Often, it is not the most talented player who ends up being the most valuable player for his respective team. A player making $1 million can be much more valuable than a player making $10 million if they produce similar results
A great example of this is Adrian Gonzalez of 2010. With the Padres, he was playing for a very low sum of money despite being among the league's best first basemen. While Albert Pujols may have out-produced Gonzalez in 2010, he was far more costly. Thus, Gonzalez was more valuable to his team than Pujols.
Every team has at least one player who they know they are underpaying. In this article, I will examine the most underpaid player on each team.
One important note is that players who are not yet arbitration eligible, i.e. Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, will not be included in this list. Also, I will be using the player's 2011 salary, not the aggregate of his current contract. For example, Adrian Gonzalez will still be considered cheap, despite the fact that he will receive his fair share of money when the Red Sox release his contract. With that, let us begin.
Justin Upton is the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks, without question. He had a down year in 2010, hitting .273 with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases, however, he has displayed .300/30/30 potential throughout his career.
In 2009, Upton had a phenomenal season, hitting .300, while knocking out 26 home runs and stealing 20 bases. At just 23 years old, the sky is the limit for Upton in 2011, and at $4.25 this season, the Diamondbacks should be feeling pretty happy.
Brian McCann is a Top 4 catcher in the MLB. He has very strong power and hitting skills, winning four Silver Slugger Awards in his career. His .289 career batting average is very high for a catcher and his 20+ home runs per season power is rare for his position.
McCann is under contract for just $6.5 million this season. In comparison, Joe Mauer is valued at $23 million and Victor Martinez is being paid $12 million. I think the best deal is clear.
Jones is starting to come around, edging closer to the All-Star caliber potential he has. He brought his batting average up to .284 last season and he hit 19 home runs for the second straight season. Jones did see his BB/K rate go down significantly, however, it still appears that Jones is on the rise in general.
Jones avoided arbitration by resigning with the Orioles for $3.25 million this winter, which was a very good deal for the Orioles. If Jones continues to improve, he could be one of the best values in the entire MLB.
While Gonzalez appears to have a long-term, very expensive deal lined up with the Red Sox, in 2011 Gonzalez will cost a mere $5.5 million.
It may just be me, but I feel that a .298 batting average and 31 home runs are worth $5.5 million, especially given Gonzalez's potential to do even more damage. Gonzalez has topped out at 40 home runs and a .304 batting average in his career. Gonzalez is a definite American League Most Valuable Player candidate this season, and at his price, that is a ridiculously good value.
The Cubs were able to acquire Garza from the Rays this off season and he will cost them just $5.95 million.
Garza pitched phenomenally in 2010, especially given the level of competition he faced in the American League East. Garza went 15-10 with a 3.91 Earned Run Average in 2010 and it is conceivable that that will drop significantly moving to the National League Central. Garza is a steal without a doubt. Given the Cubs' lack of starting pitching depth prior to the trade, Garza will be very valuable in 2011.
Alexei Ramirez has had his ups and downs over the past few seasons, however, he is beginning to develop into an All-Star caliber player. Ramirez hit .282 last season, with 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases. He is still looking to reproduce his rookie campaign, during which he hit .290/21/13. However, even with the numbers he put up in 2010, Ramirez is a steal at $1.1 million.
Ramirez will become more expensive beginning in 2011, increasing from $5 million in 2012 all the way to $10 million in 2015, however, for the time being, Ramirez is a great deal.
Votto signed with the Reds this season, taking a three-year, $38 million contract and will be making $5.5 million in 2011. This is a considerable sum of money, however, for the reigning National League MVP, it feels like the Reds made a great deal.
In an era where Ryan Howard is making boatloads of money and Albert Pujols is poised to make even more money, Votto is an almost unbelievable bargain. And at just 27 years old, Votto still has room to improve his .324/37/113 season.
Choo is without a doubt one of the most underrated players in Major League Baseball. He has hit .300+ in three straight seasons and has gone 20/20 in back-to-back seasons. He is only 28 years old and is beginning to look like an elite player.
The Indians should be quite pleased to own Choo at just $3.975 million in 2011. Their franchise is in a great deal of turmoil at the moment and Choo is one of the few bright spots.
Before he lost steam in the second half of 2010, Jimenez was pitching at a record-breaking level. The 27- year-old finished the season 19-8, with a phenomenal 2.88 Earned Run Average. He was a strikeout machine, racking up 214 K's during the year. Jimenez may not truly be a Cy Young candidate, however, he is certainly an elite starting pitcher.
In a year where starting pitching is many teams' Achilles Heel, having an elite starting pitcher at just $2.8 million is something to be proud of.
Benoit was arguably the league's best set-up man in 2010. His 1.34 Earned Run Average and .680 WHIP are a testament to how dominant Benoit was in 2010.
The Tigers were able to lock Benoit up for three years at $5.5 million annually. While this is a fair price for a reliever, Benoit is arguably the best at his position and therefore is worth a great deal. To be able to feel confident heading into the eighth inning that your team will be able to hold off your opponent is well worth $5.5 million.
