Note: salaries are rounded estimates and include all team-controlled years. Rankings from the 2011 Trade Value series in parentheses.
30. (NR) Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland – Under Team Control through 2017
When the Indians drafted Kipnis out of Arizona State, he was seen as a tweener outfielder without the speed to play center or the power to play left. So, a few months after selecting him in the third round, the Indians moved him to second base, and are now being rewarded for their foresight. Kipnis has gotten a lot better at second in a hurry, and now profiles as an average to above average defender at an up-the-middle position, and provides the kind of offense (122 wRC+ over 541 MLB plate appearances) you don’t often get from a player at the keystone. Kinpis is a classic good-across-the-board guy, combining gap power with walks and improving contact rates while also being a highly efficient baserunner. In many ways, he profiles as the new Ian Kinsler, and as a 25-year-old with five more seasons of team control, the Indians will be able to get a lot of value from Kipnis without paying a high price to do so.
29. (NR) Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay – Signed through 2019 for $36 million
On the field, Moore has been a pretty big disappointment this year, struggling with command problems and showing that he wasn’t quite as polished as he looked down the stretch last year. However, he’s still a lefty with a mid-90s fastball who can miss bats, and teams haven’t forgotten how dominant he was in 2011, so a disappointing rookie season hasn’t shattered his value yet. And then, there’s the contract. In typical Rays fashion, they signed Moore extremely early in exchange for getting team options on his final arbitration year and his first two free agent years, so they’re only on the hook for about $15 million if he never develops. If he does, they’ve essentially got him locked up through age 30 at bargain rates (though there are a lot of incentives built into the deal, so knowing the precise amount ahead of time is impossible). He’s a higher risk guy without the performance track record of many others around him, but he also comes with extremely high reward due to the financial limitations he’s agreed to. If he does turn into an ace, he could end up near the very top of this list in a few years.
28. (5) Justin Upton, OF, Arizona – Signed through 2015 for $42 million.
This ranking is about to be put to the test, as everyone is aware that the Diamondbacks are currently shopping Upton around baseball and will likely trade him at some point in 2012. A year ago, it seemed hard to imagine the D’Backs giving up on their star right fielder, but another mediocre season has made Upton seem like an underachiever once again, so any team acquiring him would be making a bet on a big comeback after changing teams. The talent is certainly there, but he’s no longer all that cheap — the last three years of his contract total $39 million — and has a spotty record hitting away from Chase Field. There’s a lot of risk to be absorbed by any acquiring team, but potential franchise players aren’t moved in their mid-20s too often, especially when they’re not close to free agency. Whether Upton will command a star player’s return or will be shipped off for less than his talent would suggest remains to be seen, but we should have a better idea of how baseball views Upton later this year.
27. (NR) Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City – Under Team Control through 2017
Moustakas was awful during the early part of his rookie season last year, but found his power stroke late in the season and hasn’t slowed down in 2012. He’s still not a finished product, but he’s flashing a combination of above average offense and terrific defense at age 23, and has shown very good contact skills in prior years as well. If he can get back to those lower strikeout rates while sustaining his power output, he may very well may be the new Adrian Beltre, or at least a player of similar value. Because of when he was called up last season, Moustakas may end up as a Super Two, qualifying for arbitration four times and accelerating his pay schedule, but the Royals still control his rights for five more years and have a young star in place at third. Even if he doesn’t remain overly cheap for more than a year or two, he’s still a highly valuable commodity.
26. (NR) Gio Gonzalez, SP, Washington – Signed through 2018 for $65 million
I wasn’t a big fan of the Gio Gonzalez trade for the Nationals, but kudos to Mike Rizzo and his staff for anticipating the breakout pitching star of 2012 and getting him while they still could. Gio’s velocity is up and he’s throwing first pitch strikes, which has led to a huge spike in strikeout rate and a reduction in walks, and the overall package has seen Gio pitch like a legitimate ace. His command is still not fantastic, and previous history suggests that he may not be able to keep this up forever, but Gonzalez looks like a better pitcher than I gave him credit for over the winter. To boot, the contract Washington signed him to now looks like a pretty big steal, as he would have been in for a hefty raise via arbitration, but is now looking at a salary of just $6 million in 2013 with manageable raises for the following three seasons, and then two team options at the end of that. There’s room for Gonzalez to regress and still be worth the contract, and if he keeps pitching like he is right now, he’ll be a huge steal for years to come.