#40 – Jered Weaver, SP, Anaheim
Weaver’s breakthrough performance has come at a good time for him, as he heads towards his second year of arbitration eligibility. Already a quality pitcher, he’ll now take a career year built around an improved strikeout rate to the panel when asking for a large raise this winter. And, that is really the drawback that keeps him this low on the list – even as well as he’s pitching, he’s only got two years of club control left, and he’ll make decent money in both 2011 and 2012. However, even factoring in arbitration raises, he’s still going to be a bargain, and he’d be one of the most sought after pitchers in the game if the Angels put him on the market.
#39 – James Shields, SP, Tampa Bay
Like Weaver, Shields has seen a big jump in his strikeout rate this year. However, it hasn’t led to better results, as his home run problems and a high BABIP have undermined what should have been a breakout year. Those should even out sooner than later, and Shields abilities as a solid front of the rotation starter will again shine through. And, of course, since he’s a member of the Rays, he has a team friendly contract that includes three team options after 2011, giving Tampa Bay a cheap, quality pitcher with very little risk attached.
#38 – Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas
Similar to Weaver, Hamilton has had a monstrous breakout season, and he’s going to reap the rewards when he heads back to arbitration this winter. Power hitters command a large premium in the market, and so while Hamilton only has two more years of team control, those are hugely valuable years where he’ll be earning far less than what he would as a free agent. Given that he’s also a quality defensive outfielder with physical tools that have suggested this kind of performance was always possible, and Hamilton would be near the top of every GMs shopping list.
#37 – Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado
There is no player in baseball less likely to be traded than Tulowitzki. Not only is he a great player at a premium position signed to a bargain of a long term contract, but that deal also contains a provision that lets him void the rest of the contract if he’s moved to another team. That makes him far more valuable to the Rockies than to potential suitors, who would only get two years of Tulowitzki’s services at arbitration salaries if they acquired him. However, that he won’t be traded doesn’t mean teams wouldn’t love to have him, and those final two years are extremely valuable, given the dearth of good shortstops in baseball and how much he adds both at the plate and on the field.
#36 – Tommy Hanson, SP, Atlanta
Don’t let the ERA fool you – Hanson has gotten even better after a strong rookie season in 2009. His velocity is up, giving him better stuff across the board, and it’s translated into fewer walks and more strikeouts this season. Still just 23, Hanson has the ability to dominate with regularity, and it won’t take long before he’s recognized as one of the National League’s premier arms. With five more years of team control after 2010, the Braves ace is going to be providing tremendous value for Atlanta well into the coming decade.