The Most Eye-Popping Salary for Every MLB Team in 2021

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IMay 26, 2021

The Most Eye-Popping Salary for Every MLB Team in 2021

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The absence of a salary cap makes for some wild contracts in baseball. However, that hardly means there aren't absolute bargain deals on various rosters.

    We are going to take a look at some of the most eye-popping salaries for all 30 clubs. This list will not be limited to underperforming players or aging veterans in the final years of big deals (though there will be some of those), but it will also include superstars and quality players who are drastically over-performing with respect to their current salaries.

    Players who have big contracts and have missed substantial time with injuries might also be on the list, as well as those with seemingly small salaries that look much worse in context. There are plenty of salaries deserving added context.

    A couple of final considerations:

    • We will not be including pre-arbitration or arbitration-eligible players.
    • All players must be on the current roster. Although the Colorado Rockies are paying Nolan Arenado's salary (more on this later) he will not be their section because he is no longer a member of the organization.

    Got it? Here we go.

Arizona Diamondbacks: IF/OF Ketel Marte, $6.4 Million

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Madison Bumgarner's $18 million might cause some eye sores. However, having a former MVP candidate like Ketel Marte on a $6.4 million salary is pretty darn great for the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

    Marte is a one of the better talents in the National League when healthy. He hit 32 homers and had a .981 OPS in 2019 and, despite his OPS falling to .732 last summer, he still hit .287 in 2020. He can also play multiple positions at a high level.

    The 27-year-old was off to a tremendous start before hitting the injured list early in the year. Marte is just 2-for-14 since coming off IL, but let's see how he progresses when he gets his legs underneath him.

Atlanta Braves: OF Ronald Acuna Jr., $5 Million

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    This is a no-brainer. 

    The Atlanta Braves bought out Ronald Acuna Jr.'s arbitration by signing him to an eight-year, $100 million extension back in April 2019. Acuna was coming off an NL Rookie of the Year Award and already profiled as one of the most explosive and charismatic players in baseball. Yet, he's only gotten better.

    Acuna is in the midst of his finest season yet. He is slashing .276/.380/.622 with 15 homers and six steals. The 23-year-old ranks fourth in xwOBA and second in barrels per plate appearance.

    Forget being the best player on his team. Acuna is one of the best players on the planet. Having him on payroll for just $5 million is an absurd luxury.

Baltimore Orioles: 1B Chris Davis, $23 Million

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Another straightforward selection.

    Chris Davis' contract is very likely to go down as one of the worst in Baltimore Orioles history, if not all of baseball history. He signed a seven-year, $161 million year deal with the O's in January 2016 following a 2015 season in which he led MLB in homers for the second time in his career. However, that deal was the setup for Davis' precipitous fall.

    The 35-year-old was decent in the first year of his contract, hitting 38 more homers in 2016. It's been all downhill since, as Davis has been worth -5.7 bWAR since 2017 and will miss the remainder of the 2021 season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right hip.

    Davis is under contract for another $23 million in 2022, the final year of his deal.

Boston Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale, $30 Million

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Boston Red Sox's decision to sign Chris Sale to a five-year, $145 million extension in March of 2019 seemed like a rather obvious choice.

    Sale dominated in his first two seasons with the Red Sox. He ranked second in fWAR and first in expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) during that span, and also helped lead Boston to a World Series title in 2018. 

    Things haven't quite been the same for Sale since, however, with injuries again looming large. The left-hander was limited to 25 starts in 2019 and missed all of 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring. He has missed the start of the 2021 season, though Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush (h/t Chris Cotiillo of said Sale is getting "close" to making his return.

    Maybe Sale can reassert his dominance and help lead Boston back to October. For now, though, the $30 million is a hefty price to pay for what might be closer to a half season of work.

Chicago Cubs: OF Jason Heyward, $21 Million

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Jason Heyward had actually been making decent gains in each of his first five seasons on the North Side of Chicago. The veteran outfielder was especially good in 2020, with a 131 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) value in close to 200 plate appearances.

    Unfortunately for the Cubs, Heyward has taken a step back in 2021. He was hitting .183 with a career-worst 24.6 percent strikeout rate before heading to the IL. Heyward had also yet to get a single hit against off-speed stuff and was hitting a mere .067 against breaking balls.

    The 31-year-old provides great defense and leadership in the clubhouse. Still, that $21 million looks like a big number without better offensive production.

