA, .821 OPS, 40 XBH (5 HR), 37 RBI
What do Ty Cobb and Jose Altuve have in common?
Very little right now. But if the Houston Astros' diminutive second baseman can keep up his current level of play, he'll join the Georgia Peach as only the second player to ever finish a season with at least a .335 batting average, 225 hits and 60 stolen bases.
Altuve, who leads baseball with a .339 batting average and 173 hits—to go along with an AL-leading 49 stolen bases—would become the first player in Houston's history to win a batting crown and have more hits than anyone else.
Jason Kipnis (CLE): Six years, $52.5 million, $2 million salary in 2014
Daniel Murphy (NYM): One year, $5.7 million
Ben Zobrist (TB): Four years, $18 million, $7 million salary in 2014 (team option)
Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
Contract: Seven years, $58 million
Years Covered: 2014-2020
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $1.1 million (22nd)
2014 Stats: .254 BA, .643 OPS, 22 XBH (5 HR), 40 RBI
Every team needs a defensive whiz at a premium position. When one comes along at a bargain-basement price—and isn't an automatic out at the plate—it's impossible to pass him up.
Sure, Andrelton Simmons hasn't been setting the baseball world on fire with his bat, but there's no shortage of offense on the Atlanta Braves to pick up the slack. That said, his numbers aren't horrible by any means,
Simmons' ability to change the course of a game with a play that other shortstops don't even dare to dream about making, much less attempt, is worth significantly more than his $1.1 million salary. We'll be able to say the same thing in 2015, when he earns $3 million, and in 2016, when his salary doubles to $6 million.
Starlin Castro (CHC): Seven years, $60 million, $5.8 million salary in 2014
Ian Desmond (WAS): Two years, $17.5 million, $6.5 million salary in 2014
Alcides Escobar (KC): Four years, $10.5 million, $3 million salary in 2014
Third Base: Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
Contract: Six years, $52 million
Years Covered: 2014-2019 (Team option for 2020)
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $1.25 million (16th)
2014 Stats: .284 BA, .779 OPS, 38 XBH (7 HR), 48 RBI
Matt Carpenter may not be the prototypical third baseman, but the 28-year-old is more than a bargain for the St. Louis Cardinals on his current deal.
Second in the National League with 68 walks and seventh with a .379 on-base percentage (the highest of any qualified third baseman in either league), Carpenter's ability to work counts and get on base consistently makes him incredibly valuable.
That he can hit for average, has some pop in his bat and is versatile enough to play multiple positions (if needed) only enhances the tremendous value that his contract represents. It won't be until 2017 that he's pulling down an eight-digit yearly salary, making him a prime candidate for inclusion on our All-Value squad for at least another two years.
Casey McGehee (MIA): One year, $1.1 million
Anthony Rendon (WAS): Four years, $7.2 million, $1.2 million salary in 2014
Trevor Plouffe (MIN): One year, $2.35 million
Left Field: Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
Contract: Six years, $31 million
Years Covered: 2014-2019 (Team option for 2020 and 2021)
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $833,333 (31st)
2014 Stats: .266 BA, .748 OPS, 33 XBH (6 HR), 40 RBI
While Starling Marte continues to strike out far more often than a player without big-time power should—Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. and Seattle's Austin Jackson are the only other two players with six or fewer home runs and at least 100 strikeouts—there's no denying the extreme value he offers at less than $1 million in 2014.
Marte's speed and athleticism allow him to cover a large swath of ground in left field, getting to balls in the gaps that other outfielders cannot. Among left fielders with at least 650 innings of work this season, Marte ranks fifth in UZR/150 (8.2) and sixth in defensive runs saved with seven.
That athleticism and speed has also made Marte a threat to take off running whenever he reaches base, as his 24 stolen bases on the year lead all major league left fielders. So long as he can stay healthy and continue to develop, Marte will remain a bargain for years to come, with his salary staying under $10 million until 2019.
Dustin Ackley (SEA): Five years, $7.5 million, $1.7 million salary in 2014
Brett Gardner (NYY): One year, $5.6 million (Contract extension doesn't begin until 2015)
Seth Smith (SD): One year, $4.5 million (Contract extension doesn't begin until 2015)
Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Contract: One Year, $1 million
Years Covered: 2014 (Contract extension doesn't begin until 2015)
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $1 million (24th)
2014 Stats: .289 BA, .936 OPS, 65 XBH (27 HR), 86 RBI
Remember how we marveled at the fact that more than 400 players were making more than Paul Goldschmidt this season?
