Rank – Player – Position – Team – Past 3 Calendar Year WAR
#30 – Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas: +12.9
While Kinsler is overshadowed by teammates such as Josh Hamilton, he has quietly become one of the best second baseman in baseball. Always a good contact hitter, he’s reduced his strikeout rate even further, and now he’s just a low BABIP away from being a legitimate MVP candidate. The Rangers might only have him under team control for another two seasons, but at a total salary of $17 million, he provides a lot of value for minimal cost. He’s an under-the-radar star, but the Rangers would have to be bowled over in order to move him.
#29 – Kevin Youkilis, 3B, Boston: +16.2
Everything that was just said about Kinsler is true of Youkilis with the exception of the under the radar stuff. Youkilis is an established star and one of the best hitters in baseball, and yet the Red Sox owe him just $25 million over the next two seasons. As an older player who might not age all that gracefully, almost all of his value is tied up in the here and now, but his performance relative to his salary is tremendously valuable.
#28 – Ben Zobrist, 2B, Tampa Bay: +18.0
Sure, he’s 30-years-old and a lot of people still don’t understand how it happened, but Zobrist has established himself as one of the best players in the game. The power is back, the defense is still terrific, and there really aren’t any weak parts of his game. But, really, he’s here because of the contract. The Rays owe him just $10 million combined in 2012 and 2013, and then they hold a $7 million option for 2014 and a $7.5 million option for 2015. It remains to be seen how much long term value he’ll have, but there’s a ton of value in his present performance and the price tag that he’s locked in at.
#27 – Buster Posey, C, San Francisco: +5.2
He was a tough guy to place because of the injury. Obviously he provides no present value in terms of 2011 performance, and he’s essentially going to surrender one of his cheap years of team control, but he’s a good enough talent that teams would still be lining up to have Posey as their catcher going forward if the Giants put him on the block. Had he not been run over, he’d probably have been another 10 spots higher on this list. There just aren’t that many good young catchers who can also hit in the big leagues right now.
#26 – Jaime Garcia, SP, St. Louis: +5.3
It was nice of the Cardinals to announce Garcia’s extension before I wrote this post, as he slid up a couple of spots based on the deal. St. Louis was able to lock up his arbitration years and first year of free agency at the bargain price of $28 million, and they got two team options tacked on to the end of the deal. For a pitcher of his abilities, this is a team-friendly contract. Garcia might not have the pedigree or the raw stuff of some of the other elite young lefties in the game, but he’s performed almost as well as any of them, and the Cardinals should be thrilled that he’ll be in St. Louis for at least the next half decade.