Picking the 'All-Underpaid Team' of the MLB Offseason
MLB teams have been particularly generous this offseason to free agents and arbitration-eligible players. Still, underpaid exceptions can be found at each position.
Some of them declined to sign with the highest bidder, choosing comfort and/or playoff contention over guaranteed dollars.
Meanwhile, individuals at the mercy of club options or stuck in arbitration will play on one-year contracts. Each is itching to reach the open market or agree to terms on a fair extension.
Other bargains always emerge as spring training approaches, but for the time being, the following players will provide the best bang for the buck.
Catcher: Gerald Laird (Atlanta Braves)
New contract: Two years, $3 million (free agency)
The Atlanta Braves sweetened this deal by including $750,000 in performance bonuses.
However, Gerald Laird won't see a penny of it unless he becomes the team's primary catcher (via Baseball Prospectus).
The 33-year-old is still an above-average defensive player. His caught-stealing percentage has dipped the past couple seasons, but that can be attributed to working with so many right-handed pitchers.
Brian McCann is questionable for Opening Day after undergoing shoulder surgery, so Atlanta sorely needs a veteran like Laird. Agent Scott Boras probably could have gotten him more guaranteed dollars.
What he deserves: Two years, $4.5 million
First Baseman: Mark Reynolds (Cleveland Indians)
New contract: One year, $6 million (free agency)
How is it that Mark Reynolds received half as much guaranteed money as Kevin Youkilis?
Reynolds is four-and-a-half years younger and more durable. He compensates for an ugly strikeout rate with a reputable on-base percentage and lifetime average of 34 home runs per 162 games.
After five MLB seasons as an error-prone third baseman, Reynolds moved across the diamond in 2012. His throwing arm and range actually made him an integral part of the Baltimore Orioles defense.
With so few desirable free-agent corner infielders, there should have been more competition for his services.
What he deserves: Two years, $15 million
Second Baseman: Robinson Cano (New York Yankees)
New contract: One year, $15 million (club option)
The New York Yankees are taking one more year to mull whether or not Robinson Cano should get a lifetime, Alex Rodriguez-like contract.
That's a no-brainer.
He's been head and shoulders above every other second baseman in baseball. Over the past three seasons, for example, Cano owns the highest WAR and best mark in each of the triple-slash categories (via FanGraphs).
Durability must be considered too. This perennial MVP candidate has averaged 160 games played since 2007, never spending time on the disabled list in that span.
For now, Cano's annual salary is identical to Ian Kinsler's.
What he deserves: Long-term deal at $25 million per year
Third Baseman: Placido Polanco (Miami Marlins)
New contract: Onn year, $2.75 million (free agency)
According to Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel, Placido Polanco preferred the Miami Marlins over his other suitors. He went to high school in South Florida and still has a home there.
In doing, this accomplished infielder definitely left some money on the table.
He continues to play athletic and sure-handed defense in his late thirties. Polanco is expected to start at third base, but he's open to moving up the middle if asked.
Coming off a difficult season at the plate (.257/.302/.327 in 328 PA), the two-time All-Star explains his struggles to Rodriguez:
[My injury] came from an operation I had in 2011 to fix a double sports hernia. I still had problems [in 2012], a lot of scar tissue and that area was weak. I was compensating a lot with my back and other parts of my body.
It's unclear how productive a healthy Polanco could be, but he has always been the master of making contact.
What he deserves: One year, $4 million
Shortstop: Alexi Casilla (Baltimore Orioles)
New contract: One year, $1.9 million (waivers)
Though Alexi Casilla is pretty inconsistent at the plate, he provides enough value using his legs and glove to start in the majors.
Clint Barmes reached the free-agent market last winter with a similar reputation.
Using OPS+ to negate the effects of Colorado's high altitude, Barmes' career has only been slightly better than Casilla's so far. And he signed a $10.5 million deal!
