All Lunch Pail Crew: Starting Nine Who Earned Their Keep In The 2010 MLB Season
We should all be so lucky to make the league minimum. Before we go feeling sorry for the (relatively) underpaid workhorses of baseball, it helps to remember how much $400,000 is. That said, there are some players that represent the antithesis of the bloated big league albatross.
For the purposes of this article, I'm not considering first-year players. Many incredible players make a huge splash in their freshman campaigns. Their low pay in the first year is misleading, as just about everyone makes somewhere around $400k their first year. I wanted to focus on a starting nine that has put some work in and still doesn't take home a heaping pile. Without further ado...
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia
A man who seems to have more playoff experience in the last four years than Derek Jeter, Ruiz realized his full offensive potential during 2010, posting a surprising OPS of .847, and walked more than he struck out.
Injuries kept him to 121 games, which isn't bad considering healthy catchers seldom see more than 140 in a season. Defensively, Carlos more than held his own, throwing out 29% of runners, and allowing only four passed balls.
The price tag? A cool $1.9 million.
First Base: Joey Votto, Cincinatti
What, you were thinking Billy Butler? NL MVP, reigning NL Central division champ, Top Five place holder in every offensive category that matters, and an improving defensive first baseman.
Votto has been in professional baseball for eight years, signing out of high school in 2002. In spite of his relatively short Major League resume, Joey has had to work his way to the upper echelon of MLB talent.
And in 2010, he did it all for $550,000. Yep. Half a mil.
Second Base: Martin Prado, Atlanta
On a Braves club that saw a utility man (Omar Infante) nearly win the batting crown, infielder Martin Prado had his own brilliant season in the confines of Turner Field. The sure-handed second baseman banged out 58 extra-base hits, and put the ball in play with atomic regularity, striking out only 86 times.
His versatility gave Bobby Cox some breathing room when other players went down with injury. But at his primary position on the right side of the infield, Prado's soft hands hardly missed a beat as he sported a .987 fielding percentage.
The damage? A criminal $440k.
Third Base: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
Though his 2010 campaign saw major offensive categories take a slight dip, Longoria remains on the short list for best all-around hot corners. Despite his accomplishments, Evan is still just 25, and only now entering his prime years.
Longoria signed a long-term deal in 2008 that already looks like a steal for the Rays. He'll be a lock for a high OBP and 100 RBI for a decade to come. And in 2010, he could have been yours for $950,000.
Short Stop: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
Rest assured, Tulo will not make this list in the coming years, no matter how ridiculous his stats. His new contract will make him a very rich man for the next decade. Even though his $3.5 mil salary last year stands a head above most of the players on this list, he earned it well.
In three-quarters of a season in 2010, Troy put up numbers that would make first basemen proud. Health has always been a concern for Tulo, but he possesses the pure skills at age 26 to draw comparisons to the primes of Garciaparra and Rodriguez of the late 90's.
Left Field: Josh Hamilton, Texas
You all know his story, his swing and his smile. Few players mean more to their teams than what this guy did in 2010. Despite missing a month of the season, Hamilton still posted 100 RBI and a Pujols-like OPS of 1.044 for a reasonable $3.25 mil.
Josh offers plus range in the outfield and strong arm, and he led a franchise yearning for the postseason all the way to the World Series (with a little help from Cliff Lee). More quietly, he is a humble, unassuming example of hard work and perseverance in an industry that seldom rewards humility.
Astoundingly, we managed to get both MVPs on the list. Unthinkable.
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
It may come as a surprise to some of you that they still play baseball in western PA. One of the few bright spots for the Bucs these days is a young stud named Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen already has the makings of a perennial All-Star: line drive swing, patience at the plate, high contact rate and tremendous speed. And at 24, his biggest problem may be the team he's stuck with for next few years. Fat chance he'll be getting much of a raise over his malnourished salary of $422,500.
Right Field: Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland
I thought long and hard about Jose Bautista here. But I have to tip my cap to the Indians right fielder who put up terrific numbers on a thankless team in a thankless division.
Choo polished just about every component of his game in 2010. Keeping high offensive numbers without a supporting cast deserves recognition in itself, but Choo mustered a .300/22/90 line to go along with 22 stolen bases and a sparkling OBP of .401.
I don't know how much $461,100 is in South Korean Won, but it isn't enough.
Starting Pitcher: David Price, Tampa Bay
Sabathia's calm. Lester's grit. King Felix filthiness. Price hasn't yet had the postseason success that his talent deserves. He plays in the wrong division to run the table on many lineups. But David has faced some of the toughest competition in professional baseball and hasn't blinked.
With pitching at a premium, it's astounding that someone can do what Price accomplished (19-6, 2.70) for the chump change of $1.8 mil, especially in the offensively-minded American League East.
Hats off to the future Cy Young winner. At 25, he's just getting started.