Updated: Dec 23, 2018
\ Written by Caleb Whittemore \ Published May 23rd, 2018 \
In Major League Baseball, there are countless bad contracts. There are also many contracts that are unjustifiably lucrative. This is because of baseball’s economic system and the rules that govern service time. In most cases, a player can’t get a fair market contract until after the player has 6 years of MLB experience. This causes young players to be underpaid, and older players to often times become overpaid.
The ability to find players in true free agency (after 6 years of service time) who will continue to produce and will sign reasonable contracts is extremely important; in fact it was essentially what the movie “Moneyball” was centered around.
I set out to identify the 25 most valuable, or team friendly contracts, so far this season. In order to look at this fairly, I decided to only examine players out of their 6 years of service time, so their contracts were not a result of baseball’s economic advantages to the team.
To calculate which contacts were most valuable, I reviewed each player’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) so far this season and projected it out over the full season. I then researched each player’s current salary and divided it by their Projected WAR to find their Salary per Win. This number is key, as it represents how much their respective team pays for each win the player earns for them. The lower the Salary per Win, the better for the team.
The Top Three
1. Daniel Descalso, Arizona Diamondbacks- Projected WAR: 3.8, Salary per Win: $530,864.20
Descalso is an interesting candidate, especially for the top of this list. He is easily the least known of all the players in the top 5. It makes sense that the number one player wouldn’t be well known, because he is paid like a below replacement level player ($2,000,000/ year), even though he’s contributing quite well.
His slash line of .250/.345/484 doesn’t stand out to the average fan, but if you look deeper into the numbers he is having a very productive season. His wOBA is over .350 for the first time ever in his big league career, and his wRC+ is a career best as well, sitting 23 points above average.
Descalso does not have a track record of this performance in the past, as his previous highest full season WAR is .6. His career is definitely on the back 9, at 31 years old, and he is still probably not an all-star, but if he continues to perform this way, he will be looking to get paid more than double when his contract is up at the end of the year.
2. Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics- Projected WAR: 7.7, Salary per Win: $776,014.11
This kind of a ranking wouldn’t be complete without an A’s player on it. Billy Beane, who was the center of “Moneyball”, has always operated under a small budget with the main goal of the organization being to find undervalued assets that can be signed for below market value.
Jed Lowrie is the perfect example of Moneyball. The A’s middle infielder is hitting a slash line of .314/.382/.545, all of which are the best of his career. HIs wOBA is sitting at .393, which is just points off of his career high, and his wRC+ of 151 is a career high. Along with his greatly improved hitting, his WAR is also on track to be over 4 wins above his previous career best.
There is no question that Jed is off to an incredible start, in fact if this continues, he will almost surely be an all-star at mid-season. Unfortunately for him, this season comes at age 34, so his $6,000,000 salary probably won’t be upped much during contract negotiations at the end of the season.
3. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals Projected WAR: 4.9, Salary per Win: $1,122,981.96
Mike Moustakas was the result of a poor free agent market this past offseason. He was looking to be handsomely paid after hitting 38 home runs last year but there just was no market for 1st basemen. As a result, Moustakas was forced to sign a one year $5,500,000 deal with an option for next year and hope he will have better luck in next year’s market.
Moustakas has a solid slash line of .289/.333/.513, along with being well on his way to another 35+ homerun season. His wOBA sits at .356 and his wRC+ is currently a 123, both of which are career highs. Moustakas is also on track to have a career year in WAR.
His negotiations over the offseason were unfortunate; he deserved to be paid a lot long term considering his age and previous productivity. If he continues this stretch of good play for the rest of the year he will not be a steal for the Royals much longer.
Rank 4 - 25
4. Asdrubal Cabrera, New York Mets- Projected WAR: 7.1, Salary per Win: $1,168,300.65
5. Bartolo Colon, Texas Rangers- Projected WAR: 1.4, Salary per Win: $1,215,277.78
6. Howie Kendrick, Washington Nationals- Projected WAR: 2.3, Salary per Win: $1,296,296.30
7. Clayton Richard, San Diego Padres- Projected WAR: 2.2, Salary per Win: $1,388,888.89
8. Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates- Projected WAR: 7.2, Salary per Win: $1,466,861.60
9. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians- Projected WAR: 4.6, Salary per Win: $1,728,395.06
10. Nick Markakis, Atlanta Braves- Projected WAR: 6.2, Salary per Win: $1,782,407.41
11. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox- Projected WAR: 7.0, Salary per Win: $1,786,874.59
12. Charlie Morton, Houston Astros- Projected WAR: 3.6, Salary per Win: $1,944,444.44
13. Jon Jay, Kansas City Royals- Projected WAR: 1.5, Salary per Win: $1,990,740.74
14. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros- Projected WAR: 9.7, Salary per Win: $2,057,613.17
15. Todd Frazier, New York Mets- Projected WAR: 3.7, Salary per Win: $2,139,917.70
16. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals- Projected WAR: 10.0, Salary per Win: $2,207,977.19
17. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants- Projected WAR: 7.6, Salary per Win: $2,275,132.28
18. Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers- Projected WAR: 5.5, Salary per Win: $2,353,909.47
19. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals- Projected WAR: 4.6, Salary per Win: $2,592,592.59
20. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves- Projected WAR: 7.7, Salary per Win: $2,768,807.87
21. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels- Projected WAR: 10.3, Salary per Win: $3,225,308.64
22. Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox- Projected WAR: 6.3, Salary per Win: $3,375,090.78
23. Francisco Liriano, Detroit Tigers- Projected WAR: 1.1, Salary per Win: $3,539,094.65
24. Brett Gardner, New York Yankees- Projected WAR: 3.2, Salary per Win: $3,549,382.72
25. Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays- Projected WAR: 1.1, Salary per Win: $3,734,567.90