We all love a bargain. When we go shopping, we always wander by the clearance rack to see if there is anything worthy of making its home in our closet for a cheap price. We flock to Starbucks when they have a buy one, get one free special. Bargains make us feel like we get something for absolutely nothing.
In the realm of multimillion dollar baseball contracts, bargains are few and far between in the eyes of team owners. Yet, as Spring Training jumps into full swing there are a number of players who will take the field at a fraction of the cost of their similarly producing counterparts.
Any list of bargain players has to start and end with Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Just a week ago, Trout signed a one year deal worth $1 million. That’s an amazingly low salary for a guy in just two years has racked up: two All-Star Game appearances, two Silver Slugger awards, 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and finished 2nd in the 2013 AL MVP voting. The awards say Trout is one of the best in the game, but one statistic sets Trout above any player in Major League Baseball: 9.2 WAR.
WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a trendy new statistic that you will hear frequently in baseball telecasts this season and it is a great indicator of a player’s true value and talent. WAR is a stat that combines many advanced offensive and defensive metrics of a certain player to reflect the number of additional wins their team received compared to if that player was replaced by a “replacement level player”. Basically, WAR determines how indispensable you are to your team. Trout was baseball’s most indispensable player last year and the Angels will have baseball’s most indispensable taking the field for them at the relatively cheap price of $1 million.
Mike Trout is not MLB’s only bargain. Here is a list of MLB players whose small salaries yield tremendous production for their teams.
Madison Bumgarner, P
San Francisco Giants 2014 salary: $3,750,000 It seems like Bumgarner has been a Giant for a decade, but he is 24 years old and is entering the prime of his career. He is the highest paid member of this list, but left handed pitchers are often overpaid simply because every team in Major League Baseball craves having a talented left handed pitcher on their pitching staff. Bumgarner had a solid 2013 season with a 13-9 record, 2.77 ERA (5th in the National League) and a .205 opponent batting average (3rd in NL). Bumgarner throws a nasty slider and has earned his role as Opening Day starter for the Giants. Not a bad deal for just under $4 million.
Jose Fernandez, P
Miami Marlins 2014 salary: $490,000 Fernandez’s rookie season was truly dominant and led to him receiving the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year. His 4.2 WAR last year ranks in the top 10 rookie season since World War I. That list puts Fernandez in the legendary company of Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela and Mark Fidrych. His stats are eye popping: 12-6 record, 2.19 (2nd in NL) and .182 opponents batting average (1st in NL). His record is remarkable considering the Marlins had the worst record in the NL last year.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
2014 salary: $1,100,000 Everyone loves to see home runs and Goldschmidt might have the best home run power in the National League. He leads the NL in home runs (36) and RBI (125) and finished 2nd in the MVP vote. Goldschmidt is talented at the plate, but is one of the best fielding first baseman in the game and picked up a Gold Glove last year. A first baseman who hits and fields well is an absolute bargain at $1.1 million.
Josh Donaldson, 3B
2014 salary: $492,000 If you have seen the movie Moneyball, you know Oakland GM Billy Beane is the king of finding talented players for dirt cheap. Donaldson was drafted by the A’s as a catcher, but was switched to third base before the 2012 season. Ever since that point, Donaldson has crushed AL pitching. Last year he batted .301 with 24 HR and 93 RBI. His WAR of 7.97 was the 4th best in baseball. Somewhere in a dark office in Oakland, Billy Beane is smiling over this Moneyball-type of contract.
Manny Machado, 3B
2014 salary: $495,000 Machado is currently rehabbing a knee injury suffered last fall but should be ready to play by the first few weeks of the season. Once he takes the field, fans will get to see the guy who is arguably the game’s best fielding third baseman. Machado had a WAR of 6.57 last year, mostly due to his tremendous impact defensively. FanGraphs consider him the best defensive third baseman in baseball by a wide margin. His strong arm and defensive range have led many scouts to compare the 2013 Gold Glove winner to Alex Rodriguez. Machado still has a lot to learn offensively, even though he led the AL with 51 doubles last year. However, if he can get his offense to match his defense, he could be one of the best third baseman of this generation.
Even in baseball, there are bargains to be found. You just have to look hard enough.