Ranking MLB's Top 25 Overall Future Trade Assets

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2017

Ranking MLB's Top 25 Overall Future Trade Assets

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Let's pretend for a second that every player in Major League Baseball was placed on the trade block.

    Ignoring things like team need and franchise direction, who would be the most valuable trade chips in this hypothetical situation?

    That's what we've set out to determine in the following article.

    Ahead, you'll find the top 25 future trade assets based on that hypothetical situation, but before we dive into that list, a few ground rules:

    • No Prospects: Any player who still has rookie eligibility remaining was not considered for this list, as the focus was on current MLB talent. That meant no Dansby Swanson or Andrew Benintendi either, since their rookie standings are still intact.
    • Three Years of Control or More: To further trim the field and because remaining team control is such a huge factor in determining trade value, a player needed to have at least three remaining years of control to be considered for this list. That excluded the vaunted 2018-19 free-agent class, headlined by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
    • Team Control Wasn't Everything: While one of the biggest factors in putting together this list was undoubtedly team control, it wasn't everything. Are five years of Chris Archer worth more than three years of Madison Bumgarner? These were the kinds of questions that had to be answered.
    • Position Players vs. Pitchers: The following list contains 16 position players and nine pitchers. Why the lopsided numbers? Because position players are more valuable given their day in and day out contributions, and they're also safer long-term investments.
    • Big Contracts Were a Detriment: Players such as Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Freddie Freeman, Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, Evan Longoria, Buster Posey, David Price, Kyle Seager, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto don't necessarily have bad contracts, but their steep price tags undoubtedly cut into their values.

    Hopefully, that paints a clear picture of what went into the following rankings. Now let's kick things off with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions (Hitters)

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    Brandon Crawford
    Brandon CrawfordAndrew Burton/Getty Images

    Honorable Mentions

    Player2017201820192020202120222023
    Jose Abreu$10.8MArb 2Arb 3FA   
    Javier BaezPre-ArbPre-ArbArb 1Arb 2Arb 3FA 
    Brandon Belt$4M$17.2M$17.2M$17.2M$17.2MFA 
    Jackie Bradley$3.6MArb 2Arb 3Arb 4FA  
    Matt Carpenter$9.8M$13.5M$14.5M$18.5MFA  
    B. Crawford$8.2M$15.2M$15.2M$15.2M$15.2MFA 
    Adam Eaton$4M$6M$8.4M$9.5M$10.5MFA 
    Odubel Herrera$1.6M$3.4M$5.4M$7.4M$10.4M$11.5M$12.5M
    Ender Inciarte$2.7M$4.7M$5.7M$7.7M$8.7M$9MFA
    Kevin Kiermaier$3MArb 2Arb 3Arb 4FA  
    Jason Kipnis$9.2M$13.7M$14.7M$16.5MFA  
    Wil Myers$4.7MArb 2Arb 3FA   
    Rougned OdorPre-ArbArb 1Arb 2Arb 3FA  
    Joc PedersonPre-ArbArb 1Arb 2Arb 3FA  
    Stephen PiscottyPre-ArbPre-ArbArb 1Arb 2Arb 3 FA 
    Gregory Polanco$1.6M$4.1M$6.1M$8.6M$11.6M$12.5M$13.5M
    Jose RamirezPre-ArbArb 1Arb 2Arb 3FA  
    Anthony Rendon$5.8MArb 3Arb 4FA   
    Gary SanchezPre-ArbPre-ArbPre-ArbArb 1Arb 2Arb 3FA
    Kyle SchwarberPre-ArbPre-ArbArb 1Arb 2Arb 3FA 
    George Springer$3.9MArb 2Arb 3Arb 4FA  

                      

    Note: Total salaries were rounded to the nearest tenth (or $100,000) for the sake of fitting everything on the above chart. Salaries written in italics indicate an option year.

