MLB's All-Underpaid Team Entering 2014
Arbitration hearings between MLB teams and players can lead to some awkward interactions at the negotiating table.
After the two sides exchange their figures, they often can come to agreements without the help of arbiter. If not, you have players trying to tout their worth and squeeze every dollar out of their team's ownership, while the club offers reasons why the player isn't worth so much money.
In many situations, this process has benefited baseball clubs, who have a lot of leverage and have been able to sign players to team-friendly deals.
Heading into 2014, there are a lot of players who have been affected by this process and aren't scheduled to make as much money as they deserve. As such, here's a look around the diamond at baseball's most underpaid players that are at least in their arbitration years or have negotiated MLB deals with their respective clubs.
Jonathan Lucroy, C
2014 Salary: $2 million
Analysis: Right before the start of the 2012 season, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Jonathan Lucroy to a complicated five-year, $11 million contract. The deal could have been worth more, but Lucroy missed out on a service time landmark by three days at the end of the 2012 campaign.
Still, in the two seasons since Lucroy has signed the deal, he has blossomed into one of baseball's top hitting catchers. He wrapped up 2013 with a .280/.340/.455 slash line, 18 homers and 82 RBI in 147 contests. Those are nice totals for any hitter, especially a catcher.
Considering Lucroy is owed $3 million in 2015, $4 million in 2016 and the team holds a $5.25 million club option for 2017, the Brewers are scheduled to get a steal of a deal the next few seasons.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
2014 Salary: $1 million
Analysis: Speaking of well-timed contract extension offers from teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks saved themselves a lot of money by inking slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to a five-year, $32 million extension during 2013 spring training.
The deal doesn't come into effect until this season, and after the monster campaign Goldschmidt had, it's crazy to think the D-Backs only owe him $1 million for 2014. The 26-year-old led the National League in home runs (36), RBI (125), slugging (.551), OPS (.952) and OPS+ (160), while batting a healthy .302.
He also added a Gold Glove at first base to finish second to Andrew McCutchen in the National League MVP voting.
If Goldschmidt keeps this up, he might be due for a raise and a reworked contract by next offseason.
Jose Altuve, 2B
2014 Salary: $1.25 million
Analysis: Jose Altuve has made a name for himself the past couple years for being an impact player despite his 5'5" frame for the Houston Astros.
In the middle of last season, the club inked Altuve to a four-year, $12.5 million extension that also includes a $6 million club option in 2018 and a $6.5 million club option for 2019. Altuve has been a key contributor to the top of Houston's lineup the past two campaigns, batting a combined .286/.328/.380 with yearly averages of six homers, 44 RBI, 72 runs scored and 34 stolen bases.
While those aren't spectacular numbers, they are great for the amount of money he's scheduled to make this season.
Everth Cabrera, SS
2014 Salary: $2.45 million
Analysis: Everth Cabrera enters 2014 with some suspicion surrounding his 2013 success after he was suspended 50 games for his role in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.
The 27-year-old was putting together a career year before serving his ban, batting .283/.355/.381 in 95 contests with four homers, 31 RBI, 54 runs scored and 37 stolen bases to earn his first All-Star bid. In 2014, Cabrera will have to prove that the PEDs weren't responsible for his banner year that still earned him a raise as he and the San Diego Padres avoided arbitration on a one-year accord.
Offensive shortstops are rare in today's game, and while Cabrera isn't a slugger, he brings some nice skills to the lineup as a table-setter.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2014 Salary: $4.25 million
Analysis: Pedro Alvarez ascended through the farm system for the Pittsburgh Pirates with a lot of fanfare and he's lived up to the billing as a hard-hitting third baseman the past couple of years.
During the 2012-13 seasons, Alvarez batted .238/.307/.470 with yearly averages of 33 HRs, 92 RBI, 52 walks and 183 strikeouts. While the low on-base percentage and high strikeout rate are alarming, Alvarez possesses a power stroke that you simply can't teach.
Earlier this offseason, the two sides avoided arbitration with a one-year deal. Alvarez is about to turn 27 and there are few players with his raw power that are playing at this price in 2014.
