Morse, Melky among MLB’s best bargains
Two years ago, Melky Cabrera(notes) seemed poised for a promising career with the New York Yankees. At age 24, the outfielder played a solid role in the Bombers’ 2009 championship season, hitting .274 with 13 homers in 485 at-bats.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Reports floated that the team brass wasn’t fond of the influence that the partying Cabrera had on second baseman Robinson Cano(notes), the Yankees’ best young player. And despite flashing some talent, Cabrera also carried that dreaded “fourth outfielder” label – not quite athletic enough for center field and not quite powerful enough for a corner spot. So when the opportunity came that winter to ship him to Atlanta for an established starting pitcher, Javier Vasquez, the Yankees didn’t hesitate.
After a mediocre 2010 season got him released by the Braves, the bottom feeding Kansas City Royals nabbed Cabrera for a modest $1.25 million. He’s responded by giving the Royals the best offensive bargain in the majors this year: a .303 batting average, .798 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and 62 RBI. Vasquez, meanwhile, is getting lit up in Florida after he flopped in pinstripes for the second time in his career.
|In Pictures: Baseball’s best hitters for the buck|
Despite yet another losing season, the Royals have shown quite a knack for gobbling offensive production on the cheap. The 2011 club has pulled the outfield hat trick – Cabrera, Jeff Francouer and Alex Gordon(notes) all rank among baseball’s 10 best hitters for the buck this year. Francoeur, who hit just .249 with 65 RBI for the Mets and Rangers last season, has rebounded to .273 with 15 homers and .798 OPS after signing a $2.5 million deal last winter. And Gordon, a home grown outfielder with a career.258 batting average over five seasons, has surged to .305 in 2011. He’s also on pace to easily put up the best power numbers of his career, while pulling in just $1.4 million.
We figured the best hitters for the buck by breaking down MLB’s everyday players (minimum 300 plate appearances through the first week of August) into three basic service categories: 1) those with less than three years experience who aren’t yet eligible for salary arbitration, 2) those with three or four years of service who qualify for arbitration but aren’t yet getting free agent money and 3) veterans with five or more years service time that have reached free agent money (players actually qualify for free agency after six seasons, though the big salary jump generally comes after year five, when a player is allowed to compare himself to free agents in the arbitration process).To avoid comparing apples to oranges to pears, we rated each player only within his service category – measuring production vs. salary against the average of the service class.
Cabrera and Francoeur rate as especially good values because their modest salaries contrast with veterans in their service class earning much more (over $8 million, on average). Another veteran delivering on the cheap is Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez(notes), who’s delivering a monster season (.962 OPS, 91 RBI) a year in front of his lucrative extension that will kick his salary to $21 million from the current $5.5 million.
Others delivering big time offense for the buck: Washington first baseman Michael Morse(notes) (.929 OPS for $1.05 million), who has suddenly blossomed this year at age 29, Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz(notes) (.833 OPS, 72 RBI for $3.65 million) and Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez(notes) (.836 OPS, 15 homers, $1 million), whose production stands out even against his young, lower-salaried peers.
The top five: