We move away from high salary, high risk players into a group of players on the opposite end of the spectrum. While the players below might not be seen as superstars yet, they all possess significant potential and have some very appealing contracts.
|28||381||5.5 %||16.8 %||.333||.378||.494||.378||145||0.1||-5.7||2.1|
Under Team Control Through 2018: $3 million, $6 million, $9 million, $11 million, $13 million option
Allen Craig is perhaps one of the least exciting good players on the list. He just turned 28, so he’s not exactly brimming with youth. From a tools perspective, he’s somewhat lacking, and will never be mistaken for an Olympic athlete. He’s a first baseman who occasionally plays the outfield, and isn’t all that great at either spot. He’s not a good baserunner, and he has a history of health problems.
But Allen Craig can really hit. In just over 1,200 big league plate appearances, he has a career .310/.357/.508 mark, good for a 138 wRC+. While you could make a case that he falls into the underpowered corner profile, given that a lot of his extra base hits are doubles and not home runs, Craig makes up for the lack of dingers by hitting for a very high average. He’s not a pure slugger, but the game is low on guys who can hit .300 and while slugging .500, and Craig is one of the best at this kind of combination.
What puts him in the Top 50, however, is his contract. Because he was a late bloomer, the Cardinals basically controlled his entire prime, and then bought out his arbitration years in order to get an option on a free agent year at a discounted price. If they end up picking the option, the remainder of his contract will work out to $41 million over five years; if they don’t, it’s $28 million for four.
Getting this kind of offensive production at that price, through his prime years, makes Craig a very valuable piece. While he might not be the most thrilling player in the league, he is one of the most productive, and his low salary would make him a fit for every team in the league.
|27||361||14.7 %||17.7 %||.275||.382||.466||.367||137||-10.1||-2.8||1.7|
Under Team Control Through 2017: $4 million, $6 million, $9 million, $12 million option
There’s a decent argument to be made that Carlos Santana should not be considered a catcher, for the purposes of a list like this. Whether it’s controlling the running game, blocking pitches in the dirt, or pitch framing, Santana regularly rates as one of the worst defenders in the sport, and he’s only getting older. There’s a point at which a catcher is giving back on defense all of the value he gets from position scarcity, and Santana is probably pretty close to that point.
But here’s the good news; even if he’s not viewed as a catcher, Santana is still good enough to be a legitimate building block. At age-27, Santana’s finally showing what kind of hitter he can be when he posts a relatively normal BABIP. For his career, even with a lower than average BABIP, he’s got a 125 wRC+, and that’s while spending most of his games crouched behind the plate. History shows a pretty significant offensive penalty for players who catch, and moving Santana to first base mostly full time may very well allow him to sustain numbers even better than he’s posted so far.
And, like with Craig, the contract is a large part of his value. Including the team option, the Indians control his rights for four more years at a grand total of $30 million; if something goes wrong and they end up declining the option, they’re only on the hook for $18 million over three years. Santana is just now entering his prime, is making the kind of salary you generally expect from a part-time role player, and is already one of the best switch-hitters in baseball. He has the bat to move off catcher and still be highly productive, and at his price, is one of the best return on investments in the sport.
|22||112||5.4 %||25.9 %||.288||.321||.413||.316||103||0.9||0.9||0.5|
Under Team Control Through 2019: Pre-Arb, Arbitration
The fact that Wil Myers was traded, with other prospects, for James Shields and Wade Davis a few months back could be taken as a sign that this is too aggressive of a ranking for a kid with no real Major League track record and some legitimate concern about his future contact rates. If he develops into the next Jay Bruce, is it worth putting him this high when I left off the original Jay Bruce?
I think it is, because we can’t overlook the tremendous value that a player provides during his first few seasons in the big leagues. Wil Myers, right now, is probably something close to a Major League average player, and he’s making the league minimum. He’ll make something close to that next year too, and the year after that, and the year after that, since the Rays kept him in the minors long enough to avoid Super Two qualification. And then he’ll have three more years of team control at arbitration prices.