Chicago White Sox: RHP Lance Lynn, $9.33 Million

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Take your pick of Chicago White Sox youngsters whose arbitration years were bought out by the team. All could be interesting selections, though both Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are injured. Shortstop Tim Anderson ($7.25 million) is also worth mentioning.

    That said, we have to talk about Lance Lynn. One of the reasons Lynn was so highly coveted this past offseason is the fact he was owed just over $9 million in 2021. Well, he is once again outperforming that monetary value.

    The right-hander has a 1.51 ERA and is striking out 9.4 hitters per nine innings through his first eight starts. He has been a legitimate ace for the South Siders, and could be pitching his way into a nice payday this winter.

Cincinnati Reds: 1B Joey Votto, $25 Million

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Joey Votto is a Cincinnati Reds legend. He is also among the crop of "past their prime" stars cashing checks at the end of long contracts despite a noticeable decline in production.

    Votto has seen a steep drop-off in slugging in the past four seasons. His walk rate was also well below his career average before he broke his thumb on May 5.

    The 37-year-old was one of the best, and maybe most under-appreciated, players in the 2010s. He might be headed for Cooperstown when all is said and done. However, his salary is becoming increasingly inhibitive for the Reds. Votto is also owed $57 million guaranteed over the next two seasons, with a $20 million club option for 2024.

Cleveland: 3B Jose Ramirez, $9.4 Million

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Cleveland might soon have to face a decision with Jose Ramirez similar to the one it faced with Francisco Lindor. For now, Ramirez is a perennial American League MVP contender on an incredibly affordable salary. 

    Ramirez is an elite offensive talent, slashing .255/.344/.547 with 12 homers and six stolen bases to start the 2021 campaign. He has walked (20 times) nearly as often as he has struck out (24).

    Those skills have helped Ramirez to a pair of Silver Sluggers and three top-3 finishes in the AL MVP voting. The 28-year-old is one of the best players in baseball, and an absolutely vital piece of the team's playoff puzzle—not to mention the future of the organization.

Colorado Rockies: OF Charlie Blackmon, $21.5 Million

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    No Nolan Arenado here. We'll get to him later.

    Charlie Blackmon has had a great run with the Colorado Rockies. He has made four All-Star teams since 2014, including three straight from 2017 to 2019. The Dallas native is a .302 career hitter who can steal some bases and hit for power. But Blackmon will be 35 in July, and he might be starting to show his age.

    Blackmon is performing well below his career averages, slashing just .248/.343/.366 on the season. He still makes a lot of contact, but is also a poor defender and no longer much of a threat to steal bases.

    The Rockies could soon be on the hook for more money here, as Blackmon has $31 million in player options over the course of the next two seasons.

Detroit Tigers: 1B Miguel Cabrera, $30 Million

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Chris Davis' contract gets a lot of flak, as did Albert Pujols' deal with the Los Angeles Angels. However, Miguel Cabrera’s extension has also aged poorly for the Detroit Tigers.

    Cabrera signed the extension, which began in 2016, ahead of the 2014 campaign. He was an All-Star in three straight years between 2014 and 2016 following back-to-back AL MVPs, but has since been worth a -0.9 bWAR and has also dealt with injuries throughout the season.

    "Miggy" is no longer the hitting savant he once was. The 38-year-old is slashing .207/.281/.319 and ranks in the 23rd percentile in expected slugging (xSLG). It's been a difficult fall from grace for one of the best hitters of a generation.

    Cabrera is a first ballot Hall of Famer. It's sad, really, to see his career die a bit of a slow death.

Houston Astros: RHP Justin Verlander, $35 Million

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Alex Bregman is making $13 million in the first year of his current contract extension. That's incredible value for the Houston Astros.

    Yet, not even Bregman can distract from Justin Verlander's $35 million.

    The two-time AL Cy Young winner is more than likely to miss the entirety of the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last fall. That's a bit of a tough pill to swallow, considering this is the final year of Verlander’s contract.

    Perhaps the Astros can put together a deep October run and give Verlander one more shot at postseason heroism. For now, though, it's a tough ending to an otherwise terrific run in Houston.

Kansas City Royals: 1B Carlos Santana, $7 Million

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Carlos Santana is very quietly having a strong season for the Kansas City Royals, and he's making his $7 million salary look like a total bargain.

    Santana is slashing .257/.396/.461 with nine homers and 31 RBI. He ranks in the 90th percentile in xwOBA and rarely strikes out, ranking in the 88th percentile in the latter category.