Honorable Mentions (Pitchers)

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    Gerrit Cole
    Gerrit ColeJustin Berl/Getty Images

    Honorable Mentions

    Player2017201820192020202120222023
    Dellin Betances $3.4M Arb 2 Arb 3FA   
    Carlos Carrasco $6.5M$8M$9M$9.5MFA  
    Gerrit Cole$4.2M Arb 2 Arb 3FA   
    Michael Fulmer Pre-Arb Pre-Arb Arb 1 Arb 2 Arb 3FA 
    Kevin Gausman $3.9M Arb 2 Arb 3 Arb 4FA  
    Jon Gray Pre-Arb Pre-Arb Arb 1 Arb 2 Arb 3FA 
    Sonny Gray$3.6M Arb 2 Arb 3FA   
    Kyle Hendricks Pre-Arb Arb 1 Arb 2 Arb 3FA  
    Nate Jones$1.9M$4M$4.7M$5.2M$6MFA 
    Kenta Maeda $3.1M$3.1M$3.1M$3.1M$3.1M$3.1M$3.1M
    Carlos Martinez$5.3M Arb 2 Arb 3FA   
    Roberto Osuna Pre-Arb Arb 1 Arb 2 Arb 3FA  
    Robbie Ray Pre-Arb Arb 1 Arb 2 Arb 3FA  
    Tanner Roark $4.3M Arb 2 Arb 3FA   
    Danny Salazar$3.4M Arb 2 Arb 3 Arb 4FA  
    Marcus Stroman $3.5M Arb 2 Arb 3 Arb 4FA  
    Julio Urias Pre-Arb Pre-Arb Pre-Arb Arb 1 Arb 2 Arb 3FA

                        

    Note: Total salaries were rounded to the nearest tenth (or $100,000) for the sake of fitting everything on the above chart. Salaries written in italics indicate an option year.

25. SP Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2021: Free Agent

                        

    Overview

    The Toronto Blue Jays entered the season with a plan to protect young right-hander Aaron Sanchez as he made the transition from reliever to starter.

    When the season ended, he had thrown 203.2 innings, north of the Blue Jays' preferred limit, but a breakout performance and the team's standing as a contender forced their hand.

    Sanchez wrapped up his first full season in the rotation at 15-2 while leading the American League with a 3.00 ERA and posting a 1.17 WHIP with 161 strikeouts in 192 regular-season innings.

    He followed that up with a pair of starts in the playoffs, including a gem against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series where he allowed just two hits and one run over six innings.

    Marcus Stroman was the one who looked like a budding ace heading into the 2016 season, and he still has that potential. But there was little question Sanchez was the best arm on the staff by season's end.

    The 24-year-old has dynamic stuff with a fastball that averaged north of 95 mph, a curveball that limited opposing hitters to a .145 average while accounting for 66 strikeouts and a changeup that was equally effective with a .155 batting average against, according to Brooks Baseball.

    As long as his power arm stays healthy in the years to come, Sanchez should give the Blue Jays a consistent bargain over his four remaining years of team control.

24. SP Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $7 million
    • 2018: $8.85 million
    • 2019: $10.5 million option ($1 million buyout)
    • 2020: $10.5 million option ($1 million buyout)
    • 2021: Free Agent

                       

    Overview

    Of the 25 players highlighted, Jose Quintana has by far the best chance of being traded.

    The Chicago White Sox have finally committed to rebuilding after shipping out Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in December at the winter meetings for a franchise-changing haul of prospects.

    That leaves Quintana as by far the most valuable remaining trade chip on the roster.

    The 27-year-old has turned in four straight seasons of at least 200 innings, posting a 3.35 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and a 3.47 K/BB ratio during that span and ranking seventh among all starting pitchers with an 18.1 WAR.

    Chicago locked him up with a five-year, $26.5 million extension prior to the 2014 season, and that deal includes a pair of $10.5 million option years, giving him one of the most team-friendly deals in baseball.

    In the grand scheme of things, he's more a really good No. 2 starter on a contender than a true ace.

    That hasn't stopped the White Sox from seeking three elite-level prospects in return for the left-hander, per Jack Curry of YES Network, and they may get that before the offseason is over.

23. SP Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $6.47 million
    • 2018: $8.17 million
    • 2019: $11.17 million
    • 2020: $12 million ($1 million buyout)
    • 2021: Free Agent

                          

    Overview

    Julio Teheran has gone from a disappointing trade chip the Atlanta Braves did not want to sell low on last winter to a cornerstone of the team's rebuilding efforts and all but untouchable.

    The 25-year-old looked like a star in the making when he went 14-13 with a 2.89 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 186 strikeouts in 221 innings in his second full season in 2014.

    However, his ERA (4.04) and WHIP (1.31) both spiked considerably the following season, and the team-friendly extension he had signed no longer looked like such a valuable asset.