6+ years of a player, three of them at about as a low of a price as you can pay to fill a roster spot. Myers doesn’t have to be a star in order to justify this ranking, as the quantity of production he’s going to provide for such a low cost has significant value in and of itself. Teams pay a lot of money for average players, and having a stock of pre-arb players like Myers is how the Rays continue to win on small payrolls.
And of course, Myers might very well develop into a very good player. He swings and misses a lot, but he also has a lot of power, and that combination can add up to a lot of value as long as he doesn’t swing and miss so often that it cancels out the power. Toss in some defensive ability and there’s certainly All-Star potential. If he lives up to it, he’ll move up the list in a hurry. If he doesn’t, though, that’s okay, because just having a solid contributor making nothing for multiple years has a lot of value in and of itself.
|23||396||10.4 %||17.9 %||.241||.328||.441||.333||108||5.6||0.4||1.5|
Under Team Control Through 2021: $1M, $5M, $5M, $7M, $7M, $11M, $15M option, $15M option
So far, Anthony Rizzo has not been a particularly great Major League player. He’s a slow-footed first baseman with a career wRC+ of 103 in nearly 1,000 plate appearances, and he hasn’t taken a step forward yet this year. However, there is a lot of reason for optimism.
For starters, there’s the fact that he’s just 23. He got to the big leagues young, and has held his own despite the fact that his peers were still toiling away in the minors. He’s also shown some serious power, as 42% of his career hits have gone for extra bases, and that has risen to 50% this year. The doubles haven’t yet turned into home runs, but given his age, there are plenty of reasons to think that they will.
Both ZIPS and Steamer project him to improve in the second half, and he’s basically a small power spike and a slightly higher BABIP away from being one of the better hitters in baseball. Given normal development, Rizzo looks to be on course to turn into an offensive force. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but he’s showing all the signs of being an offensive machine, and it may happen in the very near future.
If it does, the Cubs won’t have to worry about his price soaring, because they preemptively locked him up to a seven year contract that gave them two team options, so even after this season, they’ll control his rights for eight more years. If they pick up his options, their total cost will be somewhere around $65 million depending on incentives; if they don’t, they’re only out $40 million, and still would have gotten seven years of production for that money.
The upside here is enormous. If Rizzo becomes a franchise first baseman, the Cubs will have massive cost savings, and there’s not that much downside as long as he stays healthy. It’s a lot of projection and not as much present value, but for a team looking long term, Rizzo is one of the game’s best values.
|23||299||3.7 %||12.7 %||.284||.314||.396||.311||93||1.3||-1.2||1.4|
Under Team Control Through 2019: $2M, $2M, $2M, $4M option, $5M option, $6M option
Perez is in the midst of his worst offensive season, as his power has regressed back closer to where it was in the minor leagues, and since he’s an extremely aggressive hitter, he needs to drive the ball to be successful. However, Perez is not the kind of player who has to hit to be an asset.
Perez is, by most accounts, an excellent defensive catcher. He has a very strong arm, is far more agile than most behind the plate, and comparisons to Yadier Molina have been made. That’s unfair to the kid, but certainly, it speaks to his skills as a receiver. Unlike with many other young catchers, we’re not counting down the days until Perez moves to an easier position to save his knees. He’s almost certainly going to be a catcher for the duration of his career.
And because the Royals signed him so early in his career, most of that career will likely be spent in Kansas City. The salaries are significantly deflated because the Royals locked him up so early into his career, but the real value lies in the three team options. If he develops into a true two-way force behind the plate, the Royals will have him at backup catcher prices during his most productive years. If his career gets sidetracked by injuries or the bat stagnates, the Royals aren’t committed to paying him any real money.
He’s perhaps the lowest risk player on this list, simply because of the prices he’s agreed to play for over the next six years. If he develops, he’s a massive steal. If he doesn’t, then he’s still a very useful big leaguer making hardly any money. His floor is exceptionally high, and while his ceiling might be debatable, he’s similar to Myers in that he doesn’t really have to improve to be a big time asset. If he does hit, this ranking is way too low.
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