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Friday, October 18, 2019

10 best bargains in baseball

Chris Sale

One of the savviest things any Major League Baseball general manager can do is get a player on a cheap, long-term contract that covers the athlete’s prime years. It’s often done before a player truly establishes themselves as an elite force, though not always. Regardless, such deals can harness incredible talent while freeing up payroll space to add other pieces — or, for those on a non-contending franchise, add even more trade value to a player on the block.

Here is a list of 10 big league players who are currently playing at prices well below market value.

10) Christian Yelich, Miami (seven years, $49.57 million)

The 25-year-old Yelich has quietly developed into one of the National League’s better players.

Yelich has taken over as the Marlins’ full-time center fielder in 2017 for the first time, all while continuing to grow as a hitter. His offense is down a bit off a breakout 2016, where he hit .298 with 21 home runs and 38 doubles, but the sample size on his 2017 is small.

The Marlins are getting this for a bargain price.

Yelich is in the third season of a seven-year, $49.57 million pact with the Marlins. The deal could add an eighth year for another $15 million if Miami opts to exercise that team option for 2022. All this means is that Yelich, a five-win player by Baseball Reference’s WAR statistic, is signed through his physical prime for well below market value.

9) Chris Archer, Tampa Bay (six years, $25.5 million)

Archer would have placed higher on this list had it been made after 2015, when the Rays ace finished in the top five of American League Cy Young voting. Ultimately, this is still a guy who has consistently been striking out ten batters per nine since the start of 2015, and he has begun to look a bit more like his old self this season, with a 3.70 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. Even in 2016, when he lost 19 games, he struck out 233 batters, threw over 200 innings, and had an ERA of 4.02.

The Rays are run on a tight budget, so they need bargains, and Archer is a great one.

He’s almost staggeringly cheap in this environment, making just under $5 million in 2017, a figure that will only rise to about $7.6 million come 2019. With $9 million and $11 million team options in 2020 and 2021, the Rays have him under cheap team control through his age-32 season.

Even if Archer doesn’t put up another 2015, that’s an exceptional price for a pitcher who can put up ERAs in the high 3s, strike out 200 batters, and pitch 200 innings.

8) Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox (five years, $26.5 million)

Why, despite a massive sell-off this offseason, did the Chicago White Sox hang on to left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana despite a near-daily trickle of trade rumors? Because they valued him so highly, both due to his performance and because of his contract.

Though he’s gotten off to a slow start in 2017, his numbers before the season had been fantastic: a 3.41 ERA over the course of his first five MLB seasons.

The White Sox took full advantage of Quintana’s willingness to sign a long-term deal in 2014, inking him to a 5-year, $26.5 million deal, plus two team options. The result is one of baseball’s steadiest, most reliable left-handed pitchers earning just $7 million in 2017. It’s a figure that will rise, but only to $10.5 million and $11.5 million for his pair of options in 2019 and 2020.

By the end of his deal, options included, Quintana will have given Chicago — or whatever team ends up employing him at that point — his prime years at a very cheap price.

7) Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland (four years, $22 million)

Carrasco quickly blossomed into one of baseball’s best young arms over recent seasons, bursting onto the scene with a 216-strikeout season in 2015 before doubling down and establishing himself as a quality arm for good in 2016. The Indians saw in 2015 that Carrasco was no fluke, quickly signing him to a four-year, $22 million deal with two team options.

Over the last three seasons, including the start of 2017, Carrasco has thrown 382 innings, striking out 418 and putting up a 3.37 ERA. Those are elite numbers, and in doing so, Carrasco has made a little over $13 million. He’ll get $8 million, $9 million, and $9.5 million over the next three years if both of his options are exercised, keeping him cheap and under team control through his age 33 season. The Indians got a steal.

6) Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (six years, $144.5 million)

Trout is making $20 million in 2017 and still manages to be underpaid. His numbers will rise to $34 million for each of the next three years, making him, for the moment, the highest-paid player in baseball, but he’s not there yet.

Trout is the best player in baseball, a near-guarantee to hit .300, add 30 homers, and play quality defense in center field. He’s doing it for well below market value, at least in 2017.

Consider, for instance, the contract Bryce Harper will allegedly seek when he becomes a free agent after 2018. He could make a case for $40 million a year the way the game’s finances are going. Trout is locked in at $34 million through 2020, after which he can become a free agent in his prime.

Is it possible to be underpaid while making $34 million? If it is, Trout will be.

See Nos. 5-1 on Page 2

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