The Minnesota Twins demoted Casilla to Triple-A several times after his breakout 2008 campaign because he is a notoriously slow starter (.214/.254/.256 in 84 March/April games). A multi-year deal would be ill-advised considering that he has never earned his keep for a full season.
The 28-year-old will compete for a chance to be the Baltimore Orioles' second baseman. Since 2010, however, he has nearly 500 innings of experience at shortstop.
What he deserves: One year, $3.5 million
Left Fielder: Brett Gardner (New York Yankees)
New contract: One year, $2.85 million (arbitration)
Defensive stars like Brett Gardner understandably get frustrated during their arbitration years.
The panel doesn't use FanGraphs to see that he posted the league's top Ultimate Zone Rating between 2010 and 2011. Arbiters point to his pedestrian .266 career batting average rather than his impressive .355 on-base percentage.
In reality, Gardner is a borderline All-Star when healthy.
He missed more than 90 percent of this past summer with a nagging elbow injury. But the left fielder will only make $50,000 more than he did the previous season.
While that's fair, his previous salary should have been much, much higher.
What he deserves: At least twice as much
Center Fielder: Jason Bourgeois (Tampa Bay Rays)
New contract: Minor league deal (free agency)
Jason Bourgeois will attempt to join his eighth MLB franchise this spring as a non-roster invitee at Tampa Bay Rays camp.
This 31-year-old is just a platoon player, but he's a pretty good one (.315/.359/.396 in 253 PA vs. LHP). He steals bases often and efficiently while manning any of the three outfield positions.
In an age when Scott Hairston is reportedly seeking a multi-year deal, Bourgeois should at least get seven figures for one season.
What he deserves: One year, $1.5 million
Right Fielder: Ichiro Suzuki (New York Yankees)
New contract: Two years, $13 million (free agency)
Like Placido Polanco, Ichiro Suzuki chose comfort instead of the largest offer.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLBTradeRumors.com reminds us that the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants each would have guaranteed more money.
But even they undervalued the future Hall of Famer.
Freed from Safeco Field, Suzuki proved he could still leave the yard on occasion. He homered five times down the stretch with the New York Yankees and once more during the ALCS.
He'll continue to be an everyday player at age 39, running the bases well and intimidating opponents with a terrific outfield arm.
What he deserves: Two years, $16 million
Designated Hitter: Raul Ibanez (Seattle Mariners)
New contract: One year, $2.75 million (free agency)
There's nothing for Raul Ibanez to complain about. MLB players rarely double their base salaries after turning 40.
However, David Ortiz has been the only other designated hitter to sign this offseason. He got $26 million from the Boston Red Sox.
Ibanez is expected to receive significant playing time and bolster an anemic Seattle Mariners offense, so more of the contract should be guaranteed.
What he deserves: One year, $3.5 million
Starting Pitcher: David Price (Tampa Bay Rays)
New contract: One year, $10.1 million (arbitration)
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price ought to have long-term security.
Price certainly isn't a flash in the pan—he just completed his third consecutive 200-inning season. At 27, he is entering the prime of his career and is annually improving in terms of innings pitched per start and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Unfortunately, this elite left-hander won't be properly compensated by the small-market Tampa Bay Rays.
What he deserves: $100-plus million extension
Relief Pitcher: Fernando Rodney (Tampa Bay Rays)
New contract: One year, $2.5 million (club option)
After pitching below replacement level for the 2011 Los Angeles Angels, Fernando Rodney was fortunate to find a major league deal heading into last season.
He shocked the baseball world at age 35.
Combining a mid-90s fastball with an excellent changeup, the right-hander surrendered five earned runs all summer en route to posting a record-setting 0.60 ERA. Batters sensed doomed as soon as they fell behind in the count.
Regression is inevitable because BABIP fluctuates from year to year, but he'll be closing for the Tampa Bay Rays at a bargain price in 2013.
What he deserves: One year, $8 million