It's a day for not just gravy hangovers but also the briny depths of crass consumerism! It's a day to wallow, like oinking piggies in feculence, in the promise of cheapened goods and services!
In the spirit of this contrived occasion, let us turn our attentions to the bargains of the baseball world. Thankfully for our purposes, MLB's salary structure makes this a rather simple exercise. After all, until a player accrues, in most cases, three full years of major-league service time and thus becomes eligible for salary arbitration, his team is obligated to pay him no more than the MLB minimum, which for 2013 was $490,000.
As a direct consequence, a number of pre-arbitration players provide teams a great deal of value for very little money. Many fans tend to ignore this fact when they gnash teeth and rend garments over rising salaries. The reality is that for every high-dollar free agent contract that turns out not so well from the team standpoint, there are oodles of pre-arb youngsters who are grossly underpaid relative to their performances. That's business and that's the system to which both sides have agreed, but underpaying teams don't get the scorn that overpaid players get.
Anyhow, in keeping with the day upon us, let us name our “All-Black Friday” team -- a team devoted to pre-arbitration talents who are producing like millionaires while being paid like, um, thousandaires.
This team is being assembled with an eye toward 2014. That means we won't be including young talents who are newly eligible for arbitration (Jason Castro, for instance), signed to long-term deals despite their young age (Anthony Rizzo and Salvador Perez, for instance), signed to major-league deals coming out of the draft (Bryce Harper, for instance) or signed to lucrative international free agent contracts (Yasiel Puig, for instance). We're also not doing any hard-core speculating by including possible impact rookies like Oscar Taveras, Xander Bogaerts, Nick Castellanos, Archie Bradley and Taijuan Walker. Those and others could prove to be quite valuable at the highest level in 2014, but we're simply too far out to know that.
The names to follow, then, have established themselves as quality performers in the bigs but still aren't in their high-salary years headed into the season ahead. That is, they're precisely the kinds of bargains over which two otherwise mild-mannered aunts might hammer-fist each other into puddings of viscera at a Black Friday-participating retailer near you.
Of note: Below you'll see each player's 2013 salary (always near the league minimum, as you'll find) and how close they are to arbitration headed into 2014. Also, you'll see a category titled “2013 worth.” To put a dollar figure on each player's performance last season, we'll turn to FanGraphs and their player valuations for 2013. FanGraphs assigns a dollar value based on rolling estimations of what a win over replacement costs on the free agent market. In other words, this somewhat blunt instrument tells us in general terms what a given player was worth during a given season through the prism of the market.
With all that laid out, let's (finally) name the All-Black Friday team. Form an orderly queue, please …
This past season, Gomes batted a healthy .294/.345/.481 (133 OPS+), and those numbers are in keeping with his strong minor-league dossier. As well, Gomes could be in for ramped up duty in 2014, what with Carlos Santana's possible transition to third base. Don't be surprised if Gomes next season emerges as one of the top all-around catchers in the AL.
Adams is coming off a 2013 season in which he batted .284/.335/.503 with 17 homers in just 319 plate appearances. As well, he did all that despite the challenges of erratic playing time. Give Adams a full season of regular duty, and he's likely a 35-homer guy. With the probable departure of Carlos Beltran via free agency and the possible shift of Allen Craig to the outfield, Adams may be in for full-time work in 2014. Expect big things if that's the case.
2B - Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
2013 salary: $504,000
2013 worth: $35.1 million
2014 contract status: 3rd-year pre-arb
If Carpenter winds up at third base next season, which is certainly possible, then Jason Kipnis of the Indians will fill his spot at second on this team. For now, though, Carpenter gets the nod. In 2013, Carpenter adapted well to his new position and also led the majors in hits, doubles (55 of them!) and runs scored. For roughly half-a-million bucks, the Cards got the no.-4 finisher in the NL MVP balloting. That's a healthy return, to say the least.
Donaldson was essential to Oakland's surprise repeat in the AL West, as he put up an OPS+ of 148 (good for fifth in the AL) and was on the short-list of best defensive third basemen in the game. Within two of weeks of his 28th birthday, Donaldson is in what should be his prime seasons, so expect more of the same in 2014.
The most valuable defensive contributor of all in 2013? Quite possibly. Simmons didn't do much in the way of producing at the plate, but with the glove he was superlative at a vital position. The bat has time to develop, but Simmons will remain a major asset even if he's below average offensively. Yes, his fielding is that good.
Roughly speaking, Trout in 2013 was worth 100 times more than what he was paid. Even if you don't fully buy into the FanGraphs value estimates, there's no doubt Trout is in the discussion for best player in baseball (it says here that he's precisely that), and he's in that discussion at age 22. He's truly a once-in-a-generation talent, and the Angels will enjoy Trout on the cheap for another year. One day, maybe he'll win the MVP ...
Myers of course is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, and, in matters related, he put up an OPS+ of 132 after belatedly being called up in the middle of June. Project his numbers out to a full season, and Myers would've tallied 24 homers and 42 doubles. Myers was long regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball, so the lower-level pedigree backs up the numbers. Expect even better days ahead, and note that Myers won't be eligible for arbitration until prior to the 2017 season.
Marte is a standout defender and an excellent base-runner. As well, his 122 OPS+ during his age-24 season testifies to Marte's broad base of skills. You could credibly argue that he's the best fielder in the Pittsburgh outfield -- an outfield that includes Gold Glover (and NL MVP) Andrew McCutchen. Getting $20-million-ish of output from a pre-arb guy like Marte is precisely what the tight-budget Pirates need.
And here we have the NL Rookie of the Year and the third-place finisher in the NL Cy Young voting. In 2013, the 21-year-old Fernandez pitched to a stellar 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 3.22 K/BB. While I place very little stock in pitcher win-loss records, let it still be noted that Fernandez mustered a 12-6 record while toiling for the 100-loss Marlins. With a devastating four-pitch mix, Fernandez is already an ace, so long as he stays healthy. Expect Miami to stretch him out in 2014, which will only add to his value (but not to his salary).
RP - Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
2013 salary: $490,000
2013 worth: $10.9 million
2014 contract status: 2nd-year pre-arb
Rosenthal, author of a high-90s fastball and wipeout changeup, emerged as the closer for the NL champs last season. A primary starter in the minors, Rosenthal in the majors has whiffed 133 batters in 98 career relief innings -- all en route to an ERA+ of 139. In most organizations, he'd be in the major-league rotation. Thanks to the Cardinals' pitching depth, though, Rosenthal is “merely” their shutdown closer.