Increasingly over the past number of years, the ridiculous amount of money given to some players in Major League Baseball has skyrocketed, with many receiving $200 million contracts, and even one player, Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins receiving a whopping $320 million contract. Players receiving these $200 million contracts have become a norm, but as the old saying goes “money doesn’t buy championships.” This in recent times has been embodied by the San Francisco Giants, as GM Brian Sabean has built a championship winning team through the farm system, whose primary focus is winning through chemistry and character development, rather than spending the most money.
While this overspending is sometimes a necessity to gain and retain players of a superstar status, which are often the key to winning championships, it can more often than not be more vital to a team to develop talent through the farm system, as these players may contribute just as much to the team at a fraction of the cost. This is referred to as the ‘Moneyball’ approach, perfected by Billy Beane with the Oakland Athletics, which has now been immortalized in the 2011 film of the same name. Due to this success, and the increased focus on analytics in all sports, teams are trying to opt for role players who can give them supreme effort and efficiency for their money, rather than paying a higher price to get only one superstar player, which does not always pay off.
With that being said, here is the one player from each American League team that I believe gives them the best contributions and value for their price, based on average salary and recent production.
15 Baltimore Orioles: Caleb Joseph - $523,500
While some players on this list are stars or future superstars for their respective teams, contributions outside of statistics or jaw dropping statistics can make a player a valuable piece to a team, like Caleb Joseph stepping up in place of the injured Matt Wieters and showing his defensive prowess behind the plate, controlling pitchers, which can never be measured by simple statistics. The numbers for Joseph will never blow any expert or fan away, but it’s the quiet contributions that make him so important to the Orioles, especially with his salary. However, even as a catcher primarily contributing on defense, Joseph was the only catcher for the organization to hit a home run in five straight games in 2014, showing potential for the future at a very young age.
14 Boston Red Sox: Mookie Betts - $566,000
Part of a crowded young talent pool, especially in the outfield, Betts is one of many good value for money players in Boston, including Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Boagarts. He is one of the many factors which have given the Boston faithful hope of another worst-to-first turn around come 2016. In 2015, his second major league season, Betts ended the year with 18 HRs, 77 RBIs and 21 stolen bases, making him an all around talented player, once which the Sox can build around, with some older club legends like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia nearing the ends of their respective careers.
13 Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon - $518,000
In terms of pure potential as a left handed starting pitcher, almost none compared to youngster Carlos Rodon in the 2014 draft, where he was selected first round, third overall by the Chicago White Sox. Though a rocky start from the bullpen hindered him early, akin to teammate Chris Sale and his early years with the White Sox, he has recovered for a 10-10record with an ERA in the mid 3s. While this looks like the numbers of a middle of the rotation guy, Rodon definitely shows the potential to be a number two behind Chris Sale, which could help anchor the rotation to a surprisingly good White Sox team in 2016.
12 Cleveland Indians: Danny Salazar - $536,200
Signing with the Indians organization at the age of 16 in 2006, Danny Salazar made his major league debut in 2013 and has shown the potential to be a franchise-changing starter, in a rotation filled with young arms ready to impress. Though his stats early are not reflective of the dominant pitcher he will become, in a rotation led by Corey Kluber, his yearly salary of $536,200 makes him a bargain for an Indians team looking to compete. Especially if he can live up to his early potential as a second or third man in the rotation.
11 Detroit Tigers: Nick Castellanos - $536,500
Ever since the trade that saw Prince Fielder leave Detroit and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera moved from the hot corner, Nick Castellanos has taken it upon himself to make it his own, including winning the 2014 Detroit Tigers Rookie of the Year, and improving in every statistical category in 2015. From 2014, his rookie year, to 2015, Nick upped his home run and RBI total from 11 & 66 to 15 & 73, showing promise in a lineup featuring Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victory & J.D Martinez. Paying under $1,000,000 for any healthy contributor to a team is always a positive, especially when the future is as bright as it is for Nick.
10 Houston Astros: Carlos Correa - $516,700
The reigning AL Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa lived up to the hype and then some in his debut in 2015, leading the young Astros team to the playoffs, supported by above average players at each position and a fantastic rotation led by Dallas Keuchel. Correa showed every tool there is to show: a great glove, speed, good arm, the ability to hit for power and average, and gave the Astros even more confidence in the future of the organization. No doubt he will be given a monster contract when the time comes, but for now, if that performance can be duplicated in the following few years, the Astros will have one of the single best values in all of baseball.
9 Kansas City Royals: Alcides Escobar - $2,625,000
As evidenced by the last two deep post season runs with the Kansas City Royals, and his entire career, Alcides Escobar is one of the best lead off men in the game and can make spectacular, game changing plays to match anyone in the league. Coming to the Royals in a trade that also included Lorenzo Cain, Escobar has become the catalyst to both sides of the ball for an ever improving, young Royals squad and his yearly salary of $2,625,000 significantly helps the Royals ball club financially. While not the cheapest player on the roster, his impact on and off the field, plus the consistency given by Escobar can not be matched by AL short stops.
