General Managers, on average, get an unfairly bad rap. Often personified by the team as a whole, they are always criticized for bad contracts and never commended for good ones.
By not having a salary cap, baseball GM's certainly have it the easiest out of the major sports. That is not to say that it is the easiest to put together a good team in baseball, but rather that it is the easiest to cover up mistakes.
In an effort to both commend GM's for good deals and hold them accountable for bad ones, this list will attempt to put together an "All-Star" lineup for the best- and worst-paid players in the game. 2011 salaries and production, rather than long-term deals and career production, were considered.
Without further ado...
Underpaid: Alex Avila
Alex Avila has been one of the most pleasant surprises in baseball this season. Expected to fill in at catcher when Victor Martinez DHed, Avila quickly took full advantage of his opportunity.
Not only was Avila a well-deserved All-Star this season, he has arguably been the best catcher in the American League.
Still on his rookie deal, Avila has done all of this for under half a million dollars. While he will undoubtedly receive a big raise soon, for this season, he has certainly been the most underpaid catcher.
Runner Up: Matt Wieters (Honorable Mention: Buster Posey)
Overpaid: Joe Mauer
When healthy, Joe Mauer is the best catcher in baseball. The problem is that Joe Mauer is not healthy. Joe Mauer is rarely healthy.
Even when he has been on the field this season, Mauer's production has not lived up to expectations. The common trend is that even when he is on the field, the injuries are still nagging.
Whatever the reason may be for Joe Mauer's subpar season, he has not earned the massive $23 million that he has received.
Runner Up: Chris Snyder
Underpaid: Michael Morse
Runner Up: Casey Kotchman (Honorable Mention: Freddie Freeman)
Overpaid: Adam LaRoche
Runner Up: Aubrey Huff
Interestingly, the most overpaid and underpaid first basemen this season both play for the Washington Nationals.
While both players arrived to Washington as journeymen, they were both at opposite ends of the spectrum.
LaRoche, who has been on five teams in eight years (one of those teams twice), signed with the Nationals to be a veteran presence on a young roster. He was expected to bring solid fielding and a power bat.
Unfortunately, none of that has happened.
Before injuries cost LaRoche the rest of his season, complete ineffectiveness forced him out of the everyday lineup.
On the other hand, Morse has given Washington much more than anyone could have expected.
The relatively unknown 29-year-old came to the Nationals as part of a midseason trade during the 2009 season. While he was viewed as a prospect, nobody expected anything more than a decently versatile backup.
Splitting time between first base and left field, Morse has quietly put together a fantastic offensive year and has become a middle-of-the-lineup fixture for years to come.
Underpaid: Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy's season would probably best be summarized as an underachieving prospect finally reaching his potential.
While he was certainly not a complete disappointment in his first two tries with the Mets, he struggled to find any consistency. This season looked to be the difference for the versatile 26-year-old before he suffered a season-ending injury in early August.
It is impossible to predict what exactly how the final month and a half of the season would have played out for Murphy, but it is easy to see that $422,000 is below market value for such an effective utility player.
Runner Up: Dustin Ackley
Overpaid: Chone Figgins
Chone Figgins has benefited greatly from playing in Seattle. If not for the media black hole that is the great Northwest, very few players would be listed ahead of Figgins in any discussion about the worst contracts in baseball.
When Seattle signed the speedy utility man away from division rival Los Angeles prior to the 2010 season, it seems like a great move. Not only did they acquire one of the best lead-off men in baseball and a player that could easily play four positions, they took him away from the defending AL West Champions.
To sum up how disappointing Figgins' tenure with the Mariners has been, it can be said that aside from not earning his pay this season, the number of single games in which he has deserved his paycheck could be counted on one hand.
Runner Up: Brian Roberts
Underpaid: Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval has had quite an interesting beginning to his promising career.
The man aptly nicknamed "Kung Fu Panda" began his career with two fantastic seasons. Despite constant criticism regarding his ever-increasing weight, by the time he was 22, Sandoval had compiled a .333 batting average with 28 home runs and 114 RBIs through 194 big-league games.
While everyone watching could tell that the weight would become an issue for the young third baseman, no one could deny his offensive ability.
Next came what was supposed to be his breakout year. Entering the 2010 season, Sandoval, along with projected midseason call-up Buster Posey, was supposed to lead the Giants to a potential World Series.
San Francisco ended up completing the storybook tale and won it all last October,but it ended up being in spite of Panda rather that because of him (he played six total postseason games).
