The 2014 MLB Offseason All-Underpaid Team
We've seen a lot of money going from MLB clubs to free agents this offseason, a reflection of the league's booming economic growth and record revenues. And some of the biggest deals haven't even been signed yet, as teams and top free-agent pitchers await the results of the Masahrio Tanaka sweepstakes.
Big contracts are the typical topic of discussion this time of year, but the best moves are ones that often go unnoticed until the season plays out. (Oh, they signed him this offseason? And he only cost that much?)
It's getting harder and harder to find underpaid players in today's landscape of rising contracts, but here's one for each position, based upon deals that were inked or options that were exercised this winter.
Dioner Navarro, C, Toronto Blue Jays
Contract: Two years, $8 million
Analysis: The Jays decided to go in a different direction at catcher this offseason, letting J.P. Arencibia leave via free agency while signing Dioner Navarro to a club friendly deal.
Navarro has to prove himself as a starter again, but paying him $3 million in 2014 and $5 million in 2015 is a relative steal for a player of his talent. Navarro showed that he was worthy of a first-string opportunity while backing up primary Chicago Cubs backstop Welington Castillo in 2013, posting a .300/.365/.492 slash line with 13 homers and 34 RBI in 89 games.
With the way that starting catchers are being paid this offseason, Navarro's average annual salary of $4 million for someone who turns 30 in February makes you wonder if he left some money on the table. His next two seasons will cost the Blue Jays less than what the Phillies will pay Carlos Ruiz in 2014 alone, as the Philadelphia catcher signed a three-year, $26 million extension this winter.
What he deserved: Two years, $12 million
Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Contract: One year, $2.5 million
Analysis: Paul Konerko has been a rock of the Chicago White Sox franchise since the 1999 season, so it's interesting to see that the club didn't kick in a little extra cash to the respected veteran this offseason. Take a look at Derek Jeter, for example, who was able to secure a one-year, $12 million deal from the New York Yankees this winter, despite missing virtually the entire 2013 campaign.
While the Konerko and Jeter situations are different, you'd think the first baseman would have been able to squeeze out some more money at the negotiating table. Konerko showed major signs of regression in 2013 (.244/.313/.355, 12 HRs, 54 RBI) and will be 38 before Opening Day, but he is still a relative bargain at this price. Even if Jose Abreu takes the starting first baseman job, Konerko could do damage splitting time as a designated hitter, pinch hitter and backup first baseman.
If he can be anything like his 2012 form, when he batted .298/.371/.486 with 26 homers and 75 RBI, Konerko's signing might go down as one of the best of the offseason.
What he deserved: One year, $6 million
Ben Zobrist, 2B, Tampa Bay Rays
Contract: One year, $7 million (with a club option)
Analysis: Ben Zobrist has been an invaluable part of the Rays' fabric over the past few seasons, and he would have commanded more years and more dollars if he was a free agent.
As it stands, the Rays will get him at a palatable price. Zobrist's 2014 salary will be $1.5 million more than he made in 2013, but that's more of a reflection of the very club friendly four-year, $18 million extension he signed before the 2010 season.
This past year, Zobrist saw time at five defensive positions as well as designated hitter, batting .275/.354/.402 with 12 home runs and 71 RBI. While his drop in slugging from his usual production might be cause for concern, there are very few players in baseball that can do what Zobrist does.
Lucky for the Rays, they also hold a $7.5 million club option in 2015 (with a $500,000 buyout), meaning he likely won't be going anywhere soon.
What he deserved: Four years, $40 million
Yunel Escobar, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Contract: One year, $5 million (with a club option)
Analysis: There's a reason why the Rays can compete in the AL East with a small payroll, and it's because the team has been able to make smart deals with an eye toward the future.
Like with second baseman Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar's contract includes reasonable club options for the 2014-15 seasons. Escobar wasn't anything special at the plate in 2013 (.256/.332/.366 with nine homers and 56 RBI), but those are still solid numbers from a shortstop who played the best defense of his career in 2013, per Fangraphs.com.
Jhonny Peralta's four-year, $53 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals pointed to the demand on the shortstop market this winter, and the 31-year-old Escobar would have made much more as a free agent.