8 Los Angeles Angels: Matt Shoemaker - $530,000
In an often-underperforming Angels rotation, which includes Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker made his mark on the league as a Rookie in 2014, showing that he could be a valuable back of the rotation guy, which for $530,000, could prove very valuable to an Angels team who seem poised for a deep playoff run. Although he was demoted in late 2015, if Shoemaker can find anywhere near the form of his second place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year 2014 season, the Angels may very well have the depth in the pitching rotation they need to assist the offense in making a World Series push, which many have expected for years due to the consistent MVP form of Mike Trout. At $530,000 yearly salary, the risk is worth taking on a bounce back year for Shoemaker, who could become invaluable to the consistency of this team.
7 Minnesota Twins: Byron Buxton - $512,500
Though he has just been sent back to the minor leagues, Byron Buxton is looked at by many as the future of the Minnesota Twins and has the potential to be an All Star, as he is a five-tool star patrolling center field. He has impressed with his bat and his arm in the early stages of his big league career and , despite recent struggles, he is still the number two rated prospect in all of baseball,. If the potential is anywhere near lived up to, the measly salary of $512,500 will be an absolute steal for the Minnesota Twins, a team full of young, hungry, talented players.
6 New York Yankees: Dellin Betances - $507,500
Dellin Betances has been hyped by experts, Yankees and Yankees fans alike since the retirement of Mariano Rivera, and for good reason. The young stud reliever has shown the ability to be down right filthy coming out of the bullpen, with a 100 mph arm, and the nasty control and mix of pitches to go with it. He has become one of the best set up men in the game, in front of closer Andrew Miller (or maybe Aroldis Chapman shortly?). Dellin has all the potential to be the future closer of the Yankees and will no doubt sign a large contract to stay with the team, but for now, in front of Miller/Chapman, the salary of half a million dollars is an absolute steal for a team who know boasts one of the best back end bullpens in the game of baseball.
5 Oakland Athletics: Sonny Gray - $527,500
Sonny Gray has been a star ever since he made his major league debut, with a stellar 2015 that saw him narrowly lose the Cy Young to Dallas Keuchel and David Price, despite playing on a fairly average Oakland Athletics team. Gray, at the age of 26, already boasts multiple play-off starts, two AL Pitcher of the Month awards and an All Star berth, showing that not only does he have incredible potential, which will no doubt see him rake in big dollars very soon, but he has pitched superbly during the maturation process which comes early after a debut at the Major League level. If the A’s can manage to hold on to Gray, he could become the corner stone of this organization, as he has once in a generation talent on the mound, in a generation filled with star pitchers.
4 Seattle Mariners: Taijuan Walker - $528,600
In a rotation already highlighted by stars Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, much was made about young stud Taijuan Walker, who was expected to deepen the rotation behind these two after tearing through the minor leagues in his young career, but to this point, has not achieved this expected potential. Still, at the ripe young age of 23, three years after his major league debut, Walker has had invaluable experience, which will no doubt help him achieve the potential which forced the Mariners to take him with the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 draft. His 14-11 record thus far in his big league career will no doubt give the Mariners organization hope for the future.
3 Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria - $2,916,667
One of only two players on this list with a multi-million dollar contract, Evan Longoria has certainly earned it in his time playing with the Rays, becoming an outstanding club house presence as a veteran, as well as being consistently one of the best third basemen in all of baseball. On a team with low expectations heading into the year, a club legend like Evan earning such a small salary for the good of the team is always a refreshing sight, and it allows the team to focus on rebuilding around him and ace Chris Archer, to aim for another World Series berth while Longoria remains an above average player in the league.
2 Texas Rangers: Rougned Odor - $522,700
In a Rangers infield which is often crowded with young, home grown talent, Rougned Odor has managed to impress in his short time with the team and these contributions, if significantly improved upon, could help the Rangers with their World Series push. After struggles early in his second season last year, Odor found his way back to the Rangers team, and gave them much needed offensive depth, ending the year with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs. He will become a significant contributor to this team with high aspirations and may surprise many people with his overall talent, which could see him have a long and healthy major league career.
1 Toronto Blue Jays: Marcos Stroman - $515,900
Much was made of the late 2015 return of young Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman and he lived up to it, going 4-0 in the late stretch of the season, backing up veteran David Price to give the Jays a solid rotation to go with the jaw-dropping offense, led by Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion. Since the departure of Price to the rival Red Sox, Stroman has taken on the role of ace within the organization and is thriving in this position, posting a record in early 2016 of 4-0, with an ERA in the mid 3s, proving that the front end of the Jays rotation is solid for years to come, especially with the low salary, allowing money to be used on other players.