    On the heels of a stellar rookie campaign in 2013, Teheran inked a six-year, $32.4 million deal that included a $12 million option for 2020.

    Rather than giving up on the young right-hander, the Braves opted against moving him, and he rewarded their faith with a nice bounce-back season in 2016, going 7-10 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 167 strikeouts in 188 innings while making his second All-Star Game appearance.

    While he's not an ace-caliber arm, Teheran can be a solid No. 2 starter on the next contending Braves team, and his reasonable salary for the next four years undoubtedly gives him considerable value. 

22. SP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $4.05 million (h/t New York Daily News)
    • 2018: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 4
    • 2021: Free Agent

                    

    Overview

    Since seemingly coming out of nowhere to win 2014 National League Rookie of the Year honors, Jacob deGrom has quickly emerged as one of the game's best young pitchers.

    Like most of the New York Mets pitching staff, he missed time last season while dealing with forearm tightness.

    While a forearm issue can often be a precursor to Tommy John surgery, in deGrom's case, it was a nerve injury, and he underwent surgery to remove the ulnar nerve at the end of September.

    That operation generally carries a three-month recovery time, per Adam Rubin of ESPN.com, so he should be ready to go for the start of 2017.

    Prior to dealing with the nerve issue, it had been more of the same from the 28-year-old, who is now 30-22 with a 2.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 492 strikeouts in 479.1 innings over his three-year career in the majors.

    Despite the fact he'll be entering his age-29 season, deGrom has just 802.2 professional innings under his belt, so his status as a late bloomer works in his favor with less mileage on his arm.

    Given the sketchy health of Matt Harvey and the fact that Noah Syndergaard is still pre-arbitration, locking up deGrom with an extension could become a priority for the Mets in the near future.

21. SS Trea Turner, Washington Nationals (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2021: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2022: Free Agent

                          

    Overview

    When it comes to these rankings, more proven talent generally gets the nod over players coming off impressive rookie performances, but 2016 standouts Corey Seager and Trea Turner are worthy exceptions. 

    In almost any other year, Turner would have been an easy choice for NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    The 23-year-old hit .342/.370/.567 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 40 RBI, 53 runs scored and 33 stolen bases in just 73 games with the Washington Nationals.

    He did all of that while learning a new position in center field, as the team asked the speedy middle infielder to make the switch out of necessity.

    Now, following the offseason trade of Danny Espinosa, he'll return to his natural position of shortstop, where he figures to stay for the next decade.

    Speed has always been Turner's biggest weapon, and it's legitimate 80-grade, according to some scouts.

    Even with those wheels, he'll have a hard time maintaining a .388 BABIP, so some regression in the batting-average department is to be expected.

    Still, there's no reason to think he won't be a dynamic table-setter capable of hitting around .300 with 15-plus home runs, 50-plus stolen bases and above-average defense at shortstop.

    Two years removed from arbitration, that adds up to a tremendous bargain and huge value for the Nationals.

20. SP Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays (2016 Rank: 7)

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    Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $4.92 million
    • 2018: $6.42 million
    • 2019: $7.67 million
    • 2020: $8.25 million option ($1.75 million buyout)
    • 2021: $8.25 million option ($1.75 million buyout)
    • 2022: Free Agent

                        

    Overview

    Last year, Chris Archer landed a spot inside the top 10 in these rankings after turning in a breakout 2015 season.

    That made the six-year, $25.5 million deal he signed at the start of 2014which also included a pair of $8.25 million options—look like one of the best bargains in the sport.

    It's still a great deal for the Tampa Bay Rays, and there's no question he has tremendous value. But he falls several spots after a down season in 2016.

    Archer still has the stuff to be an ace-caliber arm, evidenced by his 233 strikeouts in 201.1 innings. It marked the second straight season in which he posted a strikeout-per-nine-inning rate above 10.

    However, his ERA climbed from 3.23 to 4.02, and his peripheral numbers went with it as he surrendered a whopping 30 home runs.

    Provided he can do a better job limiting the long ball and perhaps become a bit less reliant on the strikeout, there's no reason the 28-year-old can't climb back up these rankings.

19. SS Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2021: Arbitration Year 4
    • 2022: Free Agent

                              

    Overview

    The results of last year's All-Star voting seemingly opened the door for the "overrated" label to be slapped on Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell.