What he deserved: Three years, $20 million
Kelly Johnson, 3B, New York Yankees
Contract: One year, $3 million
Analysis: Kelly Johnson was something of a utility man with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, spending 53 of his 118 games in left field while also getting time at second base (22 games), third base (16 games) and even three games at first.
Now that Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for the entire 2014 season, Johnson is the prime candidate to step in as the starter, writes Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. Johnson has struggled to get on base since his career year in 2010, posting a .226/.307/.395 slash line with seasonal averages of 18 home runs, 55 RBI and 140 strikeouts since that time.
But he is a left-handed power hitter who could take advantage of the short right-field fence in the Bronx, and he will have a good chance to be an everyday contributor at a discount price, especially by Yankees standards.
What he deserved: One year, $5.5 million
Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Seattle Mariners
Contract: One year, $1 million
Analysis: Franklin Gutierrez flamed out after signing a four-year, $20.25 million deal with the club before the 2010 campaign. Riddled by injuries over the past few seasons, Gutierrez will return for another go with the Mariners in 2014.
Gutierrez figures to play a role in Seattle's outfield after Raul Ibanez left to the Los Angeles Angels via free agency—that is, if he can stay healthy. Gutierrez has played in just 173 contests the past three years, essentially missing two full seasons in the process.
His stellar defense alone might be worth the contract, and at an Opening Day age of 31, there's still hope he can turn things around in the batter's box.
What he deserved: One year, $2 million
Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland Athletics
Contract: One year, $7.5 million
Analysis: Coco Crisp may be entering the twilight of his career, but he showed unprecedented pop for the A's in 2013. He batted .261/.335/.444 with a personal-best 22 home runs, while adding 66 RBI, 93 runs scored, 21 stolen bases and some stellar defense.
Crisp has not played in more than 136 games in any of the past three seasons and is a health risk going forward, but his all-around production would have brought him in a nice haul as a free agent. The A's were wise to exercise the club option to bring back the 34-year-old leadoff man, who also provides a major veteran presence in the young Oakland clubhouse.
What he deserved: Two years, $18 million
Delmon Young, OF/DH, Baltimore Orioles
Contract: One-year, minor league deal
Analysis: Delmon Young will have to earn his way on to the big-league roster out of spring training after signing a deal with the O's this offseason. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via CBS Sports' Matt Snyder), Young will make $1 million if he is on the Opening Day roster and up to $750,000 more if he achieves all of his incentives.
So that's essentially a no-risk gamble for a player who made contributions to two big-league teams in 2013. Young, 28, certainly hasn't lived up to his billing as 2003's No. 1 overall pick, but his .260/.307/.407 slash line, 11 home runs and 38 RBI in 103 contests last year make him worth a flier.
What he deserved: One year, $2 million
Ryan Vogelsong, SP, San Francisco Giants
Contract: One year, $5 million
Analysis: You could chalk up Ryan Vogelsong's 2013 season as an aberration after he admitted pitching in the World Baseball Classic ultimately led to some early-season discomfort. He was among the league's worst starters in terms of ERA before going down due to a broken finger in late May, which kept him out until August.
He looked better down the stretch run, but he still finished with overall totals of a 4-6 record, 5.73 ERA, 1.56 WHIP and 5.8 K/9 ratio. It was a far cry from the combined numbers he put up in 2011 and 2012—27-16, 3.05 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 ratio—when he helped solidify San Francisco's rotation after being out of MLB for four full seasons.
He's now 36, but Vogelsong has a great chance to recapture his form as a reliable contributor. Incentives can reportedly push this deal in excess of $13 million, but it would be performance-based. A guaranteed $5 million deal for a starter of Vogelsong's ability is a steal in this landscape of rich pitcher contracts.
What he deserved: One year, $8 million
Ryan Webb, RP, Baltimore Orioles
Contract: Two years, $4.5 million
Analysis: It's hard to make a name for yourself as a reliever with the Miami Marlins, but Ryan Webb may go down as one of the best value signings by any team this offseason. Much has been made about the way starters have been paid this winter, and deservedly so, but their bullpen counterparts have also been paid handsomely.
At an average annual salary of $2.25 million, when others like Edward Mujica are signing for more than double the price, Webb is a steal for the O's. In 2013, the 27-year-old posted a 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and had a K/BB ratio of 54/27 in 80.1 innings pitched.
What he deserved: Two years, $8 million