Finding MLB's Most Underpaid Roster of Stars
Here at Bleacher Report, we have a Moneyball mindset.
Not so much in terms of sabermetrics, but more in terms of finding the cheapest players at each position.
In this slideshow, we look to form a team of the best players possible, while still maintaining the cheapest payroll.
At each position I looked up some of the cheapest contracts–2011 pay only–and determined who would be the most affordable player without sacrificing ability.
So here you have it, the best and cheapest roster in MLB.
C–Carlos Santana ($416,000)
Carlos Santana earned a meager salary in his first full season in the bigs, but if he continues to play at such a high level that will soon change.
At this point in time though, Santana will have to wait awhile for a big pay day.
His batting average in 2011 was poor–.239–but he still managed a .351 OBP and slugged 27 HR for Cleveland.
In a few years time, Santana's salary will sky rocket. Luckily that's not a concern for right now.
1B–Michael Morse ($1,050,000)
In a world where top tier first baseman are given massive contracts, it's hard to find a low cost player that can still perform.
That's where break out start Michael Morse comes in.
Since he plays for Washington, not many know of Morse's 31 HR and 95 RBI season this past year.
Morse isn't exactly a one and done player either. 2011 was the first time he played in over 100 games. In 2010 Morse played in 98 games and still slugged 15 HR.
He'll be arbitration eligible in 2012, but for right now paying just over $1 million for 30+ HR potential is a sound investment.
2B–Neil Walker ($437,000)
Neil Walker–the steadily improving second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates–is still earning a meager salary after his second full year in the bigs.
Walker doesn't provide a significant amount of power or speed, but for under half a million, 12 HR and nine SB are plenty.
Since he's only 25, it wouldn't be a long shot to expect even more improvement in the future from Walker.
At a thin position like second base, this team could do a lot worse.
3B–Evan Longoria ($2,500,000)
Evan Longoria is one of the elite players in the game today. Tampa Bay somehow signed him to a ridiculous affordable contract earning him only two-and-a-half million in 2011.
For arguably the top third baseman in baseball, that is ridiculous.
Longoria will get to be the face of this franchise and anchor of this team's lineup thanks to that.
SS-Starlin Castro ($440,000)
Still just 21, Starlin Castro is still earning a small rookie's wage before he's arbitration eligible in 2013.
Despite his young age, Castro can certainly play with the big boys hitting over .300 for the second straight year.
While also hitting 10 HR and swiping 22 bags, Castro can provide a nice top of the order hitter to the squad with plenty of upside.
LF–Brett Gardner ($529,000)
Brett Gardner will be arbitration eligible in 2012, which probably doesn't scare the Yankees like it will with our money-starved franchise.
But for now, just over $500,000 is a steal for a player that steals over 40 bases every year.
His batting average and on-base percentage could use a bump, but can you really complain at this small a salary?
CF–Jacoby Ellsbury ($2,400,000)
After an 18 game season in 2010 for Jacoby Ellsbury, $2.4 million wasn't that surprising of a salary after arbitration.
But after the season he had this year, that salary is one of the best steals in baseball.
Ellsbury is my personal pick for the AL MVP after coming from nowhere to hit 32 HR when he'd never even crossed the double digit plateau before.
He also possesses the speed to swipe 70 bags, something he's done in the past.
Ellsbury and Longoria on a team that is supposed to have the cheapest payroll in bsaeball? We might just have a contender yet.
RF–Mike Stanton ($416,000)
2011 was just the first full year for Mike Stanton, but his power potential is too great to ignore.
After blasting 22 bombs in 100 games in 2010, Stanton made it 34 HR in 50 more contests in 2011.
Stanton is the next great power hitter, so scooping him up while he's still cheap is a smart move.
DH–Billy Butler ($3,500,000)
The designated hitter position is usually a spot filled by aging big bats that can't play defense. These guys usually hold large contracts to just sit on the bench and swing a bat four-five times a game. Finding a cheap full-time DH is a tough task, but Billy Butler fills the role best.
Butler's $3.5 million contract is the largest on the team, which is disappointing considering he doesn't provide that much upside. He usually holds a batting average close to .300 and 15-21 HR.
Perhaps this team may be best suited for the NL, but if they end up in the AL Butler won't be that bad of an addition.
LHP–Clayton Kershaw ($500,000)
So not only does this team have my AL MVP pick, but also my NL Cy Young pick. Could a deep playoff run be in the works?
Clayton Kershaw had improved year-to-year since breaking into the bigs at age 20. Now still only 23, no one could have expected him to be this good.