Josh Johnson was even better than many people thought he would be in 2010, going 11-6 with a 2.30 Earned Run Average. That ERA was good enough for best in the National League among starting pitchers.
Johnson now has had back-to-back season in which he has thrown 180+ innings, and will be a favorite for the National League Cy Young in 2011. Johnson will be making $7.75 million in 2010, a very good deal for an elite starting pitcher. Hanley Ramirez is close behind, however, Johnson's contract is almost too good to be true.
Hunter Pence does not have an official salary for 2011 yet, however, he is currently in the arbitration process and will make a maximum of $6.9 million next season.
Pence has a career .287 batting average and has displayed the ability to hit 30+ home runs in a given year. He has also stolen 11+ bases in every year of his career and has been very durable during his four-year career.
The Astros will struggle in 2011, however, not at the fault of Pence, who will be one of the only reasons to watch the Astros this year.
Soria is one of the best closers in the game without a doubt. His Earned Run Average has never been above 2.48 in his four year career and he has saved 42+ games twice, which is impressive for any closer, especially the Royals'.
At just 26 years old, Soria is in his prime and will remain one of the safest bets in 2011. Soria will be a great player for the Royals in 2011, though they may opt to move him. His contract is very appealing and he will be making just $4 million in 2011. He will likely have many suitors by mid-season and the Royals may cash in on him.
Weaver has been on the upswing for three years now and his 2010 season was his finest campaign to date. He went 13-12, while maintaining a 3.01 Earned Run Average and striking out an incredible 233 batters.
He, like Pence, is currently going through arbitration and Weaver will make between $7.7 million and $8.8 million in 2011. Regardless of what the number ends up at, Weaver is a bargain for an elite starter. He led the American League in strikeouts and was fifth in the American League in Earned Run Average. Entering 2011, Weaver looks to vie for the Cy Young and the Angels should be content with the price they have him at.
Few players in Major League Baseball are as talented as Matt Kemp. Kemp has shown the potential to hit for average, power and steal bases. Although his 2010 campaign was disappointing, Kemp is still young and could explode into an elite player in 2011.
Kemp's home run total has risen every year in his career, reaching 28 this past season. He only stole 19 bases in 2010, however, he stole 35 bases in 2008 and 34 in 2009.
At $6.95 million, Kemp is one of the most underpaid players in the game. The Dodgers would be smart to lock him up long-term.
Ryan Braun is arguably the best outfielder in all of baseball. He has a career batting average of .307, has averaged 32.6 home runs per season and has stolen 14+ bases in all of his four major league seasons.
Braun has been invaluable to the Brewers; he has driven in 100 runs the past three seasons and has scored 90+ every year he has played for the Brewers.
Braun is in the midst of the best years of his career at age 27, so there is no reason to believe he will slow down at all. At a measly $4 million, the Brewers have, in my opinion, the most underpaid MLB player.
Span is a controversial player when it comes to debating how underpaid he is. While he has shown flashes of greatness, he has been only above-average in his career. Considering he is only 26 years old, Span is a bubble waiting to burst.
Span has great speed, shown through his 67 stolen bases over the past three seasons. He is also a very good on-base hitter. While his 2010 numbers were pedestrian, in 2009 Span posted a .397 on-base percentage. On top of that, Span is a strong defender, well worth over $1 million.
Span could potentially be part of a great trio in Minnesota with Mauer and Morneau. He just needs to put it all together.
Angel Pagan was a pleasant surprise for the Mets this past season. In 2009, Pagan began to show signs of high potential by hitting .306 with 6 home runs and 14 stolen bases in only 88 games. He took his game to the next level in 2010 by hitting .290 over a full season, combined with 11 home runs and 37 stolen bases.
Pagan is a threat in every aspect of the game and his small contract is very valuable for a Mets organization loaded with huge contracts. Pagan will make just $3.5 million in 2011, pocket money for the likes of Carlos Beltran.
At just 24 years of age, Phil Hughes has risen up the ranks to become the Yankees No. 2 starter. In 2010, he began to show signs of dominance, going 18-8, with a 4.19 Earned Run Average. Given that Hughes pitches in the best-hitting division in baseball, his numbers are that much more respectable.
The Yankees' rotation for 2011 is going to be very mediocre, therefore, Hughes becomes so much more valuable. At just $2.7 million, Hughes is a bargain, especially when you consider the amount of money the Yankees spend on players.
DeJesus is, in my opinion, one of the most undervalued players in the MLB. He is a great defender, gets on base consistently and has decent power and speed.
DeJesus was on a tear before injuring himself in 2010. He was posting a .318 batting average through 91 games, including five home runs and three stolen bases. That batting average is worth much more than the $6 million he will be earning in 2011.
He is no superstar, though he has the potential to be a difference maker in Oakland.
