The bargain contract. These are the types of deals that general managers strive for and players and their agents try to avoid if possible. Also known as “team-friendly” contracts, these are the contracts that bring general managers the most praise and, more importantly, allow them to keep their jobs in the short and long term. While there are many players that either exceed expectations or disappoint greatly, the bargain contracts are viewed in higher esteem than those huge bust contracts.
What follows is a list of the ten biggest bargain contracts of 2015, using dollar value per WAR calculations, with some honorable mentions thrown in. For the purposes of this list, I will attempt to avoid players in pre-arbitration years, except for a few honorable mentions, simply because those players are expected to exceed their contract value given the small value of the contract to begin with.
On that note, and while you’re still in Black Friday mode, let’s get right into a discussion of the best bargain contracts in baseball.
Manny Machado may realistically be the biggest bargain of them all for 2015. Machado made a paltry $548,000 salary in 2015 because he was still pre-arbitration eligible. Despite this near minimum salary, Machado produced 6.8 WAR for the year in what was the best year of his young career. This makes him far and away the biggest contract bargain of 2015 with a dollar value of just over $80,000 per WAR.
This is obviously a hugely valuable season, and an absolute steal for the Orioles, but it will not remain cheap for long. Machado is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and could be getting a long term contract extension from the Orioles sooner rather than later. This lessens his future bargain contract viability. (This space could also be reserved for A.J. Pollock who produced 6.6 WAR for the Arizona Diamondbacks at a similar near minimum one year pre-arbitration contract or Kris Bryant who produced similar numbers for the Chicago Cubs or really any other pre-arbitration player who had a fantastic season).
Average Dollar Value per WAR: $80,000 Per 1 WAR
Another player that cemented his place as one of the best players in all of baseball alongside Mike Trout in 2015, on his way to winning his first MVP, was Josh Donaldson. With an 8.7 WAR, MVP season, while only making $4.3 million, it appears fairly evident that Donaldson should be on this list. Despite this production, which averages out to just under $500,000 per every WAR, Donaldson has an uncertain contract for the following seasons, given the fact that he is due for a large arbitration raise, which makes the long term prospects of him being a bargain uncertain.
Average Dollar Value per WAR: $500,000 Per 1 WAR
Arguably Trout should be on this list given his monster production in 2015 at a relatively cheap overall price. Trout produced an even 9.0 WAR in 2015 while making only $5.2 million for the year. This averages out to just about $577,000 cost for every WAR which puts him in line with several other players on this list. Despite this, Trout’s contract increases to $15.2 million in 2016, $19.2 million in 2017, and over $33 million a year for the following three seasons, making his long term contract less of a bargain than others on this list.
Average Dollar Value per WAR: $577,00 Per 1 WAR