His 2.29 ERA and 248 strikeouts speak for themselves. Kershaw is a top-five pitcher in baseball right now. Getting him for half a million is ridiculous.
RHP–Justin Masterson ($468,000)
While many considered him a reliever, Justin Masterson proved most skeptics wrong with a fantastic 2011.
In his second season of being a full-time starter, Masterson held a 3.21 ERA and a 124 ERA+. He held his walk rate to 2.7 BB/9 and allowed only 0.5 HR/9.
As the second starter on this team, Masterson will be a reliable sinkerball pitcher for under half a million.
RHP–Ian Kennedy ($423,000)
Since Ian Kennedy has come over to the desert from the Bronx, he's shown the potential you would expect from a former first-round pick.
Kennedy's big jump in 2011 helped propel the Diamondbacks into the playoffs as he contributed 21 wins and a 2.88 ERA.
As Kennedy improves, so will his salary. But for now paying $423,000 for 21 wins is a sound investment.
LHP–Gio Gonzalez ($420,000)
Gio Gonzalez seemed destined for a Brandon Morrow type career. Tons of potential due to an electric arm with high strikeout ability, but unable to gain full control and has the ability to get pounded a lot.
Gonzalez wasn't going to let that happen.
While his walk rate is still high–4.1 BB/9 the past two seasons–his ERA is not as it stood at 3.12 at the end of the year.
The big reason for his success is that Gonzalez significantly lowered his home run rate in his last two seasons. From 2.4 HR/9 his rookie year and 1.3 the next, down to 0.7 and 0.8 the past two seasons.
If Gonzalez continues to improve his peripherals and perhaps even lowers his walk rate, he could be one of the elite lefties in baseball.
RHP–Trevor Cahill ($440,000)
At the tender young age of 23, Trevor Cahill has proved himself as a reliable starter with the potential for a lot more.
After a fantastic sophomore campaign that saw him pitch his way to a 2.97 ERA in 2010, 2011 wasn't as kind to the right-hander. A 12-14 record and 4.16 ERA isn't terrible, but a lot more was expected of Cahill.
Still, this doesn't take away from his skill set. At just 23 and already finding success, Cahill should continue to improve. His down year in 2011 will just help keep his cost down in arbitration.
LHP–Tony Sipp ($436,000)
As the left-handed setup man, Tony Sipp steps in.
In his last three years in Cleveland, Sipp has quietly established himself as one of the premier left-handed relievers in baseball.
Sipp does have some issues with home runs (1.5 HR/9), but with such a cheap contract and great strikeout ability, most teams can stomach it.
RHP–Daniel Bard ($550,000)
Pegged as the future closer in Boston, Daniel Bard has thus far lived up to those expectations.
Bard started 2011 off shaky, but still shows elite closer potential with a high strikeout rate.
Bard could easily be the closer for this team, but since he doesn't have the experience he can continue to be one of the best set-up men in the MLB.
CL–Drew Storen ($418,000)
Drew Storen gets the nod at closer due to his experience in the role.
Despite playing for the Washington Nationals, Storen still tallied 43 saves in 2011.
While he could afford to drop his HR/9 rate–1.0–he still has a solid 8.8 K/9 and has shown the ability to shut down plenty of games.
Total payroll $15,343,000
Average salary $902,529
Keep in mind that these numbers aren't complete. This team is still in need of a bench and the remainder of the bullpen, but it's not like those players will blow up the total payroll and would probably even lower the average salary further.
1. Ellsbury CF L
2. Castro SS R
3. Longoria 3B R
4. Stanton RF R
5. Santana C S
6. Morse 1B R
7. Butler DH R
8. Walker 2B S
9. Gardner LF L
Looking at the lineup, there is definitely a lot to get excited about. Ellsbury is suddenly a huge 30/30 threat and he's at the top of the lineup simply due to depth. Longoria, Stanton and Santana provide a deep middle of the lineup while Morse can still hit 30 HR in the six hole.
Gardner with the ability to steal 40-50 bases hitting at the bottom of the lineup is only something seen in a lineup like the Yankees. That should speak volumes about the potential for this team.
The one issue is that the lineup is very right handed. As a GM I definitely have to look into cheap left-handed bench players to fill in for the starters. I tried to spread out Santana and Walker as the two switch hitters to try and split up all the right-handers. Ellsbury and Gardner are the only true lefties and they only logical spots for both of them are at the top and bottom of the lineup respectively.