Sandoval clearly heard the criticism following last season's ineffectiveness (.268/.323/.409), and worked to lose weight this offseason. While many would argue that he still has more weight to lose, his production has certainly returned.
The 2011 All-Star has been the only consistent option for the pitiful San Francisco offense and has enabled them to be in position for a late-season playoff push.
Runner Up: David Freese
Overpaid: Alex Rodriguez
Injuries can only go so far as an excuse.
While this undeniably stands to be his worst season since he was a rookie in 1995, Alex Rodriguez will collect $32 million this season.
Whatever part injuries and lack of playing time because of them may play in that conclusion, there is no denying the fact that when A-Rod has been on field this year, he has not performed like the highest-paid player in the game should.
Runner Up: Mark De Rosa
Underpaid: Starlin Castro
It must really suck being a Cubs fan (no offense).
As if over a century without a title is not enough, the team's best young player (one of the best in baseball), stands to potentially be one of the biggest wastes of talent in baseball history.
At this point, Starlin Castro is definitely the most underpaid shortstop in the game. The only problem is that he may have to keep that label to remain an effective player.
Even as a stud 21-year-old, Castro already shows as much laziness and disengagement as he does talent.
If the Cubs make sure that he is well-mentored for years to come, Castro can be expected to keep up this level of production and be one of the best hitters in the game.
However, if that support system is not in place soon, it looks as if he may become one of the biggest disappointments in history.
Runner Up: Elvis Andrus
Overpaid: Rafael Furcal
What does it say about Dodgers GM Ned Colletti that former Dodger Rafael Furcal probably would have taken this spot in three of the last five seasons? For some reason Colletti continued to believe that Furcal would remain healthy and play at a consistently high level, neither of which he ever did.
This season has been the worst of his career. The former speedster has only 5 steals in 66 games. The former textbook lead-off man has a measly .284 OBP. The former XBH machine has only nine doubles and six home runs in 277 plate appearances this season.
To say Furcal is having a bad year would be an understatement. To say Furcal has earned even a tenth of his $13 million salary this season would be ludicrous.
Runner Up: Jason Bartlett
Underpaid: Ryan Braun
Why doesn't anybody give the Brewers their fair credit? While Tampa Bay is constantly praised for signing a young Evan Longoria to a highly team-friendly deal as a rookie, nobody seems to mention the eight-year extension that Milwaukee signed Ryan Braun to in 2008.
While Braun's salary increases past Longoria's in the 2013 season, that does not mean that it is still not a better deal. Longoria may be a future MVP but to this point he has yet to show any consistency or franchise-player potential.
Conversely, Braun has been one of the best hitters in baseball for three years running and is currently the favorite for NL MVP.
Braun is the highest paid player on the All-Underpaid Team by far but he certainly deserves to be on it.
In an offseason where Albert Pujols plans on receiving a 10-year, $300 million deal, Braun, who has been only slightly less productive, will be doing his work for a mere $4.3 million.
Runner Up: Brett Gardner
Overpaid: Jason Bay
This was a really hard pick. It is not that Jason Bay may deserve his $18.125 million this season (he does not), but it stems from the influence that last season's concussion has had on him.
Sports fans naturally tend to correlate concussions with football but more than ever the past few years have proven that all athletes are affected.
From the sudden drop in production exhibited by Jason Bay, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span, to the recent suicides of multiple physical NHL players, to the biggest story: the potential career-ending effects of Sidney Crosby's concussion, it has become abundantly clear that concussions have their affect on all major sports.
While Bay must be cut some slack for the pain he has endured, the bottom line is that he probably never deserved that kind of money to begin with, and his recent production does nothing to show that he may be anywhere close to deserving even a starting spot on a major league roster.
Runner Up: Milton Bradley
Underpaid: Jacoby Ellsbury
Red Sox fans can say whatever they want about the Yankees but it is becoming only a matter of time before the boys in Beantown have the largest payroll in baseball.
After extending ace Josh Beckett and acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford for well over $100 million apiece, and now the team will be forced to give massive extensions to Jacoby Ellsbury (2011), Kevin Youkilis (2012), Jon Lester (2013), and Dustin Pedroia (2014) in the coming years if they wish to remain a power.
Whatever the future may end up looking like for the Sox, it is clear that Ellsbury has been one of the best players in baseball in 2011.
Throughout the rest of the team's early and mid-season struggles, Ellsbury, along with Adrian Gonzalez, has guided his team to a certain postseason berth and championship-contending October.
