The Best Value Contract on Every MLB Roster in 2021
Whether it's a free-spending big-market team or a penny-pinching small-market squad, every MLB franchise is searching for value.
Ahead, we set out to find the contract with the best value on each roster, sticking to a few notable parameters.
First, no player earning more than $10 million was eligible. There are players earning that much who are still values relative to what they would command on the open market, but generally speaking, there are better picks than guys making eight figures.
Second, pre-arbitration players were also not included since the sport's financial structure means they are all making close to the league minimum. The article would simply devolve into a list of the best pre-arbitration player on every roster.
Beyond that, everyone else was up for inclusion.
Players were chosen based on who is providing the best value relative to their 2021 salary, and alongside their 2021 salary information is a look at where they stand in the arbitration process or if their salary is a result of an extension or free-agency deal.
Let's get to it.
Baltimore Orioles: 1B Trey Mancini
Contract: $4.75 million (Arbitration Year 2)
After missing the 2020 season because of colon cancer, Mancini did not receive a raise in his second year of arbitration eligibility. The 29-year-old has returned with a vengeance, hitting .273/.347/.486 with 13 doubles, 11 home runs and 44 RBI in 57 games. Shortstop Freddy Galvis is also worth a mention, as he's playing well on a one-year, $1.5 million deal.
Boston Red Sox: 3B Rafael Devers
Contract: $4.58 million (Arbitration Year 1)
It's surprising Devers is still only 24 years old, and in his first year of arbitration eligibility, he is hitting .274/.342/.567 with 15 home runs while leading the American League in doubles (18) and RBI (48). He's going to get exponentially more expensive as he moves closer to free agency ahead of the 2024 season, and Boston would be wise to lock him up long term
New York Yankees: SP Jordan Montgomery
Contract: $2.13 million (Arbitration Year 1)
With a 3.92 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 59.2 innings spanning 11 starts, Montgomery has a case to be called the Yankees' second-best starter this year behind ace Gerrit Cole. The 6'6" left-hander has one of baseball's best curveballs and is throwing it more than ever. Bullpen standout Chad Green ($2.15 million) also received serious consideration.
Tampa Bay Rays: SP Tyler Glasnow
Contract: $4 million (Arbitration Year 2)
Glasnow is one of the biggest bargains in baseball among second-year arbitration players, as an injury-shortened 2019 season set a lower baseline for his earning power. The towering 6'8" right-hander has some of the best pure stuff in baseball, and he is pitching like a Cy Young candidate with a 2.69 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 106 strikeouts in 77 innings. Third baseman Joey Wendle ($2.25 million) also deserves a mention during a breakout year.
Toronto Blue Jays: RF Teoscar Hernandez
Contract: $4.33 million (Arbitration Year 1)
Hernandez finished 11th in AL MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger in 2020, just in time to receive a healthy salary bump in his first year of arbitration. That said, he's still a bargain relative to his 134 OPS+ and 13 extra-base hits in 41 games. Robbie Ray ($8 million) and Steven Matz ($5.2 million) have also both outpitched their salaries.
Chicago White Sox: SP Carlos Rodon
Contract: $3 million (Free Agency)
After injuries limited Rodon to 42.1 innings the past two seasons, the White Sox non-tendered him over the offseason. He eventually re-signed on a one-year deal, taking a pay cut from $4.45 million to $3 million in what looks like the steal of the winter. The 28-year-old is 5-2 with a 1.98 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 80 strikeouts in 54.2 innings, and he threw a no-hitter April 14.
Cleveland: 3B Jose Ramirez
Contract: $9.4 million (Extension)
In the fifth season of a five-year, $26 million extension, Ramirez is still not earning $10 million for the campaign. The 28-year-old has finished in the top three in AL MVP voting three times in the past four years, and he has a 137 OPS+ with 12 doubles, 13 home runs and 31 RBI through 57 games. He has club options in 2022 ($11 million) and 2023 ($13 million) that are still well below his market value.
Detroit Tigers: SP Matthew Boyd
Contract: $6.5 million (Arbitration Year 3)
An ace on the rise during the first half of the 2019 season, Boyd collapsed after the All-Star break before struggling to a 6.71 ERA last year. The 30-year-old has bounced back with a 3.90 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 62.1 innings through his first 11 starts this season, and he will once again be a popular name before the July 31 trade deadline.
Kansas City Royals: 2B/OF Whit Merrifield
Contract: $6.75 million (Extension)
A late-bloomer who did not become an everyday player in the big leagues until his age-28 season, Merrifield signed a four-year, $16.25 million extension prior to the 2019 campaign. With one of the game's best hit tools, good speed and the defensive versatility to bounce between second base and the outfield, he has racked up 15.0 WAR in parts of six seasons.