    Did he deserve to start over Los Angeles Dodgers rookie star Corey Seager?

    Definitely not.

    Is he one of the game's most exciting young players with legitimate superstar potential?

    You'd better believe it.

    Still a few days shy of his 23rd birthday, Russell has two full MLB seasons under his belt, and he's already piled up 7.6 WAR.

    His offensive game is still a work in progress, but he was no slouch with the bat last season, posting a .738 OPS with 25 doubles, 21 home runs and 95 RBI.

    Meanwhile, his defense is already elite.

    Russell tied for the lead among MLB shortstops with 19 defensive runs saved last season, and he's piled up 38 DRS over his first two seasons.

    San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford will have something to say in the matter, but Russell is going to win some Gold Glove Awards before his career is over.

18. 3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (2016 Rank: 23)

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Contract Status

                                  

    Overview

    The record raise for a player in his second year of arbitration is $7.1 million, secured by Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis in 2014.

    The MLB Trade Rumors arbitration model projected Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado to surpass that mark and net an $8.1 million raise for a $13.1 million salary in 2017.

    It's hard to say he's not worth that.

    Known more for his glove than his bat when he first entered the league, Arenado has turned in back-to-back monster seasons at the plate:

    • 2015: .287 BA, .898 OPS, 43 2B, 42 HR, 130 RBI, 97 R, 5.8 WAR
    • 2016: .294 BA, .932 OPS, 35 2B, 41 HR, 133 RBI, 116 R, 6.5 WAR

    He's now paced the NL in home runs, RBI and total bases two years running while finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting and claiming Gold Glove honors both years as well.

    Skeptics will say Coors Field has inflated his numbers.

    While his numbers are better at home, he's by no means a product of his environment with an .832 OPS and 16 home runs on the road this past season.

    The 25-year-old is the complete package, and it will be interesting to see if the Rockies can lock him up for the long haul.

17. SS Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox (2016 Rank: 19)

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $5.7 million projected salary
    • 2018: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2020: Free Agent

                                  

    Overview

    Since turning in a somewhat disappointing rookie campaign in 2014, at least relative to expectations, Xander Bogaerts has emerged as one of the best shortstops in the league and an integral piece of the Boston Red Sox core.

    An impressive showing in the 2013 postseason made him the front-runner for 2014 AL Rookie of the Year honors, but he hit just .240/.297/.362 and posted a 0.3 WAR in his first full season.

    The following season was a different story. He raised his batting average 80 points and his OPS 116 points, albeit while flashing little in the way of power, as he managed just seven home runs in 654 plate appearances.

    All the pieces finally fell into place this past season, as he posted an .802 OPS with 21 home runs, 89 RBI and 115 runs scored, earning his first trip to the All-Star Game and taking home a second consecutive Silver Slugger.

    Bogaerts is two years closer to free agency than the likes of Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager, so he ranks a bit lower in terms of his value.

    However, he belongs right alongside that group in an impressive collection of young shortstops.

16. SP Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox (2016 Rank: 9)

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $12 million
    • 2018: $12.5 million option ($1 million buyout)
    • 2019: $15 million option ($1 million buyout)
    • 2020: Free Agent

                          

    Overview

    What are three years of a reasonably priced pitcher like Chris Sale worth?

    We got to find out during the winter meetings when the White Sox traded him to the Boston Red Sox for a package of four prospects that included Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz.

    It's hard to think of another time when someone traded a pitcher of his caliber who was three years removed from free agency, and there's no question this was a franchise-altering move for both teams involved.

    He ranked a bit higher last season when he had an extra year of control priced at $9.15 million, but he still carries a ton of value, as Chicago learned last month.

    Sale has been nothing short of brilliant since moving from the bullpen to the rotation in 2012, going a combined 70-47 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 1,133 strikeouts in 1,015.2 innings.

    He's finished no lower than sixth in Cy Young voting during that five-year span, though he's still looking to take home the award for the first time.

    Even though he didn't play out his entire contract with the White Sox, that seven-year, $60 million deal he signedassuming both option years are exercisedwill go down as one of the best decisions in franchise history.

15. SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (2016 Rank: 8)

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $11.7 million
    • 2018: $12 million option ($1.5 million buyout)
    • 2019: $12 million option ($1.5 million buyout)
    • 2020: Free Agent

                        

    Overview

    Madison Bumgarner was just 22 years old when he signed a five-year, $35 million extension with the San Francisco Giants that could keep him around for seven years if the club exercises a pair of $12 million options.

