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Top 15 Bargain Contracts in Major League Baseball

There are few things more difficult than projecting how well an athlete will perform many years in the future, as many factors such as age and injury ultimately affect performance in a significant manner. It is quite common in Major League Baseball to see relatively unproductive players earning exorbitant contracts, or to see teams taking drastic measures to minimize the damage caused by an onerous contract. The New York Mets, for example, elected to buyout and then defer Bobby Bonilla’s 2000 salary – $5.9 million – until 2011, when the team would begin paying him roughly $1.2 million every year for 25 years.

There are more recent examples of teams eating salary in order to free up space on the 40-man roster, as the Los Angeles Dodgers decided that it would be best to pay Brian Wilson roughly $10 million not to pitch for them in 2015. Wilson had exercised his player option after a brutal 2014 season, but the Dodgers no longer had a need for the former closer and instead designated him for assignment. It is clear that mistakes are often made on big-dollar, long-term contracts, but plenty of teams have also succeeded in signing star players to deals that are actually below market value.

The following 15 players are currently signed to deals that are significantly less than what the player would get on the open market. The list is limited to players who have been named to All-Star teams or who have received votes for any of baseball’s major awards. The length and average annual value of the contract matters, so while Johnny Cueto may be the best pitcher on this list, he is listed behind others whose teams have them locked up for several more years. The most important determining factor is value, specifically the degree of difference between the player’s open-market value and their current contract.

15 Giancarlo Stanton

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

That Stanton appears on this list is likely quite surprising, and for good reason. Having just signed the richest contract in baseball -- worth $325 million over 13 years – it seems implausible that the Miami Marlins are getting excellent value on the deal. So what is the reason for Stanton’s appearance on this list? It is as simple as contract structuring, and the Marlins back-loaded this contract so heavily that Stanton’s annual average value over the first six years (after which point he can opt out of the contract) of the deal is $17.8 million, well below what he would get on the open market for that term.

14 Hisashi Iwakuma

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

13 Evan Longoria

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

12 Jose Abreu

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

11 Johnny Cueto 

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

10 Jeff Samardzija 

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

9 Andrew McCutchen

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

8 Bryce Harper

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

7 Paul Goldschmidt

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

6 Yasiel Puig

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

5 Hyun-Jin Ryu

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

4 Jose Altuve

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

3 Jonathan Lucroy

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

2 Madison Bumgarner

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

1 Chris Sale

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of his five years in Major League Baseball, Sale has consistently improved with each passing season and, at just 25 years of age, has already been named to three All-Star teams and has been a strong candidate for Cy Young in each of the last three years, finishing third in 2014. He led the league in ERA+ (178) and was second in K/9 among qualified pitchers (10.8), and he is also earning less than what Dan Haren (if he decides to pitch) will earn in 2015. With three years left on his deal (and two years with club options), Sale is being paid just $27.15 million, giving the White Sox exceptional value and two aces that are among the best bargains in all of baseball.

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Top 15 Bargain Contracts in Major League Baseball