After a very disappointing 2009 season, Hamels bounced back and pitched at a near Cy Young level. He struck out 211 batters and posted a 3.06 Earned Run Average. Those are both career highs, which suggests that Hamels has even more room to grow at age 27. He now has three straight seasons in which he has started 32+ games, which is a testament to his durability and reliability. Four straight playoff appearances also do not lie.
Hamels will be earning $9.5 million in 2011, which is certainly not cheap, but the numbers he puts up are worth a good deal more than that.
If Andrew McCutchen was arbitration-eligible, he would obviously be this team's most underpaid player. However, that is not the case, and Matt Diaz comes to mind as a player whose contract does not reflect his production.
Diaz was never a true starting outfielder for an entire season for the Atlanta Braves, however, he put up very impressive numbers when he did play. Furthermore, with Pittsburgh, Diaz will almost certainly see more playing time.
In 2009, Diaz hit .313 with 13 home runs and 12 stolen bases in just 375 at-bats. If he is able to put up numbers similar to those in 2011, he will certainly be worth more than $2 million.
Adams was phenomenal for the Padres in 2010. His dominance was one of the primary reasons San Diego's bullpen ranked first in the league this past season.
In 2010, Adams had a 1.76 Earned Run Average, while striking out 73 batters in just 66.2 innings. There are very few relievers in the league who are able to claim those statistics. The Yankees recently signed Rafael Soriano for a shade under $12 million per year. On the other hand, the Padres have Adams for only $2.535 million in 2011.
San Diego will struggle in 2011 due to the loss of Adrian Gonzalez, however, their bullpen will remain among the league's best, partially due to Mike Adams.
Before 2010, this spot would have most certainly gone to Tim Lincecum, however, Torres jumped onto the scene this past season and displayed how versatile he is.
In 2010, Torres hit .268, which is very mediocre. However, he also hit 18 home runs and stole 26 bases. His diverse talents were part of the reason San Francisco was able to win the World Series this past season. Torres signed a $2.2 million dollar contract this winter in order to avoid arbitration. At that price, the Giants should be ecstatic to own Torres.
Felix Hernandez, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, should be earning top dollar for his production. He is a young 24-year-old, though he already has two seasons of sub-2.50 Earned Run Averages under his belt. Hernandez has struck out 449 batters in the past two seasons combined, a very difficult feat to pull off.
King Felix is a workhorse; he has pitched 190+ innings in five straight seasons. If the Mariners did not have Hernandez to anchor their staff, they may very have been the worst team in Major League history in 2010.
Hernandez deserves one of the highest salaries in the MLB, however, he will earn only $10 million in 2011.
Adam Wainwright has a career Earned Run Average of just 2.97. That statistic is an incredibly difficult number to attain. However, Wainwright has been able to accomplish this and he is currently in the prime of his career.
In the past two seasons, Wainwright's ERA's have been 2.63 (2009) and 2.42 (2010). His ERA has been decreasing since 2007, where it began at 3.70. Wainwright's 50-22 record since 2008 shows just how valuable he is to the Cardinals. It is truly shocking to believe that he will only make $6.5 million in 2011.
Manny signed for a shockingly low total of $2 million dollars this winter. He may not be the elite hitter that he used to be, however, $2 million seems ridiculously low for Manny.
Ramirez hit .298 last season, with 9 home runs in just 265 at-bats. Clearly the talent is still there, even though it is decreasing annually.
Ramirez has proven that he is able to destroy American League East pitchers and at $2 million, Tampa Bay may have found their way back into the postseason.
Ian Kinsler has spent an unfortunate amount of time on the disabled list over the past few years. However, that has not hindered him from showing the league how talented he is.
Kinsler has a career .281 batting average and hit .286 in his limited time in 2010. He displayed his 30+ home runs potential by hitting 31 home runs in 2009 and he stole 23+ bases between 2007 and 2009 before injuring himself in 2010.
Kinsler is one of the leaders in Texas and it is only fair that he starts getting paid like one. However, he will only make $6 million in 2011.
Rajai Davis is going to be the key to Toronto's offensive success in 2011. Certainly the Jays had a dominant offense without him, however, Davis will provide Toronto with their first elite base stealer in many years. Last year, the Jays did not have one player steal more than 20 bases.
Davis now has back-to-back 40+ stolen base seasons, stealing 50 in 2010. His on-base percentage is lacking, however, he maintains a strong batting average. Davis will be making $2.5 million in 2011, though his production warrants between $5-10 million.
Since he began starting in the majors with Washington in 2006, Zimmerman has been tearing the league apart. He has a career .288 batting average, which he brought up by hitting .307 in 2010. Zimmerman has hit 24+ home runs in three of the past four seasons and has driven in 100 runs twice in his career. On top of that, Zimmerman won the Gold Glove Award in 2009, a testament to his elite glove.
Zimmerman has been the face of the Nationals and will continue to be regardless of the development of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. For that, he deserves more than $8.925 million.