    Although the 35-year-old is rather underwhelming as a defensive first baseman, he can mash from both sides of the plate and has one of the most disciplined approaches in the game. The Royals have desperately needed that kind of professional hitter in their lineup.

Los Angeles Angels: OF Justin Upton, $23 Million

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Rather than risk Justin Upton opting out following the 2017 season, the Los Angeles Angels negotiated a five-year, $106 million deal with the slugging outfielder.

    Suffice to say, that move has backfired on the Halos.

    Upton had a decent 2018, hitting 30 homers and posting an .808 OPS. However, he played just 63 games in 2019 and hit a career-low .204 in 2020.

    This season is not off to a good start, either. Upton is slashing .197/.275/.394 and has struck out in 31.5 percent of all plate appearances. Those are hardly desirable offensive numbers, less so when considering Upton is a big minus as a defensive outfielder.

Los Angeles Dodgers: IF Max Muncy, $9 Million

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    I know, I know: "Trevor Bauer is making $40 million this year!" Well, he's lived up to that lofty standard so far. Instead, can we talk about Max Muncy?

    Muncy should be getting more attention in early MVP conversations. He's a bargain player ($9 million) for a Dodgers team with the highest payroll in the sport.

    The 30-year-old has been phenomenal for the Los Angeles Dodgers thus far, hitting .292 with 10 homers, an NL-best .460 OBP and a 1.009 OPS. Muncy ranks in the 98th percentile in xwOBA and 93rd percentile in xSLG, cementing himself as one of the best hitters in baseball.

    It hasn't just been about the offense. Muncy has been every bit as terrific with the glove, ranking in the 91st percentile in outs above average.

    Muncy ranks fourth in the majors in fWAR and second among all National League players. He deserves more appraisals as one of L.A.'s top stars.

Miami Marlins: OF Starling Marte, $12.5 Million

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Starling Marte's salary is eye-popping because his on-field value far exceeds his monetary value when he's healthy. 

    Marte was off to a brilliant start through his first 15 games this season, slashing .316/.420/.491with five extra-base hits (two homers) and three stolen bases. Those numbers are a snapshot of the player Marte can be: a guy who hits for average and can slug, steals bases and can play any outfield position at a pretty high level. 

    The Miami Marlins are sure to have a number of interested Marte suitors because of his skill set and affordable salary. Will the Fish deal him ahead of the deadline?

Milwaukee Brewers: RHP Freddy Peralta, $1.23 Million

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    When Freddy Peralta signed a five-year, $15.5 million extension with the Milwaukee Brewers last February, he was more of a flex power arm who spent more of his time coming out of the bullpen.

    Fast forward 15 months, and Peralta has been one of the best starting pitchers in the game. He ranks 19th among qualified starters in fWAR and gives the Brewers an elite top three in the rotation alongside Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes.

    Peralta ranks in the 94th percentile in xERA, 96th percentile in whiff rate and 97th percentile in strikeout rate. He throws the fastball to every quadrant and can spin the slider to right- and left-handers.

    Not bad for just $1.23 million.

Minnesota Twins: DH Nelson Cruz, $13 Million

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Nelson Cruz has been one of the top sluggers in baseball for years. Yet, his DH-only label ultimately resulted in him heading back to the Minnesota Twins on a one-year, $13 million deal this past offseason.

    Now, DH-only types do not typically rake in the cash. Still, Cruz's offensive value is absolutely vital, especially to a Twins team that is desperate to build momentum following a sluggish start to the 2021 campaign. 

    Cruz is slashing .290/.346/.531 with 10 homers and 24 RBI. He has struggled in May, with a sub-.700 OPS in 19 games. Still, the 40-year-old has already been worth more than half his current salary, per FanGraphs' Dollars metric.

    It remains to be seen whether the Twins will be sellers at the deadline, but Cruz's bat could make him one of their top assets come July.

New York Mets: RHP Dellin Betances, $6 Million

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    No, $6 million is not exactly a ton of money. That said, the figure looks a whole lot bigger considering Dellin Betances has basically provided negative value during his time with the New York Mets.

    The Mets signed Betances to a two-year, $14 million contract prior to the 2020 campaign. He proceeded to give up 10 earned runs in 11.2 innings that season, and made just one appearance this season before landing on the injured list (shoulder).

    Francisco Lindor's contract extension does not begin until next year; he is still in his final season of arbitration. Catcher James McCann has been a big disappointment, but he will not see a salary bump until 2023.

    Betances has not given the Mets anything substantive, and it remains to be seen what he can contribute here. That makes him New York’s selection.