    Five years later, that deal has looked like robbery on the part of the Giants.

    While fellow homegrown arms Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have fallen by the wayside, Bumgarner has emerged as one of MLB's elite starters and one of the greatest postseason pitchers the game has ever seen.

    The 6'5", 250-pound lefty has rattled off six consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings, going 93-61 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 1,285 strikeouts in 1,276.2 innings during that span.

    He's also 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 102.1 career postseason innings, tallying three complete game shutouts and one memorable save in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.

    The Giants have already begun talks with Bumgarner on another extension, per Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News, as they have no intention of losing their superstar workhorse.

14. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (2016 Rank: 5)

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $8.85 million
    • 2018: $11.1 million
    • 2019: $14.5 million option ($2 million buyout)
    • 2020: Free Agent

                                         

    Overview

    Fun fact: Baseball AmericaBaseball Prospectus and MLB.com never ranked Paul Goldschmidt a top 100 prospect in their preseason rankings.

    Whoops.

    An eighth-round pick in 2009, Goldschmidt took over as the Arizona Diamondbacks' starting first baseman in 2012. The following season, he broke out as one of the league's most dangerous hitters.

    Over the past four seasons, he's hit .305/.412/.538 while averaging 36 doubles, 28 home runs, 100 RBI and 97 runs scored.

    On top of his run-production abilities, he's also logged back-to-back 20-20 seasons and is one of the league's better defensive first basemen to boot.

    The D-backs were wise to lock him up with a five-year, $32 million deal prior to the 2013 season, and his $14.5 million option for the 2019 season is a lock to be exercised, adding a sixth team-friendly season on to the back end of the pact.

    It will be interesting to see what he's worth as a 32-year-old free agent, provided he does in fact reach the open market at the end of his deal.

13. 2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (2016 Rank: 18)

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $4.69 million
    • 2018: $6 million option
    • 2019: $6.5 million option
    • 2020: Free Agent

                                 

    Overview

    Jose Altuve was there for the dark times.

    He was there for a 107-loss season in 2012, an 111-loss season in 2013 and a 92-loss season in 2014.

    And now he's there as the face of a Houston Astros team that many consider among the front-runners to win the AL pennant this coming season.

    The first big step the Astros made on the long road to rebuilding was signing Altuve to a four-year, $12.5 million deal midway through the 2014 season that would keep him around through 2019 if they exercised a pair of options.

    That deal paid him just $1.46 million when he won the AL batting title in 2014.

    It paid him just $2.71 million the following year, when he again led the AL in hits and stolen bases.

    And it paid him just $3.71 million this past season when he added a second AL batting title and discovered his power stroke for a 24-homer season, earning a third-place finish in AL MVP voting for his efforts.

    Similar to the extension Anthony Rizzo signed with the Chicago Cubs a few years prior to their return to contention, the Altuve extension has been a huge boon to the Astros in their climb back toward relevance.

12. LF Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates (2016 Rank: 12)

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $5.33 million
    • 2018: $7.83 million
    • 2019: $10.33 million
    • 2020: $11.5 million option ($2 million buyout)
    • 2021: $12.5 million option ($2 million buyout)
    • 2022: Free Agent

                         

    Overview

    The Pittsburgh Pirates, as much as any team in baseball, rely on pre-arbitration extensions to offset their small-market standing and keep their homegrown talent in place.

    Starling Marte looks like the best deal on the books right now, as he is entering the fourth year of a six-year, $31 million deal that includes a pair of option years valued at $11.5 million and $12.5 million.

    The 28-year-old does a little bit of everything for the Pirates.

    He posted a .311/.362/.456 slash line last year, which represented career bests across the board. Despite hitting 10 fewer home runs than he did in 2015, his OPS climbed from .780 to .818 as he became a more well-rounded hitter.

    Meanwhile, he also swiped a career-high 47 bases, giving him four straight seasons with at least 30 steals.

    He also won his second consecutive Gold Glove, as he had 19 DRS in left field and now has 68 DRS there over the past four years.

    All of that has added up to a 20.8 WAR since the start of 2013, good for 10th in MLB.

