Note: salaries are rounded estimates and include all team-controlled years. Rankings from 2011 Trade Value series in parentheses.
40. (NR) Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati – Signed through 2015 for $30 million.
Johnny Cueto is one of two types of pitcher — either one who, year after year, produces peripherals that are likely to lead to a league-average ERA or one who, like Matt Cain, has cracked the secret code of batted-ball suppression. The numbers support either thesis at this point. Each of Cueto’s career component stats — his 18.3% strikeout rate, his 7.6% walk rate, his 44.1% ground-ball rate — is within percentage points of league average, respectively. Cueto’s home runs per fly ball and his strand rate, however, have both improved since his rookie season — and his ERAs relative to the league have followed suit. The good news for the Reds is that even the first type of pitcher is an asset at an approximate average annual value of $8 million.
39. (NR) Alex Gordon, OF, Kansas City – Signed through 2015 for $35 million.
It came about four or five years after it was originally expected, but Alex Gordon finally had a star-type season with the Royals in 2011, posting career-bests in basically every offensive category of note and playing an excellent left field, by all accounts. That is, of course, what did happen, while the concern here is with what will happen, or what could be reasonably expected to happen. In many respects, Gordon isn’t a much different player offensively in 2012 than he was in 2007-10. The biggest differences from those earlier years are the change in position (from third base), the level of the expectations placed on Gordon, and BABIP. It’s his improvements in that last category (plus the above-average left-field defense) that have him en route to a five-win season, even in the absence of a double-digit home-run pace.
38. (45) Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore – Signed through 2015 (arbitration 2013-15).
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Wieters follows Gordon on this list: both were high draft picks out of college who were subject to great expectations and both failed to live up to those expectations immediately (even while playing mostly like average major leaguers). Both also had 2012 seasons that confirmed those original expectations. The difference, from the point of view of trade value, is that Wieters is arb-eligible for just the first time this next offseason. On pace now for a four-plus-win season, the switch-hitting catcher will command quite a bit in arbitration — probably more than $15 million over three years. Given recent trends for teams locking up catchers, there’s a great possibility that he’ll reach an extension long before he hits free agency.
37. (NR) Wil Myers, OF, Kansas City – Six-plus years of team control.
If the Royals felt comfortable with Myers’ defense in center field, the clock on his team-controlled years would have started ticking already. They don’t, however, so, as it is now, he’s just your typical 21-year-old minor-league outfielder on pace for 40-plus home runs. Despite a down season by his standards in 2011, Myers still ranked pretty highly on most prospect lists entering 2012 — and that confidence in his abilities seems to have been justified. With the PCL now conquered, the only challenge remaining for Myers is major-league pitching. Well, major-league pitching and Jeff Francoeur‘s mysterious hold over the Royals coaching staff and front office.
36. (22) Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati – Signed through 2017 for $58 million.
Yes, the average is down this year, but Bruce’s is a legitimate power bat (he’s on pace for his second consecutive 30-homer season) in a league that currently has fewer of those than in quite some time. At his current age (25), there are reasons to believe that Bruce still has his best years ahead of him, too. More power, more contact, more walks: an improvement in any of those departments could bump Bruce from above-average piece to star — and that would be a star who’s making about $11 million per year. That’s a risk that a number of teams would be willing to make in a trade. And even if Bruce stays who he is, he’s still likely to provide surplus value year-by-year over what he’d get on the open market.