New York Yankees: LHP Zack Britton, $13 Million

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The New York Yankees faced a choice last fall: exercise Zack Britton's club option in 2022, or risk him opting out. 

    Britton had been tremendous since coming to the Bronx in 2018, posting a 2.14 ERA in 105.1 innings. Exercising the club option appeared to make sense as the Yankees hoped to maintain bullpen depth.

    Unfortunately, Britton was ruled out after undergoing a procedure to remove a bone chip from his throwing elbow. He threw a bullpen Sunday, but will also need a sizable ramp-up period before returning.

    The left-hander should make a deep Yankees bullpen that much deeper when he returns. Still, it's hard to ignore the $13 million salary given his injury and the organization's salary crunch.

Oakland Athletics: RHP Yusmeiro Petit, $2.55 Million

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    Tommy Gilligan/Associated Press

    Elvis Andrus would seem to be the most logical choice for the Oakland Athletics, but the Texas Rangers are paying nearly half his salary. Let's go with Yusmeiro Petit instead.

    Petit signed a one-year, $2.55 million deal to return to Oakland. The move has done wonders for an A's pen needing stability following the injury to Trevor Rosenthal, who might also have been an interesting choice here. 

    Petit has been a workhorse for the A's. He leads the AL with 24 appearances, posting a 2.42 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 26.0 innings.

    Other teams might have been hesitant to go after Petit this past offseason given his age (36) and shaky postseason in 2020, but he’s been a real saving grace for Oakland's bullpen.

Philadelphia Phillies: IF/OF Scott Kingery, $4.25 Million

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Scott Kingery's seemingly small salary is another that deserves some extrapolating.

    The Philadelphia Phillies signed Kingery to a six-year, $24 million extension back in March of 2018, before he had played a single MLB game. After a tough rookie campaign, Kingery showed flashes of his potential during a 2019 in which he posted a .788 OPS with 19 homers and 15 stolen bases. It’s been a disaster ever since.

    Kingery hit .159 with a .511 OPS in 36 games last season. He had the chance to win the starting job in center field at the start of 2021, but had just one hit and 12 strikeouts in his first 19 plate appearances.

    The Phillies are basically paying Kingery $4.25 million to play in the minors. What's worse, he will make $15.5 million in guaranteed money through 2023, with a $42 million club option for 2024 through 2026. It feels pretty safe to suggest that multi-year option will be declined when the time comes.

    Andrew McCutchen ($20 million) and Odubel Herrera ($10.35 million) are worthy mentions here, but the totality of Kingery's contractual situation is too much to pass up.

Pittsburgh Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco, $11.6 Million

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Pirates don't have a ton of big money on the books. Outfielder Gregory Polanco's salary is the one that sticks out the most.

    Polanco has not been able to replicate the success of his 2018 season, when hit clubbed 23 homers and posted an .839 OPS. He had a .726 OPS in 2019 and a .539 OPS last summer.

    The 29-year-old has made gains from 2020, but is still slashing just .217/.289/.358 and is striking out in over 28 percent of his plate appearances. He's not a good defensive outfielder, either, ranking in the 11th percentile in terms of outs above average.

San Diego Padres: SS Fernando Tatis Jr., $1.71 Million

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    Derrick Tuskan/Associated Press

    People had a lot to say about Fernando Tatis Jr.'s 14-year, $340 million dollar extension with the San Diego Padres this offseason.

    We'll see how Tatis performs over the life of his contract. For now, he's one of the best players in baseball on a $1.71 million salary that, yes, is part of that aforementioned extension. 

    Tatis is slashing .307/.380/.711 with 13 homers, 10 stolen bases and a 189 wRC+. He ranks in the top 5 percent of MLB in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate and barrel percentage, also ranking in the 99th percentile in xwOBA. 

    The defense has been an issue—he leads MLB with 11 errors—but Tatis is too talented not to figure things out defensively. He was a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop in 2020.

San Francisco Giants: LHP Alex Wood, $3 Million

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    D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press

    Four of the five members of the San Francisco Giants' starting rotation have a legitimate case for selection. However, Wood—the cheapest of all Giants starters on guaranteed contracts—has been an especially superlative addition for San Francisco.

    Wood went through a pair of nightmarish, injury-riddled seasons in 2019 and 2020. He has changed that narrative in San Francisco, going 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA and 2.94 FIP in his first seven starts.