    With Andrew McCutchen potentially shifting to a corner spot and Marte his likely replacement in center field, he could become even more valuable in the years to come.

11. C Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (2016 Rank: 20)

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $4.2 million
    • 2018: $8.7 million
    • 2019: $11.2 million
    • 2020: $14.2 million
    • 2021: $14.2 million
    • 2022: Free Agent

                              

    Overview

    Even after renegotiating his contract, Salvador Perez is a steal for the Kansas City Royals.

    Perez was set to earn a modest $15.28 million combined over the next three years, as he had reached the trio of option years tacked on to the end of the five-year, $7 million deal he signed at the onset of his MLB career.

    The Royals replaced those option years with a five-year, $52.5 million extension last March, essentially using an $8.82 million raise over the next three years to convince him to tack two more years of team control onto the back end.

    It's a good move for Perez and a great move for the Royals, as the 26-year-old is undoubtedly their most important player.

    Over the past four seasons, Perez has caught a whopping 4,662 innings.

    That's tops in the majors during that span and adds up to roughly 80.5 percent of all innings behind the plate for the Royals since 2013.

    He threw out a career-high 48 percent of base stealers last season as his rocket arm continues to scare the opposition.

    And while his on-base skills leave a lot to be desired, he's averaged 26 doubles, 18 home runs and 71 RBI in his four years as an everyday player.

    To put it simply, he's the best all-around catcher in the American League, and he still has plenty of prime production ahead of him at an incredibly low price.

10. SP Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Pool/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $7.7 million
    • 2018: $10.7 million
    • 2019: $13.2 million
    • 2020: $13.5 million ($1 million buyout)
    • 2021: $14 million option ($1 million buyout)
    • 2022: Free Agent

                       

    Overview

    Corey Kluber was a unique case as far as an extension was concerned.

    He didn't become a regular member of the Cleveland Indians rotation until his age-27 season, and he followed that up by winning AL Cy Young honors the next year.

    However, given his status as a late bloomer, he would not have reached free agency for the first time until the age of 33, which made signing a pre-arbitration extension in his best interest.

    It wound up being a five-year, $38.5 million deal, the largest pre-arbitration guarantee for a starting pitcher in MLB history, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

    And yet, two years into that deal, it still looks like the Indians made a brilliant decision.

    Kluber has gone 45-34 with a 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 741 strikeouts in 672.2 innings over the past three seasons dating back to his Cy Young-winning campaign.

    He also proved his mettle in his first taste of postseason action, going 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 34.1 innings while anchoring an injury-depleted staff last October.

    The Indians rolled the dice on Kluber's backing up his late-career breakout, and he's left little doubt that he's one of the game's best pitchers.

9. LF Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $3.5 million
    • 2018: $7 million
    • 2019: $9.75 million
    • 2020: $12.5 million
    • 2021: $14 million
    • 2022: $15 million option ($1.25 million buyout)
    • 2023: Free Agent

                             

    Overview

    A newcomer to these rankings, Christian Yelich might be the most underrated player in the game.

    The 25-year-old is a career .293/.368/.430 hitter, and in parts of four MLB seasons, he's already piled up a 13.8 WAR while sharing the Miami Marlins outfield with high-profile slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

    For the record, Stantonwho signed baseball's first $300 million contracthas an only slightly better 15.1 WAR during that same span.

    During the same offseason that Stanton signed his megadeal, Yelich inked a seven-year, $49.57 million extension, and just two years in, that already looks like a robbery.

    A good contact hitter with plus on-base skills since the onset of his MLB career, Yelich added some pop last season as he set new career highs in doubles (38), home runs (21) and RBI (98) while hitting primarily out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

    Yelich is also a stellar defender in left field, tallying 32 DRS over the past three seasons and winning a Gold Glove in 2014.

    He sometimes gets lost in Stanton's shadow, but it's time people took notice of just how good Christian Yelich has become.

8. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (2016 Rank: 4)

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $7.29 million
    • 2018: $7.29 million
    • 2019: $11.29 million
    • 2020: $14.5 million option ($2 million buyout)
    • 2021: $14.5 million option ($2 million buyout)
    • 2022: Free Agent

                                

    Overview

    Similar to Jose Altuve in Houston, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was there for the dark times.

    Just a little over a month into what would be a 96-loss season in 2013, Rizzo agreed to a seven-year, $41 million extension that could be worth $70 million over nine years if the club exercised a pair of options.

