Note: salaries are rounded estimates and include all team-controlled years. Rankings from the 2011 Trade Value series in parentheses.
15. (NR) Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto – Under Team Control through 2017
For all that is made about how remarkable Starlin Castro‘s Major League success is, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Lawrie is only two months older. While he hasn’t been able to match last year’s ridiculous debut, his career line is .283/.339/.459 in what amounts to one big league season. Any 22-year-old who has a 117 wRC+ is off to a pretty good start to their career, but Lawrie’s not just a bat-only guy. Whether or not he’s actually a +15 defender as UZR has given him credit for is still to be determined, but the scouting reports on his glovework have also been fantastic, and he’s athletic enough to be a plus glove at the position. If the timing of his performances were flipped and Lawrie was currently in the midst of what he did last summer, he might be a top 10 guy. Even still, this version is an above average player at an age when most of his peers are still in the minor leagues. Add in five more years of team control, and Lawrie is still a tremendously valuable asset.
14. (19) Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit – Signed through 2014 for $50 million
Remember how we told you that Verlander couldn’t sustain last year’s .236 BABIP? Well, we were right — he’s all the way up to .242 this year. As crazy as it sounds, he’s basically having the exact same year that he did last year, and is the pitcher most people would choose if they had to win a single game. The only thing keeping him this low is his contract, which expires at the same time as Kershaw and Felix, and the last couple years of his extension aren’t particularly cheap. But, if Verlander was a free agent this winter, he’d almost certainly command the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, so in reality, 2/40 is far less than market value for Detroit’s ace. It’s essentially impossible to see them moving him in any scenario, but if they did, the bidding would be outrageous.
13. (NR) Jered Weaver, SP, Anaheim – Signed through 2016 for $77 million
Like Verlander, Weaver is also duplicating his unsustainable 2011 performance, and is actually having his best year yet in terms of run prevention relative to league average. While Weaver might not be as classicly dominant as Verlander, his track record is impossible to argue with now, and he’s under contract for an additional two seasons. Weaver took less than he could have gotten otherwise to stay in Anaheim, and and he’s gotten better since he signed his contract. His home/road splits and not-acelike peripherals might keep a few teams at bay, but four years of a premium pitcher at a below market price would still generate a lot of interest. Like Verlander, though, it’s impossible to see Weaver going anywhere.
12. (27) Buster Posey, C, San Francisco – Under Team Control through 2016
Posey has come back from his broken leg and been better than ever, and probably doesn’t get enough credit for the Giants success in recent years. He’s already at +8.5 WAR in just under 1,000 career plate appearances, so he’s contributed at a near MVP level pretty much since the day he arrived in the big leagues. He’s even added walks to round out his offensive game, and based on the factors that we can judge with some degree of certainty, he appears to be one of the game’s best defensive catchers as well. The questions about how long he’ll remain at catcher and his Super Two status mean that he might be an expensive first baseman by the time he reaches free agency, but for the next several years, he’s one of baseball’s great bargains. While the pitchers (and more recently, Melky Cabrera) have gotten most of the attention, Posey is the straw that stirs the drink in San Francisco.
11. (3) Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado – Signed through 2020 for $148 million
Another injury plagued season for Tulowitzki, who is looking more and more like a guy who just won’t be able to play 150 games in a season all that often. Durability is a skill, and with each season that goes by, it seems less likely that it’s one he possesses. But that might be the only baseball-related skill he doesn’t have, and even with the injuries, Tulowitzki is still a premium player capable of putting up hugely valuable seasons — he topped +6 WAR in each of the last two years despite just averaging 130 games per year. There’s eight guaranteed years left on his deal with a team option for a ninth season that could push the total money up over $160 million, but because he’s still just 27, the Rockies shouldn’t have too many large negative value years at the end of the deal, and he’s worth far more than the $18 million per year he’s being paid. If he could stay healthy, he’d still be in the top 10, but even with the health issues, Tulo is still a guy to build around.