    The left-hander's success doesn't appear to be fluky. He ranks in the 83rd percentile in ERA and has excelled at inducing soft contact while also ranking in the 60th percentile in whiff rate.

    San Francisco will likely hope Wood can sustain his current level of excellence as it hopes to push for a playoff spot this fall.

Seattle Mariners: RHP Kendall Graveman, $1.25 Million

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    The Seattle Mariners declined Kendall Graveman's $3.5 million club option for 2021 last fall, just to sign him for $2.25 million less a day later. 

    Wow, what a deal that's been for Seattle.

    Graveman had been one of the best relievers in baseball before hitting the IL (undisclosed). He had yet to allow a run in his first 16.2 innings, striking out 17 against just three walks and six hits. The 30-year-old also made the most of his move into the closer role, converting each of his first five save opportunities.

    The Mariners are likely to sell as high as they can on Graveman if he maintains this success over the course of the next couple months.

St. Louis Cardinals: 3B Nolan Arenado, $0

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    That's right, the St. Louis Cardinals get all of Nolan Arenado's talents for free this season.

    The Colorado Rockies agreed to pay the entirety of Arenado's $35 million salary as part of the trade that sent him to St. Louis earlier this offseason. The Cardinals will be on the hook for the remainder of his contract, but they could probably care less if he produces at his current level.

    Arenado is slashing .284/.337/.535 with 10 homers and 32 RBI. He has been a critical run-producer in the middle of the Cardinals lineup while Paul Goldschmidt continues to struggle.

    It's not often a team essentially gets a free rental season from one of the best players in any given sport. The Redbirds have that luxury with respect to Arenado, at least in 2021.

Tampa Bay Rays: Of Kevin Kiermaier, $11.17 Million

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Rays attempted to trade veteran center fielder Kevin Kiermaier earlier this offseason, though at the time it was a move primarily aimed at alleviating payroll concerns.

    Now, the Rays would probably like to get Kiermaier off payroll for performance reasons.

    Tampa Bay has been red-hot as of late, but Kiermaier (.213/.286/.281) has remained ice cold and is striking out in close to one third of his plate appearances.

    Kiermaier's defense has always been as strong as any other center fielder in baseball. However, his offensive profile has really been lacking in each of the past four seasons.

    It might be hard for the Rays to keep giving Kiermaier consistent at-bats, regardless of how good his glove is in the outfield.

Texas Rangers: DH Khris Davis, $16.75 Million

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    The Texas Rangers took on all of Khris Davis' $16.75 million salary in 2021 in order to offload Elvis Andrus. It was a worthy gamble, especially if Davis could recapture his slugging days of yore.

    In short, he has not.

    Davis strained his left quad toward the end of spring training. He came off the IL earlier this month, but is slashing just .172/.219/.276 with two extra-base hits and zero homers in his first 32 plate appearances.

    The days of "Khrush" might be coming to an end. He hasn't shown signs of being the same guy who hit 42 or more homers in each season between 2016 and 2018.

Toronto Blue Jays: IF Marcus Semien, $18 Million

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    Initially, Marcus Semien's one-year, $18 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays was eye-popping because it seemed like a lot for a guy who previously had just one season with an OPS+ over 100. Now, it looks like a steal for Toronto.

    Semien has been more than capable at the dish, slashing .283/.348/.535 with 12 homers, 30 RBI and eight stolen bases. He has thrived hitting at the top of the order and has been a legitimate table-setter for some of Toronto's other big boppers.

    The 30-year-old has also adjusted well to his move to second base. He ranks favorably both in terms of defensive runs saved and outs above average.

    We are not yet two months through the 2021 campaign, but Semien has already been worth $16.6 million in terms of the Dollars metric and paces all second basemen in fWAR.

Washington Nationals: LHP Patrick Corbin, $24.42 Million

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Patrick Corbin seemed like he might have been turning a corner in May.

    The left-hander had three consecutive quality starts to open the month, giving up six earned runs in 20.0 innings. But Corbin has struggled to bolster that momentum, giving up seven earned runs and 19 hits in 10.2 innings over the course of his past two starts.

    Corbin has a 6.13 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in nine starts. His 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings is the worst rate of his career, while his 3.4 walks per nine innings is the second-highest mark of his career. He has also served up 10 homers thus far.

    The Washington Nationals desperately need Corbin to rediscover his 2019 form to contend in a crowded NL East, but it remains to be seen whether he can get back on track.

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant and FanGraphs. Stats are accurate prior to the start of play on May 25. Salary information obtained via Baseball Reference.