Even with the all of the money that has been thrown around these past few weeks by MLB teams to lock up their players, there still are certain major leaguers who are not being paid what they deserve, due to their potential and their production so far.
Mostly early in their careers, franchises are still reaping the benefits of arbitration-level pay or early extensions that bought out years of arbitration, ultimately giving the franchise more leverage with their financials, but also guaranteeing the player an above-average wage earlier in his career.
Eloy Jimenez is a great example of this, as the Chicago White Sox just locked him up for another six years for a total of $43 million, even before he played one inning of baseball at the major-league level. With franchises trying to penny pinch their way to a championship, or buy one as the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs have all recently done, players are on the losing end of negotiations and compensation.
Coming up through the minor leagues is a long process, one that commonly burns out high-level prospects who are grinding tooth and nail to accomplish their dreams. Minor-league pay is not even close to being on the level that it needs to be, but the earlier contracts being signed by players is a step in the right direction, although it does only cater to top-level prospects who are on the cusp of stardom.
With that in mind, here are five of the most deserving players for a new contract (or most underpaid) across the MLB.
Christian Yelich – OF, Milwaukee Brewers
An easy choice to lead off the list, Christian Yelich is the 2018 National League MVP, which pretty much everyone knows. Having come over from the Miami Marlins in an offseason deal, Yelich was one of the franchise’s best players down in Florida but did not assume superstar status until arriving in brewtown.
Having been acquired on the same day that general manager David Stearns reached an agreement with center fielder Lorenzo Cain to rejoin the team that drafted him, Yelich assumed the position of the team’s starting right fielder, joining Cain and incumbent and franchise cornerstone Ryan Braun to form of the more daunting outfields in the league.
Not only did Yelich win the MVP award, but he also blew the competition out of the water, setting career highs in pretty much every major offensive category while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense out in the outfield. Due to injuries and depth, Yelich played across all three spots in the outfield, showing that he is not just a one-trick pony when it comes to outfield defense and positional flexibility.
Currently on a team-friendly, seven-year, $49.57 million deal that he signed in March of 2015 while still with the Marlins, Yelich is under contract with the Brewers until 2023, when he will be 31. For a small-market MLB team like the Brewers, his deal is one that they can easily swallow while adding key pieces alongside him.
Even though he has four more seasons (including this year) left on his deal, the Brewers would be smart to handle Yelich in a similar way that they did with Braun – extend him now with years left on his current deal, tacking it on at the end and securing a set pay amount ahead of schedule.
Would Yelich go for this? He has said he loves it in Milwaukee but is not currently worried about his next deal, which is what he was asked during the onslaught of all the big-time deals that took place. Any potential deal would be the last of his career, taking him out of free agency during his prime, so it would need to include big money, something Milwaukee seems content with ponying up.
Potential deal: 8 years, $220 million
Jose Urena – SP, Miami Marlins
If the Marlins, who have decidedly made it a yearly tradition to trade away future MVP winners (looking at you Giancarlo Stanton and Yelich), have any aspirations of competing in the next decade, then they need to start holding onto players, and that is where extending Jose Urena comes in.
One of the more under-the-radar types for the fish, Urena has put together two consecutive of a sub-4.00 ERA, making 36 and 32 starts, respectively. If the team was looking for an ace, they found one.
Urena is playing the arbitration game at this point, being on a $3.2 million for 2019. Two more seasons of arbitration takes him to be 29, which is on the backend of that prime window. If the Marlins, who have been known for signing players to long-term, small-money deals, were looking to invest, then Urena is their guy.
A relatively low risk, high-reward case, Urena would not cost the team all that much but he would signal a change in the ideology of how the team is built and when they plan to compete. Urena makes a ton of sense to be that first move that signals their rebuild is just beginning.
Potential deal: 5 years, $37.6 million
Steven Matz – SP, New York Mets
After having finally extended Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard is the next likeliest candidate on the Mets to receive a new deal. But if the team is not looking to break the bank at this point, they should shoot for a cheaper deal for a different starter, Steven Matz.
Relatively under the radar for this franchise, Matz has quietly plugged along throughout his career, with 2018 being his most durable and best stat-wise. He is the ideal four or five starter in a stacked MLB rotation and would be a great piece to have on hand for the next five or so seasons.
Fighting his way through arbitration currently, Matz has until 2021 before he becomes a free agent, which is something that the Mets would be smart to avoid by extending him now. With no real signs of Matz being unhappy in the Big Apple, he would be a likely candidate to lock up at a longer-term deal with a lower financial effect on the team.
Potential deal: 5 years, $42 million
Byron Buxton – CF, Minnesota Twins
For one of the more confusing teams currently in the league, consider the Minnesota Twins – on the cusp of making that jump into the playoffs for what seems like the past five seasons, but ultimately becoming sellers at the trade deadline and succumbing to the divisional overlord, the Cleveland Indians. But 2019 has the chance to be different.
The Indians are not looking all that strong this season, as they made a flurry of moves to cut costs but still remain competitive, which the jury is still out on. The Twins, meanwhile, added Marwin Gonzalez into a utilityman/starting outfield role, which may prove to be a squeeze of a fit for the former Astros.
Nonetheless, this team looks to finally be on the rise in the American League Central, and Byron Buxton is helping lead their charge. Buxton, who has been with the team for his entire career, is their starting center fielder for now and for the future, and he should be paid like one too.
The Twins, who drafted Buxton with the second-overall selection in 2012, need to begin to lock up a few younger players before the play themselves out of their budget. Along with Buxton, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and Jose Berrios are players that should be extended in the near future.
Starting with Buxton would be a great start for this team, and then could determine other needs as they see fit and prioritize extensions from there. Buxton is a lightning rod when he plays, but the 25-year old faced injury issues last season and only played in 29 games. His health can drive down his asking price, which helps the Twins in the long run.
Buxton has two more seasons of arbitration left, which would put him at age 27 when he can become a free agent.
Potential deal: 8 years, $110 million
Andrew Benintendi – OF, Boston Red Sox
The final entrant on this list needs no introduction, as Andrew Benintendi has played his way into the hearts of Boston Red Sox fans everywhere. At age 24, Benintendi has only not played in 25 games across the past two seasons, a stat that shows his durability quite well.
His numbers do too, but for a franchise strapped to the bone with cash but little space to use it, Benintendi will have to, unfortunately, wait to secure his first big payout. When that does come, however, it should be nice and plump, but not rivaling that of teammate Mookie Betts.
Potential deal: 10 years, $180 million