Spending big money on player contracts comes with no guarantee of success or even an assurance that the money will be well spent. In some cases going big pays off (see “Yankees”), and for some teams the “less is more approach” pays off just as well (see “Athletics”). Regardless of how much a team spends or how it distributes the spending, every team that makes the playoffs has at least 1 player turning in a big money performance for a fraction of the cost. So, here I pay tribute to those who overproduce despite being underpaid. Here are 10 of the “Biggest Bangs for Your Buck” players.
New York Yankees – $209,792,900 total payroll commitments. For a lot of teams a $10M deal for a single season represents a huge chunk, but the Yankees do not fall into the category of “a lot of teams”. The team certainly must appreciate the production from big money guys like C.C. Sabathia, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano, but they fall well short of Hiroki Kuroda in the “biggest bang for your buck” (BBFYB) category. Kuroda has given the team a 3.34 ERA over 32 starts which works out to $2M per 1 WAR. In Bronx Bomber terminology, Kuroda gives them a Sabathia season at less than half the cost of Sabathia.
Detroit Tigers – $133,475,000. It might be difficult to stand out with Justin Verlander on the roster, but Austin Jackson sticks out like a sore thumb this season. Giving a team a .298/.376/.476/.852 line with 16 HR, 65 RBI, a 130 OPS+, and outstanding defense at the same time will do that for a guy. A 5.2 WAR season for just $500K? Definitely.
Texas Rangers – $120,836,000. Tempted to think of David Murphy or Alexi Ogando for this one? Sure, but the unsung hero for the Rangers has been Craig Gentry. Gentry’s career year at age 30 this season certainly has helped keep the team in contention. His line of .302/.379/.479/.858 with 15 HR and 59 RBI comes with an extremely reasonable price tag of $484.3K.
Baltimore Orioles – $84,102,333. Matt Wieters deserves this recognition both for his performance and his handling of the pitching staff. Consider it a small miracle that the Orioles have a staff ERA of 3.89 in baseball’s most competitive division. Producing 3.2 WAR for $500K would be sufficient to win the BBFYB award, though.
Oakland A’s – $52,873,000. You might think it difficult to pick out a BBFYB winner on a team full of underpaid talent. Josh Reddick makes the decision quite easy, though. 4.5 WAR for $485K makes it a no-brainer, and I’m all about not using more brain power than necessary.
San Francisco Giants – $131,355,298. Buster Posey definitely belongs in the MVP conversation, but he already owns the BBFYB title for the Giants. He leads the NL with 7.2 WAR for a measly $615K. Too bad for the Giants he reaches arbitration eligibility after this season, because that salary number should increase an awful lot. With a substantial raise, Posey will likely lose that BBFYB title, but that is a good problem to have.
St Louis Cardinals – $111,858,500. Up until a few weeks ago, the reigning World Series MVP, David Freese, had the Biggest Bang for your Buck title sewn up. Then Pete Kozma happened. Kozma has given the Cardinals 1.1 WAR in just 25 games (79 PAs). Considering that he makes the minimum and wasn’t expected to contribute at a Major League level this season, he edges out Freese just slightly.
Atlanta Braves – $93,529,667. The Braves have at least 3 legitimate candidates in this race. Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel are worthy, but Kris Medlen has just been unreal. Going 10-1 merits attention in just about any situation, but doing so over the 2nd half of the season when some teams fall of the pace is like a jolt of adrenaline. From his 1.57 ERA to his 4.2 WAR, Medlen has proven himself to be worth far more than the $490K he’s getting paid.
Cincinnati Reds – $87,826,167. Flip and coin between Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart. You really can’t go wrong with either one. Frazier provides the Reds with pretty good corner infield bat. Cozart gives them a decent bat but a plus defender at shortstop. Cozart gets the BBFYB nod for being a better all-around player, but both are really good deals at $480K a year.
Most of the aforementioned players get enough media attention that casual fans have probably at least heard of them, but I thought it worth pointing out just how much they produced without breaking the bank.