Minnesota Twins: SP Jose Berrios
Contract: $6.1 million (Arbitration Year 2)
The Twins pitching staff has been a mess this season, but it's business as usual for Berrios, who has a 3.58 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. The 27-year-old is the team's best homegrown pitcher since...I'm honestly not sure. Brad Radke, maybe? A healthy Byron Buxton ($5.13 million) would have had a strong case to be the pick, but he's on the injured list with a hip setback.
Houston Astros: 1B Yuli Gurriel
Contract: $6.5 million (Extension)
The Astros re-signed Gurriel to a one-year, $6.5 million deal last September that includes an $8 million club option for 2022. The 36-year-old is enjoying the best season of his MLB career, hitting .325/.397/.528 with 24 extra-base hits and 41 RBI in 54 games.
Los Angeles Angels: DH/SP Shohei Ohtani
Contract: $3 million (Extension)
The Angels avoided the first two years of arbitration with Ohtani by signing him to a two-year, $8.5 million deal in February. With a 148 OPS+ and 16 home runs at the plate and a 2.76 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 42.1 innings on the mound, he's easily worth 10 times his 2021 salary. He has one year of arbitration remaining at the end of his two-year contract in 2023.
Oakland Athletics: 1B Matt Olson
Contract: $5 million (Arbitration Year 1)
Olson gets the nod for the Athletics thanks to a 167 OPS+ and 15 home runs, to go along with his usual stellar defense at first base. That said, the cost-conscious Athletics had several viable candidates for this list, with Mark Canha ($6.93 million), Sean Manaea ($5.95 million), Chris Bassitt ($4.9 million) and Jake Diekman ($4 million) also receiving serious consideration.
Seattle Mariners: RF Mitch Haniger
Contract: $3.01 million (Arbitration Year 2)
After Haniger missed most of 2019 and all of 2020 with injuries, it was easy to forget that he was a 6.5-WAR player in 2018 when he posted a 139 OPS+ with 68 extra-base hits. The 30-year-old has returned to form and is one of the veteran leaders on a young Seattle squad. With 134 OPS+ and 30 extra-base hits, he'll be a hot commodity at the trade deadline if the M's sell.
Texas Rangers: SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Contract: $2 million (Arbitration Year 1)
The AL Gold Glove winner at third base a year ago, Kiner-Falefa shifted to shortstop after Elvis Andrus was traded during the offseason. He leads all shortstops with seven DRS and is hitting .284/.319/.407 with 18 extra-base hits and 10 steals. All of that has been worth 2.7 WAR, which is tied for third among AL position players and makes him a valuable long-term piece for the rebuilding Rangers.
Atlanta Braves: RF Ronald Acuna Jr.
Contract: $5 million (Extension)
The eight-year, $100 million extension Acuna signed after winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2018 will keep him on lists like this for years, and it will likely wind up being a 10-year, $134 million deal once club options are exercised in 2027 and 2028. Second baseman Ozzie Albies ($3 million) has to be mentioned here as well.
Miami Marlins: 1B Jesus Aguilar
Contract: $4.35 million (Arbitration Year 2)
An All-Star in 2018 when he slugged 35 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers, Aguilar was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays the following summer before moving to the Miami Marlins that offseason via waiver claim. The 30-year-old leads the NL in RBI (44) and has a 122 OPS+ and 12 home runs, and he's become an invaluable member of the rising Marlins.
New York Mets: RP Miguel Castro
Contract: $1.69 million (Arbitration Year 2)
Between all the injuries and high-priced stars, it was tricky to nail down a value pick for the Mets. Armed with a heavy sinker that averages 98.4 mph and a wipeout slider, Castro has emerged as one of the team's go-to late-inning options after being acquired from Baltimore at the deadline last year. The 26-year-old has a 2.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 11.5 K/9 in 23 appearances.
Philadelphia Phillies: SP Zach Eflin
Contract: $4.45 million (Arbitration Year 2)
Eflin was a prime candidate for a breakout year after he posted a 3.97 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 59 innings during the shortened 2020 season. His 2-5 record and 4.10 ERA don't look great, but those numbers don't tell the whole story. The 27-year-old has a 3.22 FIP and a pristine 68-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 68 innings, and he has become the clear No. 3 guy in the Philadelphia rotation.
Washington Nationals: RF Juan Soto
Contract: $8.5 million (Arbitration Year 1)
Even with one of the highest contracts ever for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility, Soto is still an absolute steal at $8.5 million. The 22-year-old is hitting .278/.407/.449 with 12 extra-base hits and more walks (35) than strikeouts (29), and among Nationals, his 1.4 WAR trails only Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, who are both making more than the $10 million limit. How long before he signs a massive extension?
