Everybody seems to talk about the most overpaid players who ruin your team because they are such a financial burden, but what about the bargains? The players who are paid near league minimum and produce like stars. Those players can make a team because of their next-to-nothing cost.
Who are these bargains that help a team out so much? Let's find out.
I will be using 2011 salary figures for this.
2010 Stats: .305/.357/.505, .862 OPS, 18 HR, 67 RBI, 0 SB
Buster Posey did miss most of the 2011 season with a broken leg, but when he plays, he is one of the best catchers in the majors. At a hair over half a million dollars, he is a huge bargain for the San Francisco Giants.
If Posey can return to his 2010 form next season, he will be both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger candidate in the NL. A broken leg is a hard injury to overcome, especially for a catcher, but at worst, he should be playing first base in 2012. At best, he will return behind the plate and show that even at only 24 years old, he is an elite catcher.
Honorable Mention: Matt Wieters ($452,250)
2011 Stats: .303/.360/.550, .910 OPS, 31 HR, 95 RBI, 2 SB
The 29-year-old Michael Morse came out of nowhere in 2011 for the Washington Nationals. In only his first season with over 100 games played in the majors, Morse hit for both great power and contact.
Most good first basemdn, such as Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, are among the highest paid in the game, so finding a cheap yet highly-productive first baseman is very difficult to come by.
Michael Morse is paid just over one million dollars, and at that price, he is a huge steal.
Honorable Mention: Eric Hosmer ($414,000)
2011 Stats: .285/.338/.464, .802 OPS, 18 HR, 63 RBI, 14 SB
Howie Kendrick is not what I would call cheap at over three million dollars, but at a position dominated by the highly-paid Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Chase Utley, that is a steal.
Good second basemen are hard to come by, but when a good one is found, they become a hot commodity and therefore overpaid, so it is a wonder that Howie Kendrick is paid this little.
Kendrick does everything you want for a second baseman. He plays great defense, steals bases, hits for contact and hits for power. He is not an elite player in the majors, but he gets the job done, so for a little over three million dollars, he is a steal.
Honorable Mention: Danny Espinosa ($415,000)
2011 Stats: .273/.332/.460, .792 OPS, 25 HR, 92 RBI, 17 SB
Asdrubal Cabrera came out of nowhere in 2011. In his four seasons in the majors prior to 2011, he had never hit 10 home runs or drove in 70 runs, but in 2011, he became a very good shortstop.
Cabrera was a finalist for a Gold Glove and flashed the leather with multiple "Web Gems" on ESPN's Baseball Tonight, but he posted an awful -11.8 UZR in 2011.
Is he a good defensive shortstop? I think so, but the advanced metrics beg to differ.
He may not be Troy Tulowitzki or Jose Reyes, but Cabrera is a very good second-tier shortstop, and at two million dollars, he is a very good bargain for the Cleveland Indians.
Honorable Mention: Starlin Castro ($440,000)
2011 Stats: .315/.357/.552, .909 OPS, 23 HR, 70 RBI, 2 SB
Pablo Sandoval is known as a very good hitting third baseman. Due to his weight, people seem to think he is a defensive slouch, but that is not true. Sandoval was a finalist for the NL Gold Glove for third base and posted a 12.3 UZR in 2011. Whether you like sabermetrics or not, you have to admit that he is a good defensive third baseman.
Sandoval has always been very good with the bat, even though he struggled in 2010, but his 2011 and 2009 seasons show his talent.
Sandoval only played 117 games in 2011 due to injury, but as you can see by his 23 home runs and 70 runs batted in, he still had a good season. If he played all 162 games, he would project to hit 32 home runs and 97 runs batted, even in very pitcher-friendly AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Honorable Mention: Evan Longoria ($2,500,000)
2011 Stats: .303/.376/.502, .879 OPS, 23 HR, 87 RBI, 17 RBI
Alex Gordon was selected with the second pick in the 2005 draft by the Kansas City Royals and quickly impressed in the minors with a 1.016 OPS in three seasons. Gordon was named the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America in 2007, but in his first four seasons, he disappointed.
The Royals then moved him for third base to left field, and in 2011, he had a breakout season. Not only was he great at the plate, but he also won a Gold Glove. Gordon will turn into a great player in a couple years.
Honorable Mention: Brett Gardner ($529,500)
2011 Stats: .321/.376/.552, .928 OPS, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB
A 30/30 player who hits over .320 and drives in over 100 runs for less than three million dollars?
Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest positional bargain in the majors because he is one of the best centerfielders in the majors, with Matt Kemp and Curtis Granderson. This will not last much longer because Ellsbury will be a free agent after the 2012, and Scott Boras is his agent. Ellsbury will get a huge payday after this season.
This past season was his breakout year. He also missed most of 2010 due to injury, so he will have to prove he can repeat this success, but I think he can do it.
Honorable Mention: Andrew McCutchen ($452,500)
2011 Stats: .262/.356/.537, .893 OPS, 34 HR, 87 RBI, 5 SB
In only his second season in the major leagues, 22-year-old Mike Stanton had one of the best years of any outfielder in the majors. This was not much of a surprise because Stanton did hit 22 home runs as a rookie in 2010.
Stanton will be a Miami Marlin for years to come, and before he becomes arbitration eligible, he will be a huge bargain. The cornerstone of the Marlins franchise is not Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes or Josh Johnson; it is Mike Stanton. This kid is special.
