Building an Elite MLB Starting Lineup, Rotation Using Trevor Bauer's $40M Salary

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2021

Building an Elite MLB Starting Lineup, Rotation Using Trevor Bauer's $40M Salary

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    It's hard to put $40 million into perspective.

    That's how much the Los Angeles Dodgers owe reigning National League Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer in the first season of a three-year, $102 million contract, making him the highest-paid player in baseball in 2021.

    If you're cost-conscious, you could build an entire team with that much money.

    Don't believe me? That's exactly what we did...sort of.

    We've chosen a 15-player roster consisting of a starter at each of the eight defensive positions, a designated hitter, five starting pitchers and one reliever. This star-studded group could give any team in baseball a run for its money.

    The cost: $39,824,585.

    Let's go!

1. SS Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $1,714,285

    Fernando Tatis Jr. signed a massive 14-year, $340 million extension during the offseason. While he'll earn $36.7 million annually over the final six years of that contract, he's making less than $2 million in 2021.

    His salary will rise steadily in the years to come, eclipsing $20 million for the first time in 2025, but for now, he is one of the best bargains in baseball.

    After a slow start to the year and time missed with a shoulder injury, he boasts a 171 OPS+ with seven home runs in 74 plate appearances.

    Money Spent: $1,714,285

2. LF Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $8,500,000

    Juan Soto plays in right field for the Washington Nationals following the addition of Kyle Schwarber, but he fits best in left field, and that's where he'll play on this team.

    The 22-year-old saw his salary jump from $629,400 in 2020 to a whopping $8.5 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and he's a clear candidate to be the next young star to sign a massive extension.

    This season, he's a steal and a no-brainer for this team a year removed from hitting .351/.490/.695 to win the National League batting title and finish fifth in NL MVP voting.

    Money Spent: $10,214,285

3. RF Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $5,000,000

    The eight-year, $100 million extension Ronald Acuna Jr. signed with the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2019 season was a record for a player with less than a year of MLB service time.

    It's also highway robbery.

    Even next season, when his salary jumps from $5 million to $15 million, he'll be massively underpaid relative to his elite production, and the peak of the contract will pay him $17 million annually over the final six years of the deal.

    The 23-year-old looks like the early NL MVP front-runner, leading the NL in slugging (.750), OPS (1.204), OPS+ (214), home runs (8), runs scored (24) and total bases (60) while tallying the same number of walks (14) as strikeouts (14).

    Money Spent: $15,214,285

4. 3B Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $4,575,000

    A slow start dragged down Rafael Devers' numbers in 2020, but he picked it up down the stretch and looked like the same hitter who batted .311/.361/.555 with 54 doubles, 32 home runs and 115 RBI in 2019.

    Despite playing in his fifth MLB season, Devers will not turn 25 years old until October, and he possesses enough raw power potential to turn more of those doubles into home runs.

    He'll become increasingly expensive with two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, and it would be in the Boston Red Sox's best interest to start talking extension.

    Cleveland star Jose Ramirez ($9.4 million) and Oakland two-way standout Matt Chapman ($6.49 million) were also considered.

    Money Spent: $19,789,285

5. DH Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $605,400

    After dealing with the ups and downs expected of one of the youngest players in the big leagues the last two seasons, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has arrived as a bona fide superstar in 2021.

    The 22-year-old is hitting .346/.474/.667 with seven home runs and 19 RBI in 97 plate appearances. He has tallied more walks (17) than strikeouts (15) while flexing an elite hit tool to go along with his prodigious power.

    The Toronto Blue Jays will have to open up their wallets during the offseason when he is arbitration-eligible, but he's making roughly the league minimum this year and producing well beyond his salary.

    Money Spent: $20,394,685

6. 1B Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $9,000,000

    Max Muncy saw his salary climb from $2.5 million to $9 million in the second season of a three-year, $26 million deal, which makes him the highest-paid player on this team.

    With Freddie Freeman ($22.4 million), Jose Abreu ($17.7 million) and Paul Goldschmidt ($26 million) out of reach financially in this exercise, first base boiled down to Muncy or Oakland Athletics slugger Matt Olson ($5 million).

    With elite on-base ability and 30-homer power, not to mention the defensive versatility to also handle second base and third base, Muncy gets the nod at a higher cost.

    Money Spent: $29,394,685

7. CF Trent Grisham, San Diego Padres

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $589,200

    The San Diego Padres acquired Trent Grisham and right-hander Zach Davies from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for infielder Luis Urias and left-hander Eric Lauer after the 2019 season.

    If the Padres win a World Series title in the coming years, that deal will be pointed to as a significant move by the front office, and Grisham is the reason.

    The 24-year-old posted a 124 OPS+ with 10 home runs and 10 steals in 59 games last season, winning Gold Glove honors in center field to boot. He is off to an even better start this year with a .284/.360/.493 line that includes four home runs and five steals. A 20/20 season with five-plus WAR is well within reach.