    With that, he became the first big piece of the puzzle to fall into place for a Cubs team that has come an awfully long way since that 96-loss campaign.

    Rizzo has come a long way in his own right.

    He would slug 40 doubles and 23 home runs during that 2013 campaign, his first full season in the majors, but he did it with a less than stellar .233/.323/.419 batting line and hit just .189 against left-handed pitching.

    The following season was when he became a bona fide star, raising his OPS from .742 to .913 and successfully conquering his struggles against lefties with a .300 average and a .928 OPS.

    Now he's one of the game's most productive players, posting back-to-back fourth-place finishes in NL MVP voting and emerging as the leader of a young Cubs team that finally brought a World Series title to the long-suffering fanbase.

    It's easy to look at Rizzo as the prototypical middle-of-the-order slugger.

    However, he's also a terrific baserunner and a standout defender, as he took home Platinum Glove honors this past season as the top overall defensive player in the NL.

7. SP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (2016 Rank: 15)

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2021: Arbitration Year 4
    • 2022: Free Agent

                                 

    Overview

    Noah Syndergaard is not the best pitcher in baseball yet, but his contract situation gives him more value than any other arm.

    Here's what I wrote in handing him the No. 15 spot in last year's rankings:

    Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey headlined the New York Mets' rotation in 2015, and they'll do so once again in 2016, but it may not be long before it's Noah Syndergaard who is the headliner of that terrific young staff.

    Turns out, it took all of about two months for Syndergaard to make it clear he's the best pitcher on the Mets staff, and there's no looking back.

    The towering 6'6" right-hander went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings while leading the NL with a 2.29 FIP this past season.

    His pure stuff simply has no equal, and he's learning how to harness it.

    Thor averaged 98.0 mph with his fastball in 2016, tops among qualified starters, and his slider clocked in with a ridiculous average velocity of 90.9 mph.

    To put that into perspective, of the 73 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, 29 didn't have an average fastball velocity over 90.9 mph.

    Still just 24 years old, Syndergaard has room to get even better, and that's a scary proposition for the rest of the league.

6. CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (2016 Rank: 1)

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: $20.08 million
    • 2018: $34.08 million
    • 2019: $34.08 million
    • 2020: $34.08 million
    • 2021: Free Agent

                          

    Overview

    One of the toughest decisions was what to do with Mike Trout in these rankings.

    He took the No. 1 spot last year, but with another year of team control gone and his base salary set to spike from $15.25 million to $19.25 million, he's lost some value.

    With Trout, it's all relative, though.

    Even with his impending $34.08 million total salary figure, Trout was a steal last season.

    According to the FanGraphs "value" statistic that weighs player production vs. market value, Trout has already been worth $356.6 million so far in his career, including $74.9 million this past season.

    Ultimately, Trout settled into the No. 6 spot on the list, behind four guys who are cost-controlled through the 2021 season and one who will reach free agency after 2020 but will come at a fraction of Trout's price over the next four years.

    All look like franchise cornerstones for their respective clubs. Does that mean those guys are better players?

    Not at all, but they do carry more overall value when contract situation is taken into account.

5. RF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (2016 Rank: 13)

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2021: Free Agent

                         

    Overview

    Mookie Betts vs. Mike Trout for the No. 5 spot was by far the hardest decision on this list.

    While there's little question Trout is the best all-around player in the game, Betts is the closest we have to a legitimate contender for that title at this point.

    The 24-year-old posted a 9.6 WAR last season, second only to Trout, as he discovered his power stroke and became a true five-tool star.

    After hitting 18 home runs in 2015, Betts slugged 31 in 2016 and eventually moved into a run-production role behind David Ortiz in the lineup.

    He finished the season with a .318/.363/.534 line that also included 42 doubles and 26 stolen bases in 30 attempts, as he led the AL in total bases (359) and finished second in MVP voting.

    Betts was also an elite defender in right field once again, leading all MLB outfielders with a whopping 32 DRS to claim his first career Gold Glove Award.

    He has one less year of team control than the four guys ranked ahead of him; otherwise, he would have been squarely in the running for the No. 1 spot.

4. SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (2016 Rank: 2)

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2021: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2022: Free Agent

                             

    Overview

    Carlos Correa set the bar awfully high as a rookie.

