Though fans rarely feel bad for Major League Baseball owners, the overblown contracts of stars past their primes might bring them close to a form of empathy. In most cases, fans’ scorn is directed toward the GM who offered the deal in the first place. Examples like the Ryan Howard contract extension may even lead fans to call for the GM’s head (it’s not just a Philly thing).
For every star not earning his keep, there are almost as many emerging studs playing for the league minimum salary. Team owners don’t have to pay these players arbitration money during their earliest years, which leaves young All Stars with nothing to do but wait for the payday down the line. In 2014, some of the game’s best performers are making around the MLB minimum. Here are five players who are delivering value well beyond their 2014 paychecks.
Salary information is from Spotrac.com. Stats quoted are current as of August 28, 2014.
5. Mike Trout, Angels – $1 million
Before Mike Trout’s six-year contract worth $144 million kicks in next season, the frontrunner for the AL MVP award will make $1 million in 2014. By many estimates, Trout was the player who delivered the most performance for his 2013 salary. There is a good chance he repeats that feat this season, though he has competition from the American League West. No matter what happens in the future, the Angels can be sure they got MVP-caliber work from the Melville Meteor at or near the league minimum for several years.
4. Corey Kluber, Indians – $514,000
Corey Kluber may not be a household name among fans, but MLB hitters are well aware of the electric stuff the Cleveland righty brings to the mound every start. In 28 appearances, Kluber is 13-8 with a 2.52 ERA (fourth in AL) and 213 SO (second in AL) in 192.2 innings. Kluber’s swing-and-miss stuff makes him one of the game most unhittable pitchers in 2014. With his pre-arbitration salary of $514,000, he is delivering tremendous value for the Cleveland management.
3. Chris Carter, Astros – $510,000
At a time when power is in short supply, Chris Carter is mashing long home runs on a minuscule paycheck by MLB standards. Through 118 games, the big man had slugged 33 HR, good enough to tie Giancarlo Stanton for the NL lead. He’s an all-or-nothing type of hitter, but his .519 slugging percentage is enough to make his OPS (.818) respectable. At his 2014 salary of $510,000, Carter’s value is extraordinary compared to his production. He’s already well beyond his career best in homers, but it would be headline news if he managed to lead his league (or the majors) in home runs in 2014.
2. Sonny Gray, Athletics – $505,000
They call it Moneyball for a reason. Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane and his staff consistently put together contending teams for years at bargain prices. Young starting pitching (what seems like an endless supply) has always been the cornerstone of this formula. Despite the injuries to key starters in 2014, Sonny Gray has emerged as one of the most dominant forces in the game for Oakland. At 13-7 with a 3.00 ERA through 26 starts at $505,000 in salary, he’s a big reason Oakland has been so successful on its budget.
1. Josh Donaldson, Athletics – $500,000
Oakland seems to have the magic wand with position players, as well. In Josh Donaldson, the A’s have an MVP-caliber third baseman who has yet to hit arbitration eligibility. He ranks sixth in RBI and ninth in home runs in the AL (both bests at his position), while his 6.65 WAR is the best among all MLB position players. Even considering the added weight Donaldson gets for excellent defense at third base (a generally weak defensive position), it’s hard to deny his sky-high value near the league minimum salary.
After earning $492,500 in 2013 (he was fourth in AL MVP voting), Oakland awarded him a $7,500 raise, to $500,000, in 2014. His first arbitration year will be 2015. Expect his pay to rise considerably.