    Money Spent: $29,983,885

8. C Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $590,500

    Keibert Ruiz was once viewed as the catcher of the future for the Dodgers, but Will Smith overtook him when he debuted with a bang in 2019.

    In 91 games over his first two MLB seasons, Smith hit .268/.363/.574 for a 146 OPS+ with 23 home runs and 67 RBI in 333 plate appearances.

    The 26-year-old has a .389 on-base percentage and a 142 OPS+ this season, and he gets the nod by the slimmest of margins over Oakland backstop Sean Murphy among the pre-arbitration catchers who fit nicely on this budget-conscious roster.

    Money Spent: $30,574,385

9. 2B Nick Madrigal, Chicago White Sox

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $584,000

    With one of the most polished hit tools to come along in years and elite contact skills, Nick Madrigal could have jumped straight to the majors after going No. 4 overall in the 2018 draft following a standout three-year run at Oregon State.

    Instead, he made his MLB debut last season and hit .340 in 109 plate appearances while slotted primarily in the No. 9 spot in a stacked Chicago White Sox lineup.

    The 24-year-old will never hit for much power, but he'll be a perennial .300 hitter who steals a handful of bases and plays strong defense up the middle.

    Money Spent: $31,158,385

SP Shane Bieber, Cleveland

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $679,700

    Shane Bieber received a modest raise from $623,200 in 2020 to $679,700 after taking home American League Cy Young honors by going 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 122 strikeouts in 77.1 innings last year.

    The 25-year-old began the 2021 campaign with four starts of double-digit strikeouts, including 11 punchouts in a three-hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox on April 13.

    His ERA could climb by more than a run and he'd still be among the AL Cy Young front-runners thanks to his ability to miss bats and pile up strikeouts. The question is how much longer he'll stick around in Cleveland with a significant raise coming his way in his first year of arbitration next winter.

    Money Spent: $31,838,085

SP Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $608,000

    Right-hander Corbin Burnes was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2019, struggling to an 8.82 ERA and 1.84 WHIP despite racking up 70 strikeouts in 49 innings.

    He overhauled his repertoire last season, leaning heavily on a mid-90s cutter and a sinker while scrapping his four-seam fastball, and the results have been staggering.

    The 26-year-old finished sixth in NL Cy Young voting with a 2.11 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 59.2 innings. He's been even better this season with a 1.53 ERA, 0.55 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 29.1 innings while limiting opposing hitters to a .152 average.

    Money Spent: $32,446,085

SP Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $4,000,000

    A top prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system who struggled with command early in his MLB career, Tyler Glasnow was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays along with Austin Meadows and pitching prospect Shane Baz at the 2018 trade deadline in exchange for Chris Archer.


    The towering 6'8" right-hander has smoothed out his mechanics and developed into one of the most overpowering pitchers in the game since joining the Rays.

    He had 91 strikeouts in 57.1 innings a year ago while helping lead Tampa Bay to the World Series, and he is the ace of the staff this season after the departures of Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. The 27-year-old is living up to that billing, going 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 37.2 innings in six starts.

    Money Spent: $36,446,085

SP John Means, Baltimore Orioles

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $593,500

    The Baltimore Orioles selected John Means in the 11th round of the 2014 draft, and he may become the organization's best homegrown pitcher since Mike Mussina.

    The left-hander came out of nowhere in 2019 to go 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 155 innings, earning an All-Star selection and finishing runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

    He was rock solid again last year, and he's pitching like an ace this season with a 1.50 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 30 innings over five starts.

    The 28-year-old brings balance to this hypothetical rotation as the only southpaw in the group, and he's performing well beyond essentially a league-minimum salary.

    Money Spent: $37,039,585

SP Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati Reds

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $2,200,000

    Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle has been one of the breakout pitchers of the 2021 season, and he hinted at bigger things to come last season.

    The 26-year-old posted a 3.59 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 60 strikeouts in 47.2 innings a year ago in the shadow of Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray.

    After limiting the Dodgers offense to five hits and one earned run in five innings Monday, he sports a 1.75 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. Not bad for someone who's earning a modest $2.2 million in his first year of arbitration.

    Money Spent: $39,239,585

RP James Karinchak, Cleveland

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2021 Salary: $585,000

    Cleveland felt confident enough in James Karinchak's ability to anchor the relief corps to decline a $10 million option on All-Star closer Brad Hand in October.

    Karinchak, 25, has some of the best pure stuff in baseball. He put it on full display during his rookie season in 2020 when he struck out 53 of 109 batters while posting a 2.67 ERA with eight holds in 27 appearances.

    Opposing hitters are 2-for-31 with 20 strikeouts this season as he's recorded two saves and three holds in 11 games. His rock-bottom salary and unhittable stuff make him an easy pick to round out this team in the reliever spot.

    Money Spent: $39,824,585


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and accurate through Wednesday's games. Contract information comes via Spotrac.