Continuing on in the week long series on the 50 most valuable assets in major league baseball. If you missed the introduction, it can be found here.
Ranking, Player, Position, Franchise, 2006-2008 WPA/LI
30. Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee, 7.32 WPA/LI
29. James Shields, RHP, Tampa, 3.20 WPA/LI
28. Geovany Soto, C, Chicago Cubs, 1.14 WPA/LI
27. Dan Haren, RHP, Arizona, 3.45 WPA/LI
26. Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit, 3.91 WPA/LI
Fielder hit .288/.395/.618 as a 23-year-old and he makes $670,000 this year. On a per dollar basis, there aren’t many players who are earning less for what they produced last year. Concerns about his size and how well he will age, as well as the fact that Milwaukee wasn’t able to buy out any of his free agent years with a long term deal, suppresses his value a bit. He’s going to become decently compensated once he hits arbitration this winter, and getting a deal done now is going to be a lot harder.
When describing Shields a few years ago, I called him the new Brad Radke, and while he’s posting a bit better strikeout rate, the comparison still holds. Shields has a devastating change-up and impeccable command, and the combination has been a great one for the Tampa youngster. He’s proven to be a durable, consistent starter, and while he doesn’t have lights out stuff, his level of production makes him one of the league’s best young starters. Toss in the fact that Tampa signed him to a contract extension that will pay him at most $38 million through 2014, and you have one of the league’s great bargains.
Soto had 87 plate appearances as a major leaguer heading into the 2008 season, so it says something for how good he’s been this year that he finds himself in the 28th spot on this list. Offense from a catcher is a huge advantage, and Soto hasn’t stopped hitting since arriving in Chicago last year. His offensive surge is one of the main reasons the Cubs have the best record in the National League, and as a 25-year-old backstop who won’t qualify for free agency until after 2013, some might say that Soto is too low at this placement. However, we can’t ignore the fact that two years ago, he was struggling to hit Triple-A pitching and his track record is pretty mixed. I’m pretty sure Soto is for real, but I’m less sure about him than I am the guys in front of him.
Another player who was fairly easy to place on the list considering that he was traded last winter for a bevy of prospects, giving us a pretty good idea of what teams would give up to acquire Haren. Oakland received six players, including several who are making key contributions this year, in a much better package than what the Twins got for Johan Santana. Arizona decided it was worth the significant haul to get Haren into their rotation, and since he’s signed through 2010 at bargain basement prices, it’s easy to understand why.
Verlander was a bit tougher. As we documented early in the season, his velocity didn’t leave spring training with him, and it’s never good when a young pitcher suddenly loses his fastball. However, Verlander has shrugged off the injury concerns, rebounded from a poor start, and is reminding everyone why he was in every conversation about the best young pitchers in baseball. He signed a major league contract coming out of college that locked him up for nothing through 2009, but it contains a clause that lets him void the deal if he’s eligible for arbitration, which he will be.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.