There are even more players taking home a bigger paycheck than the best player in the game, Mike Trout, who trails Goldschmidt by a cool quarter-million in salary.
Even after Trout's six-year, $144.5 million extension kicks in next season, it's going to be tough to keep him off of this list. His $6.08 million salary in 2015 will still be a terrific value, and, if we're being honest, Trout is likely to be underpaid until at least 2018, when his yearly paycheck jumps to more than $34 million.
Michael Brantley (CLE): Four years, $25 million, $2.4 million salary in 2014
Andrew McCutchen (PIT): Six years, $51.5 million, $7.5 million salary in 2014
Yasiel Puig (LAD): Seven years, $42 million, $3.7 million salary in 2014
Right Field: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Contract: Two years, $13.3 million
Years Covered: 2014-2015
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $5 million (21st)
2014 Stats: .264 BA, .728 OPS, 31 XBH (9 HR), 45 RBI
Having a quality defender in right field is a must for any team that hopes to be competitive these days.
Having Jason Heyward in right field—at a cost of only $5 million—is almost unfair.
It's not even close when you compare Heyward to his counterparts around the game. He holds commanding leads over the rest of the field in both UZR/150 (29.3, 17.7 ahead of second place) and DRS (31, 22 runs ahead of second place).
Sure, he's a lot streakier at the plate than you'd like, and his tremendous raw power hasn't translated into gaudy home run totals, but Heyward does enough with a bat in his hands to earn the starting nod on our All-Value squad over some formidable competition.
Norichika Aoki (KC): One year, $1.5 million (team option)
Josh Reddick (OAK): One year, $2.7 million
Giancarlo Stanton (MIA): One year, $6.5 million
Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles
Contract: One year, $8 million
Years Covered: 2014
2014 Stats: .260 BA, .839 OPS, 53 XBH (31 HR), 83 RBI
Picking a designated hitter who provides great value was a bit tricky, as it had to be a player who spends more time on the bench than he does in the field. Those parameters removed less expensive candidates like Oakland's John Jaso ($2.3 million) and Tampa Bay's Matt Joyce ($3.7 million).
Still, it's hard to argue that Nelson Cruz hasn't been an absolute steal for Baltimore at $8 million. The 34-year-old leads the American League in home runs, is sixth in RBI and is seventh in slugging percentage (.511).
Adam Lind (TOR): One year, $7 million (team option)
Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Contract: Five years, $32.5 million
Years Covered: 2013-2017
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $3.5 million (91st)
2014 Stats: 19 GS, 10-2, 2.01 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 130 IP, 91 H, 1.7 BB/9, 10.4 K/9
One of the 10 best pitchers in baseball, Chris Sale won't crack the top 20 in yearly salary among his counterparts until 2017. That's when his $12 million paycheck will put him on even footing with Minnesota's Ricky Nolasco as the 17th-most compensated among starters.
Until then, you might as well go ahead and chisel his name into the starting spot for our All-Value team, as his salaries of $6 million in 2015 and $9.15 million in 2016 are significant bargains for a player who is destined to eventually take home a Cy Young Award.
Madison Bumgarner (SF): Five years, $35 million, $3.95 million salary in 2014
Jose Quintana (CWS): Five years, $21 million, $850,000 salary in 2014
Julio Teheran (ATL): Six years, $32.4 million, $967,000 salary in 2014
Closer: Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
Contract: Five years, $10.5 million
Years Covered: 2014-2018
2014 Salary (Position Rank): $630,000 (23rd)
2014 Stats: 51 G, 1-3, 2.39 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 52.2 IP, 30 H, 0.7 BB/9, 12.6 K/9, 18-of-21 SV
Sean Doolittle may not have been a full-time closer when he inked his five-year deal with the Oakland A's, but the bearded one has developed into one of the game's best ninth-inning options.
Among closers with at least 18 saves on the season, nobody has a lower WHIP or issues fewer walks per nine innings of work than Doolittle, who trails Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel by a hundredth of a point for the lowest OPS against.
LaTroy Hawkins (COL): One year, $2.5 million
Jake McGee (TB): One year, $1.4 million