Runner Up: Andrew McCutchen
Overpaid: Vernon Wells
Oh, Vernon Wells. Which is worse, giving a 29-year-old Vernon Wells a seven-year, $126 million deal, or trading less than $10 million in salary to acquire a 32-year-old Vernon Wells with four years and $86 million left on his deal?
Long story short, one of the most inept players in baseball this season will cash over $26 million in checks this season. Blasphemy.
Runner Up: Aaron Rowand
Underpaid: Carlos Gonzalez
Matt Holliday and Dan Haren are really good players. Both are well-deserved All-Stars. However, both were the losing side of a major trade in the last four years.
First, Haren was traded to Arizona in a two-for-six trade that brought Carlos Gonzalez to Oakland along with four current Athletics. Less than a year later, Holliday was traded to Oakland for Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith and Huston Street.
To sum it all up, Haren was traded for one of the best players in baseball and five other big league players and Holliday was traded for one of the best players in baseball, one of the best young closers in the game, and one other big league player.
Sorry, guys, Carlos Gonzalez just happens to be a game-changer that two teams severely undervalued.
Coming off of a MVP-caliber season, Cargo has rebounded from a subpar start to put together another dominant season. Oh yeah, he has done it all for under $2 million combined over two seasons.
Runner Up: Mike Stanton
Overpaid: J.D. Drew
Mention the name J.D. Drew to any Red Sox fan.
If one were to give the All-Overpaid team a full-time moniker, it would most certainly have to be the J.D. Drew All-Stars. That really should be all that needs to be said in this article.
Runner Up: Jayson Werth
Underpaid: Clayton Kershaw
Slash (W-L/ERA/K): 17-5/2.45/212
All-in-all, a forgettable season in Dodger-town will be salvaged when 23-year-old lefty Clayton Kershaw wins the NL Cy Young. With the Triple Crown fully in play, it would be nearly impossible to deny him the award.
Well-respected Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci recently declared Clayton Kershaw to have the highest trade value in baseball. In short, he said that there is not one player in baseball (minor leagues included) that he would trade Kershaw for straight up.
That is high praise.
To think that Kershaw doubles as the best lefty in baseball and the least tradable player in the game all for just $500,000 is crazy.
Maybe the rest of the owners in baseball want Frank McCourt to keep the Dodgers. If he can't afford to keep his players, then they may get a chance to sign Kershaw. If not, the Dodgers project to have to luxury of throwing one of the most untouchable pitchers in the game out every five days for years to come.
Runner Up: Jeremy Hellickson
Overpaid: AJ Burnett/John Lackey
Salary (Burnett): $16,500,000
Slash (Burnett): 9-11/5.25/141
Salary (Lackey): $15,950,000
Slash (Lackey): 12-10/5.94/94
This is a cop-out. Sorry.
It was just too hard to pick which contract was more inexcusable.
At gunpoint, the most overpaid starter in baseball is probably John Lackey. While Lackey is paid less than Burnett he has, if possible, been less dominating.
The true deal breaker may be the fact that Burnett has a slight advantage in innings per start. Essentially, while they both kill their teams on a regular basis, Burnett tends to help the bullpen more than Lackey.
Burnett and Lackey play for two of the best teams in baseball. Both teams project to go far in the playoffs. Both players project to be left off of the postseason roster. Clearly, both players are absurdly overpaid.
Runner Up: Scott Kazmir (Honorable Mention: Johan Santana)
Underpaid: Craig Kimbrel
Slash (saves/ERA/K): 42/1.62/110
Look out, baseball.
Between 1991 and 2005, the Atlanta Braves never missed the playoffs. That remarkable 15-year run may be matched very soon.
The Braves have, without a doubt, the best young team in baseball. In both quantity and quality, their young talent is scary.
What is even scarier is that their 23-year-old closer is currently the favorite for both the NL Rookie of the Year and the Relief Pitcher of the Year and a certain top-10 NL Cy Young finisher.
What is truly remarkable about Craig Kimbrel is that he is arguably the best closer in the game and he is nowhere close to his prime.
Runner Up: Johnny Venters (Honorable Mention: David Robertson)
Overpaid: Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan's contract is a perfect example of a team sticking with a guy one year too long.
For many years, Nathan was one of the most dominant and simultaneously under-appreciated players in baseball. The problem is that this is not one of those years.
Coming back from injury, Nathan has not been able to find his stride. He was ineffective as a closer and later as a setup man.
It now seems that his career as a dominant reliever may be behind him. Fortunately for Minnesota, his days of being paid like one are, too.
Runner Up: Rafael Soriano