Chicago Cubs: C Willson Contreras
Contract: $6.65 million (Arbitration Year 2)
With a 115 OPS+ and nine home runs, Contreras remains one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. He has also vastly improved his pitch-framing skills and boasts a 10.5 percent walk rate. The departure of Victor Caratini has made him that much more important to the team's success. Tip of the cap to relievers Andrew Chafin ($2.25 million), Dan Winkler ($900,000) and Rex Brothers ($850,000), who have all outperformed their salaries.
Cincinnati Reds: LF Jesse Winker
Contract: $3.15 million (Arbitration Year 1)
The Reds had several worthy candidates, and both Tyler Mahle ($2.2 million) and Tyler Naquin ($1.5 million) would have been the choice for a number of other teams. That said, it's hard to argue with the MVP-caliber season that Winker is putting together. The 27-year-old leads the NL in home runs (17), slugging (.665), OPS (1.077) and total bases (133), and his .350 average trails only that of teammate Nick Castellanos (.359).
Milwaukee Brewers: SP Brandon Woodruff
Contract: $3.28 million (Arbitration Year 1)
Since the start of 2019, Woodruff has a 2.85 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 326 strikeouts in 271.1 innings, and his 9.1 WAR ranks ninth among all pitchers. The 28-year-old has a 1.42 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 92 strikeouts in 76 innings this year to go with 10 quality starts in 12 appearances. Fellow starter Freddy Peralta ($1.23 million) also deserves a mention in the second season of a five-year, $15.5 million extension.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 2B Adam Frazier
Contract: $4.3 million (Arbitration Year 2)
A useful player the past several seasons thanks to his contact skills and defensive versatility, Frazier is largely flying under the radar with the best offensive season of his career. The 29-year-old leads the NL in hits (76) and doubles (20), and he's batting .332/.394/.472 for a 140 OPS+. Closer Richard Rodriguez ($1.7 million) also deserves a mention.
St. Louis Cardinals: SP Jack Flaherty
Contract: $3.9 million (Arbitration Year 1)
Flaherty struggled at times last year en route to a 4.91 ERA in 40.1 innings, but he's back to ace form this season with a 2.90 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 67 strikeouts in 62 innings. The 25-year-old has become arguably the most important player on a team still searching for consistency in the starting rotation. Hard-throwing closer Alex Reyes was also considered, as he has a $900,000 salary in his first year of arbitration.
Arizona Diamondbacks: CF Ketel Marte
Contract: $6.4 million (Extension)
The D-backs signed Marte to a five-year, $24 million extension before the 2018 season, and the following year he broke out with a 148 OPS+, 32 home runs and 6.9 WAR to finish fourth in NL MVP voting. He missed 37 games with a hamstring injury earlier this year, but he's hitting .382/.417/.607 with 12 extra-base hits in 96 plate appearances in 23 games. Will he be on the move this summer?
Colorado Rockies: IF Ryan McMahon
Contract: $2.38 million (Arbitration Year 1)
Tasked with shouldering more of the run-production responsibilities after Nolan Arenado moved to St. Louis, McMahon has a 108 OPS+ with 12 doubles, 13 home runs and 32 RBI. The 26-year-old has also provided stellar defense at second base (288.1 INN, 6 DRS, 5.9 UZR/150) and third base (183 INN, 4 DRS, 10.2 UZR/150). Starter German Marquez also deserves a mention in year three of a five-year, $43 million extension.
Los Angeles Dodgers: SP Walker Buehler
Contract: $3.75 million (Extension)
The Dodgers might be best served prioritizing an extension for Buehler over any of their other young, homegrown stars. For now, he's earning a fraction of his market value after the Dodgers avoided his first two years of arbitration, and he's once again pitching like an ace. The 26-year-old has a 2.82 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 70 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. The three-year, $26 million extension that Max Muncy signed prior to last season also earned him some consideration for this spot.
San Diego Padres: SP Joe Musgrove
Contract: $4.45 million (Arbitration Year 2)
Technically, Fernando Tatis Jr. is playing in the first year of his 14-year, $340 million extension, but with a $1 million salary, he is still being treated like a pre-arbitration player. That opens the door for Musgrove, who has a 2.33 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 65.2 innings in his first year with the team after heading over in an offseason trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
San Francisco Giants: SP Anthony DeSclafani
Contract: $6 million (Free Agency)
DeSclafani posted an ugly 7.22 ERA in 33.2 innings last year and was forced to settle for a one-year, prove-it deal in free agency. The Giants rolled the dice in hopes he would return to his quietly effective 2019 form, and he has rewarded them with a 3.51 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 66.2 innings. The 31-year-old is setting himself up for a handsome payday this winter.