Bryce Harper, OF
2014 Salary: $900,000
Analysis: Bryce Harper can finally drink a beer with his teammates this season after turning 21 last October.
It was expected that Harper would make a quick ascent to the big leagues when he signed a five-year, $9.9 million MLB contract just two months after being drafted in June 2010. While the Washington Nationals are paying him less than a million in base salary for 2014, they also owe him $1.25 million of his signing bonus on July 1, bringing his grand total to $2.15 million for this year.
Harper is yet to realize his full potential after two full seasons that have been limited by injury. Since the start of 2012, Harper is batting .272/.353/.481 with a 125 OPS+ and yearly averages of 21 homers, 58 RBI and 14 stolen bases.
The final year of this deal comes in 2015, and with Scott Boras as his agent, you can be sure Harper will be making bank next offseason.
Yasiel Puig, OF
2014 Salary: $2 milllion
Analysis: Yasiel Puig took the baseball world by storm in 2013 when he burst onto the scene as a rookie and helped the Los Angeles Dodgers make a remarkable run to the playoffs.
In 104 contests, the 23-year-old batted .319/.391/.534 with 19 homers, 42 RBI and 66 runs scored while showing off his cannon for an arm in right field. Once Puig joined the team, the 92-win Dodgers looked unbeatable at times and turned around their early-season funk after starting the year 23-32.
Puig is about to enter the third season of a seven-year, $42 million contract he signed in June 2012 that included a $12 million signing bonus. Even if you were to average out his signing bonus over the life of the deal and tack it on to his 2014 salary, Puig would only be making about $3.7 million, which is a steal for a dynamic hitter like him.
Chris Denorfia, OF
2014 Salary: $2.25 million
Analysis: Chris Denorfia might not be a household name, but he proved to be an effective low-cost contributor to the San Diego Padres in 2013.
Denorfia played in 144 games this past season, batting .279/.337/.395 with 10 homers, 47 RBI and 67 runs scored while playing some sound defense. It all added up to a WAR of 4.3 for Denorfia, which is an impressive figure that shouldn't be overlooked.
Stephen Strasburg, SP
2014 Salary: $3.975 million
Analysis: Stephen Strasburg has bounced back nicely since Tommy John surgery cut short his 2010 season. Over the past two years combined, Strasburg has gone 23-15 with a 3.08 ERA, 126 ERA+, 1.10 WHIP and a 10.2 K/9 rate.
In January, the Washington Nationals signed the talented right-hander to a club-friendly, one-year deal in Strasburg's first offseason eligible for arbitration. Securing a pitcher of Strasburg's ability for less than $4 million is a steal for the Nats, who have a deep rotation that also features Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister.
It's safe to think that we still haven't seen the best of Strasburg, who entered the league with enormous hype and has since blossomed into a legit power arm.
Craig Stammen, RP
2014 Salary: $1.375 million
Analysis: The Washington Nationals' pitching staff is littered with valuable arms at bargain prices.
Reliever Craig Stammen has been a solid bullpen contributor for the Nats the past couple of years and 2014 marks the second season of a two-year, $2.25 million contract he signed last winter to avoid arbitration. Even though he's 29 years old, Stammen is still under club control through the end of the 2016 season.
Since the start of 2012, Stammen has made 114 appearances, posting a 2.54 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 166 strikeouts and 63 walks in 170 innings of work. Stammen would command much more on the open market, but Washington is in a nice position to keep his services for years to come.
Neftali Feliz, CL
2014 Salary: $3 million
Analysis: Closers and setup men racked up the big bucks in free agency this year, but the Texas Rangers will likely stay in-house and go with Neftali Feliz to fill the void left by reliable ninth-inning option Joe Nathan, who left for the Detroit Tigers via free agency.
Feliz proved himself as a closer during the 2010-11 seasons, when converted a combined 72 saves with nine blown opportunities while posting a 2.73 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 125 strikeouts and 48 walks in 131.2 innings pitched.
But the club moved him to the rotation in 2012 and he suffered an injury that required Tommy John surgery. Feliz recovered in time to make six late appearances in 2013, and is poised to be a bargain closer in 2014 after avoiding arbitration on a one-year deal.
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