Note: salaries are rounded estimates and include all team-controlled years. Rankings from the 2011 Trade Value series in parentheses.
20. (12) David Price, SP, Tampa Bay – Under Team Control through 2015
The Rays ace has continued his steady climb into elite territory, and is establishing himself as one of the dominant left-handed starters in the game. At age 26, he’s added nearly one MPH to his average fastball velocity and has become a groundball pitcher for the first time in his career while maintaining his usual blend of few walks and a lot of strikeouts. The only thing holding Price back from a higher ranking is the fact that he’s got three more trips through arbitration, and as a guy who qualified as a Super Two, he’s going to get expensive in a hurry. This is the one guy the Rays weren’t able to get locked up that they probably wish they could have, and because of his escalation paychecks, he may not be in Tampa Bay all that much longer. When the Rays do trade him, however, they’ll get a monstrous return.
19. (NR) Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco – Signed through 2019 for $58 million
Okay Giants fans, you win. Bumgarner’s absence from last year’s list brought plenty of criticism, and it was simply a poor call on my end to exclude him. Now, with another year of quality pitching under his belt and a very friendly contract — the first five guaranteed years only call for $35 million in total — Bumgarner not only makes the list, but rates as one of the more valuable pitchers in the game. There aren’t many 22-year-olds who can throw strikes as regularly as Bumgarner can, and he gets enough strikeouts and groundballs to make the overall package work. He might not be a classic ace, but he’s a good pitcher with a very good contract, and every team in baseball would love to have him.
18. (NR) Miguel Cabrera, 3B/1B, Detroit – Signed through 2015 for $75 million.
Perhaps the biggest benefactor of the shift towards rewarding premium players with large contracts, Cabrera was also unranked a year ago due to the amount of money that he’s still owed over the next 3 1/2 years Given the rising costs of acquiring big time hitters, however, there are a number of teams that would gladly line up to pay Cabrera $22 million per year without a long term commitment. While he’s taken a bit of a step backwards this year (protection theory, where are you?), he’s still an offensive force, and he doesn’t even turn 30 until next spring. Even with the salary of a star player, the Tigers would get a strong return for him if they put him on the blocks.
17. (14) Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle – Signed through 2014 for $49 million
While his fastball velocity is still MIA and he doesn’t get ground balls like he used to, he’s getting better at every other part of pitching. His change-up is one of the best single pitches in the game, and to compensate for the lack of ground balls, he’s just started using it to strike everyone out instead. Like Price, Felix is just 26 years old, so while he doesn’t come with a team friendly long term contract, any team acquiring him would have a couple of years to convince him to stick around, and in the meantime, they’d have one of the true legitimate #1 starters in the sport.
#16. (11) Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers – Under Team Control through 2015
Trying not to sound repetitive with the above paragraph, but there are a lot of similarities between Kershaw and Felix at this point. Like Felix, Kershaw also has two years left before he hits free agency, though his already negotiated 2013 salary is significantly lower. Kershaw is also still just 24, so he’ll be up for his next contract well before his decline years become a big concern. He’s probably the most coveted left-handed pitcher in the game, and given his age and performance, he’d rank significantly higher if the Dodgers had been able to buy out any of his free agent years. Even with just 2+ years under control, however, Kershaw is so good that he’d command a king’s ransom in return if the Dodgers decided to put him up for sale.