The MLB 2012 All-Bargain Team
Over the years, sports has become big business. It's a multi-billion dollar industry, and as such, the finances of sports now more than ever affect the decisions made from the executive front offices to the field of play.
No owner of a sports team gets involved in this business with an intent to lose money. Any person or group with the means to purchase a sports team does so with an expectation of a positive return on their investment.
With that in mind, general managers in all sports are always looking for quality players at the lowest possible price. This is especially true in the sport of Major League Baseball, where the economic structure of the league has left a wide gap between teams in large markets, such as New York and Boston, and smaller ones, such as Pittsburgh.
Larger-market teams can afford to make mistakes when it comes to player personnel, whereas a mistake on a player for a small-market team could set the franchise back years. In other words, finding so called "bargain players," or players who outproduce what they earn, has become more important than ever.
With that in mind, here are the players at each position who give teams the most bang for their buck. Introducing the 2012 MLB All-Bargain team.
Note: Since not all 2012 salary information was available at the time of publishing, all stats and salaries will be based on 2011 information.
Catcher: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
2011 Salary: $416,600
2011 Stats: .239 AVG, 84 R, 27 HR, 79 RBI, .808 OPS
Carlos Santana, the 25-year-old phenom who mans the backstop in Cleveland, not only gave the Indians terrific offensive production at a mostly defensive position, but he didn't even cost Cleveland a half-million dollars.
He's not great defensively, but his offensive production is so good that it's easy to look past his defensive flaws, especially for a small-market club who otherwise may not be able to afford a guy with 30-homer, 100-RBI potential.
First Base: Ike Davis, New York Mets
2011 Salary: $432,000
2011 Stats: .302 AVG, 20 R, 7 HR, 25 RBI, .925 OPS
After a 19-homer rookie year, Ike Davis looked like he would be one of the few bright spots of a dismal 2011 Mets season.
Unfortunately, Davis played only 36 games after a severe ankle injury ended his season. When he's healthy, however, he offers the cash-strapped Mets some huge offensive punch and sound defense at first. He's not only a great bargain, but he's one of the better young players in the entire sport.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red sox
2011 Salary: $5,750,000
2011 Stats: .307 AVG, 102 R, 21 HR, 91 RBI, 26 SB, .861 OPS
A guy who made almost $6 million on the All-Bargain team? In a word, yes.
Dustin Pedroia is arguably the best second baseman in the game. He's won the AL Rookie of the Year, been named a league MVP, been an All-Star three times, a Gold Glove winner twice and he's a World Champion.
Name another player with that resume, at this position, who earns what Pedroia does. Still think he doesn't belong here? Well, to put it into better perspective, Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla earned nearly twice as much as Pedroia did in 2011.
Third Base: Mark Trumbo, L.A. Angels
2011 Salary: $414,000
2011 Stats: .254 AVG, 65 R, 29 HR, 87 RBI, .768 OPS
Rookie Mark Trumbo took over at first base for the Angels in 2011 after Kendrys Morales was unable to play due to injury. All he ended up doing was leading the team in home runs and RBI, while committing only 10 errors at first base all season. Trumbo also finished second to the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
With the acquisition of Albert Pujols, Trumbo will shift to third base in 2012, arguably making him the best value in baseball at the hot corner.
Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
2011 Salary: $440,000
2011 Stats: .307 AVG, 91 R, 10 HR, 66 RBI, 22 SB, .773 OPS
Starlin Castro was promoted to the majors in 2010 as the Cubs' shortstop of the future, and he immediately made an impact.
He continued the trend in 2011, as Castro was named an All-Star for the first time, batted .307 and hit nine triples and a National League-leading 207 hits.
Castro was one of the few bright spots for the Cubs last year, all while making less than $500,000. He was a great bargain at any position, but if he continues to produce offensively like he did in 2011, he won't be a bargain for long.
Left Field: Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
2011 Salary: $529,500
2011 Stats: .259 AVG, 87 R, 8 3B, 49 SB, .345 OBP
Even a team like the Yankees, who never shy away from spending on players, needs to find a bargain here and there whenever they can, and that bargain is left fielder Brett Gardner.