Honorable Mention: Justin Upton ($4,458,333)
2011 Stats: .254/.291/.477, .768 OPS, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 9 SB
Mark Trumbo was one of the worst people in the majors when it came to getting on base, but he had immense power for a rookie.
Most DHs in the majors are old players with big contracts that can no longer play a defensive position (see David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero), so there was not much to pick from. Trumbo may not be a DH in 2012 because Albert Pujols will be at first base and Kendry Morales will be coming off a broken leg he sustained celebrating after a walk-off home run.
Morales will likely DH, so Trumbo may be moved to third base or a corner outfield position, but for right now, he is a bargain even at DH.
Honorable Mention: Billy Butler ($3,500,000)
2011 Stats: 233.1 IP, 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 248 K, 54 BB
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the majors right now, even at 23 years old.
Kershaw won the NL Cy Young Award and pitcher's triple crown in 2011. At only half of a million dollars, that is the biggest bargain in the majors. True aces are not easy to find, but 23-year-old triple crown winning aces for just above the league minimum are once-in-a-lifetime type bargains.
This bargain will not last for long because Kershaw is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility and is due for a hefty raise.
Do not think this was Kershaw's breakout season because he has posted an ERA under 3.00 and pitched 170-plus innings for three straight seasons. Kershaw is here to stay and will be the best starting pitcher in the majors for the next decade.
2011 Stats: 222 IP, 21-4, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 198 K, 55 BB
Ian Kennedy was once a highly-touted pitching prospect for the New York Yankees, but he failed in New York and was sent to Arizona in a three-team deal. The trade sent Curtis Granderson to New York, Kennedy and Edwin Jackson to Arizona and Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit. It looks like New York and Arizona were the big winners in that trade.
The 26-year-old Kennedy resurrected his career in Arizona by becoming a legitimate ace atop the Diamondbacks rotation.
Kennedy made close to league minimum in 2011, and for that type of performance, he is a huge steal for the Arizon Diamondbacks.
2011 Stats: 179.2 IP, 13-7, 2.71 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 139 K, 61 BB
Raise your hand if you thought Ryan Vogelsong would have a season like he did in 2011. Now put your hand down. Liar!
The 34-year-old Vogelsong had never posted an ERA south of four in his entire career and had not pitched in the majors since 2006.
Where exactly did he come from? I have no idea. Vogelsong started his career in 2000 with the Giants before being traded to the Pirates in 2001. He played in Pittsburgh from 2001 to 2006 before leaving for the Nippon League in Japan until 2009. He signed with the Phillies in 2010, but was cut without throwing a single pitch. He was then signed by the Angels, but was again cut.
In April 2011, Vogelsong was invited to spring training by the San Francisco Giants to replace the injured and ineffective Barry Zito, and he impressed enough to be given a spot in the rotation.
2011 Stats: 189 IP, 13-10, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 117 K, 72 BB
The Tampa Bay Rays seem to keep reloading their rotation with a young stud pitcher almost yearly, and Jeremy Hellickson is no exception. Hellickson won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2011, and at only 24 years old, he looks to be a future ace atop the Rays rotation.
Hellickson may not get the five-year deal Matt Moore got last week, but he has done one thing Moore has not. He has gone through an entire season in the major leagues and remained dominant throughout the season. Hitters did not figure out Hellickson's stuff, and he did not tire out as the season wore on; he stayed sharp.
Hellickson will be making near league minimum for a few more years, but when he starts arbitration, he should be in for a pay day.
2011 Stats: 202 IP, 16-12, 3.12 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 197 K, 91 BB
Gio Gonzalez has some control issues and has been accused of only being successful because of the Athletics' pitcher-friendly park and easy division, but the fact of the matter is, Gonzalez is a great pitcher.
Over the last two seasons, Gonzalez has pitched 402.2 innings and posted a 3.18 ERA, which is very impressive for the 26-year-old lefty.
Gonzalez has been shopped by the Oakland Athletics, but if Billy Beane is smart, he will hold out for a pitching-deprived team like the Red Sox or Yankees to make a huge offer because Gonzalez is a great pitcher and is under team control for four more years.
2011 Stats: 66.2 IP, 4-0, 34 HLD, 1.08 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 100 K, 35 BB
David Robertson had one of the best seasons ever by a relief pitcher. He posted a 1.08 ERA despite pitching in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium half the time. In his 36 innings he pitched on the road, Robertson gave up one total runs (0.25 ERA), and after the All-Star Break, he posted a 0.86 ERA.
Robertson was routinely put in the game during difficult positions. He faced 19 batters with the bases loaded in 2011. In those situations, he gave up one hit, zero runs and struck out 14 batters.
Mariano Rivera will still be almost impossible to replace, but with the 26-year-old set-up man nicknamed "Houdini" ready to take his place, it will ease the pain just a little bit.
Honorable Mention: Eric O'Flaherty ($895,000)
2011 Stats: 73.2 IP, 2-2, 46 SV, 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 86 K, 25 BB
It was difficult to keep the reigning NL Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel off this list, but John Axford had an even better season than Kimbrel in 2011.
The 28-year-old John Axford had a very good 2010 season, but he improved in 2011 by posting an ERA under two. Axford also posted a 1.29 ERA in his seven innings of work in the postseason for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Axford only has two years of experience, so he will remain underpaid for the next few years as he reaches arbitration. The Brewers will be getting one of the best closers in the game for next to nothing during that time period.
Honorable Mention: Craig Kimbrel ($419,000)