    The No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft burst on to the scene in 2015 to post an .857 OPS with 22 home runs and 68 RBI while helping lead the Houston Astros to their first postseason appearance since 2005.

    That made him a trendy pick for AL MVP honors heading into the 2016 season, but he fell short of those expectations.

    It's important that we be realistic here, though.

    He was a 21-year-old who hit .274/.361/.451 with 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 96 RBI en route to a 5.9 WAR.

    Was that really a disappointing performance?

    The counting numbers may not have spiked to MVP levels, but below the surface, Correa's walk rate climbed from 9.3 to 11.4 percent as he continued to adjust to life in the big leagues.

    All signs point to his being a superstar in this league for years to come, and with two pre-arbitration years remaining before his salary exceeds $1 million, he's still an easy choice for a spot inside the top five, even after his "disappointing" sophomore season.

3. SS Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians (2016 Rank: 14)

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2021: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2022: Free Agent

                             

    Overview

    Carlos Correa may have edged out Francisco Lindor for AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, but it looks like Lindor has taken the lead in terms of their race to superstardom.

    Here's how their 2016 numbers stacked up:

    Lindor will never be the power hitter Correa is, but Correa will never come close to being the defensive whiz that Lindor has already become.

    The 23-year-old took home his first Gold Glove in 2016 and added Platinum Glove honors as the top defensive player in the AL.

    Lindor also made his presence felt in October, hitting .310/.355/.466 with three doubles and two home runs in 62 plate appearances while helping lead the Cleveland Indians to the World Series.

    Both players have bright futures ahead of them.

    Lindor gets the edge for now, though.

2. SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (2016 Rank: NR)

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2021: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2022: Free Agent

                           

    Overview

    Five young shortstops have already earned spots on this list, as MLB is entering a new golden age at the position.

    Corey Seager makes it six, and what a debut he had with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016.

    The Dodgers front office balked at the idea of trading Seager during his time as a top prospect in the minors, and that decision looks like the right one in hindsight.

    "Since the day he got to the big leagues, Seager has performed like an upper-tier superstar," FanGraphs' Dave Cameron wrote in September.

    After hitting .337/.425/.561 over 113 plate appearances down the stretch in 2015 to steal the starting shortstop job heading into the playoffs, Seager entered 2016 as the runaway favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    And run away with the award he did.

    The 22-year-old hit .308/.365/.512 with 40 doubles, 26 home runs, 72 RBI and 105 runs scored en route to a 6.1 WAR, Silver Slugger honors and a third-place finish in NL MVP voting.

    On top of his stellar offensive contributions, he was also better than expected defensively with 0 DRS and an 11.1 UZR/150.

    Those five other guys will no doubt push him in the years to come, but for the time being, Seager takes the title of baseball's best young shortstop and the No. 2 spot in these rankings.

1. 3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs (2016 Rank: 3)

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Contract Status

    • 2017: Pre-Arbitration
    • 2018: Arbitration Year 1
    • 2019: Arbitration Year 2
    • 2020: Arbitration Year 3
    • 2021: Arbitration Year 4
    • 2022: Free Agent

                    

    Overview

    There are highly touted prospects, and there was Kris Bryant heading into the 2015 season.

    Despite the otherworldly expectations, Bryant turned in a stellar debut, posting an .858 OPS with 26 home runs and 99 RBI to win NL Rookie of the Year unanimously and help lead the Chicago Cubs to the postseason.

    He had question marks, though.

    Bryant went through a prolonged slump in July (.168 BA, .639 OPS) and finished the year with an NL-leading 199 strikeouts.

    How good could he be?

    The answer: Really, really, really good.

    He trimmed his strikeout rate from 30.6 to 22 percent in 2016, an impressive adjustment for a young player. With that, he became one of the game's best hitters, as he posted a .939 OPS with 39 home runs, 102 RBI and 121 runs scored.

    And he did all that while providing defensive versatility that few superstar players are able or willing to supply, primarily splitting his time between third base (107 games) and the outfield (69) and still posting a 0.8 dWAR.

    There's not much more you could have asked from a 25-year-old with two MLB seasons under his belt.

    With one more pre-arbitration season and five total years of team control left, there's no better value in baseball than the reigning NL MVP.

                                                  

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Contract information via Spotrac unless otherwise noted. Arbitration projections via MLBTradeRumors unless otherwise linked.