The speedy left-hander's batting average slid in 2011, but he did score 87 runs while batting mostly in the bottom of New York's lineup. He also led the American League with a career-best 49 steals.
An excellent defensive player, Gardner made only five errors in 2011, and he's led the league in defensive WAR in each of the last two years.
He made just over a half-million dollars in 2011, and even with a pay jump to $2.8 million in 2012, he's a great bargain for the Bombers.
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
2011 Salary: $452,500
2011 Stats: .259 AVG, 87 R, 23 HR, 89 RBI, 23 SB, .820 OPS
Andrew McCutchen is one of the best all-around players in baseball, period.
He' s got speed, he can hit and he plays excellent defense at a prime position. He's already been named an All-Star, in just his third season, and probably hasn't even peaked yet considering he's still only 25 years old.
Andrew McCutchen is the definition of a "five-tool player," and if he was in almost any other market besides Pittsburgh, he'd probably receive more recognition.
He may be the best bargain in baseball, but unfortunately for the Pirates and their fans, he probably won't be for long.
Right Field: Giancarlo "Mike" Stanton, Miami Marlins
2011 Salary: $416,000
2011 Stats: .262 AVG, 79 R, 34 HR, 87 RBI, .893 OPS
The right fielder formerly known as "Mike," Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins may be the most powerful bargain in the game.
In just his second season, Stanton clubbed 69 extra-base hits, 34 of them long balls, and many of those of the monster variety, despite playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park. Still only 22, Stanton already has 56 career dingers, a number only Ken Griffey, Jr. (60) and Alex Rodriguez (56) have reached before their 22nd birthdays. Pretty exclusive company.
Stanton does strike out a bunch and has defensive issues, but where else can you find a young player with 50-homer potential, who is still getting better, for less than a million bucks?
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 Salary: $423,000
2011 Stats: 21-4 W/L, 222 IP, 2.88 ERA, 198 SO, 1.09 WHIP
In 2010, Ian Kennedy finally got a chance to be an everyday part of the rotation after joining the Arizona Diamondbacks. But in 2011, he took a huge step toward fulfilling his potential.
Kennedy was the ace of an Arizona team that surprised the baseball world by winning the NL West division in 2011. He tied for the league lead in wins, going 21-4, finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting.
Pitching has become so valuable in baseball that it has become a luxury for many small-market teams. Kennedy may have been one of the best bargains on the hill in baseball last year, arguably second only to the next guy on this list.
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, L.A. Dodgers
2011 Salary: $500,000
2011 Stats: 21-5 W/L, 233.1 IP, 5 CG, 248 SO, 0.977 WHIP
If it weren't for Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw would have had the best pitching season in the majors in 2011.
Kershaw won 21 games, tied for the league lead, while also leading the NL in Era (2.28), strikeouts (248), WHIP (0.977) and hits/9 (6.7). He was named an All-Star for the first time, won his first Gold Glove award, finished 12th in the MVP voting and won the National League's Cy Young award over much pricier pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
Kershaw accomplished all that and only cost the Dodgers 500 grand. He did receive a large raise for 2012, but even at this season's salary of $7.5 million, how many other former Cy Young award winners are currently making less than $10 million (Barry Zito is scheduled to make $19 million in 2012).
Closer: John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
2011 Salary: $442,500
2011 Stats: 2-2 W/L, 74 G, 86 SO, 46 SV, 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
In 2010, John Axford took over for Trevor Hoffman, who the Brewers signed as a free agent, and has not looked back.
Despite earning less than many guys who would lose their closer's job, Axford flourished. He appeared in 74 games, posted great WHIP and ERA numbers and lead the league in saves with 46, helping the Brewers to an NL Central division crown.
While he has yet to be an All-Star, Axford did receive votes in both the Cy Young and MVP award voting in 2011.
In a baseball world where pitching, especially bullpen pitching, has become ever-more important, Axford may not be a bargain for very long.