When an elite player hits the open market, a select few teams have the will, and the wherewithal, to pay top dollar for his services. But the vast majority of teams cannot — or more precisely, will not — ante up for the biggest free-agent stars.
The structure of Major League Baseball’s service time and compensation system thus nudges bargain hunters over to younger players, namely those with zero-to-three years of service time. Players not yet eligible for arbitration are to Albert Pujols as Kiribati’s GDP is to America’s.
Of course, not all pre-arb players are created equal. So with a nod to Dave Cameron’s recent All-Minor-League-Contract Team, and to Carson Cistulli’s Dollar Sign on the Scout, we present the All-Zero-to-Three Teams.
Today, the National League.
(Note: Players signed to long-term contracts before they reach arbitration aren’t eligible. These players must all make the league minimum salary, or close to it, without a long-term commitment. Eligible players are those projected on Opening Day 25-man rosters by MLBDepthCharts.com.)
Position: Player – Marcel Forecasted wOBA/FIP
Catcher: Buster Posey (SF) – .360 wOBA
First Base: Ike Davis (NYM) – .349 wOBA
Second Base: Neil Walker (PIT) – .344 wOBA
Shortstop: Starlin Castro (CHC) – .343 wOBA
Third Base: Pedro Alvarez (PIT) – .344 wOBA
Left Field: Logan Morrison (FLA) – .359 wOBA
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen (PIT) – .363 wOBA
Right Field: Jason Heyward (ATL) – .379 wOBA
Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw (LAD) – 3.15 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Tommy Hanson (ATL) – 3.35 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Mat Latos (SD) – 3.35 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Travis Wood (CIN) – 3.54 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Jaime Garcia (STL) – 3.57 FIP
A few comments:
–The Phillies might be the projected favorites in the NL East this year with their veteran core of hitters and their potentially historic front four in the rotation. But the Braves, already serious challengers, could close the gap even more in the next years, with most of Philly’s core getting well into their 30s, and Atlanta’s young guns blossoming. By the measures of this exercise, the Braves own the best pre-arb hitter, the (co-)#2 starter, and two lights-out relievers. Scary.
–The Marlins get a lot of flak for their charming owner, their stadium extortion tactics, and their past fire sales. But few teams have done a better job of developing young talent. Morrison, Stanton and Coghlan all made this squad, and Matt Dominguez and Gaby Sanchez weren’t far behind. Another intriguing contender down the road, if the prospects keep improving.
–Three(!) Pirates in the starting lineup, and Jose Tabata didn’t miss by much (neither did James McDonald, on the pitching side). We’re approaching 20 years since Barry Bonds left and the Pirates last enjoyed an above-.500 season. That streak could end fairly soon.
–Three Brewers make the club, and that’s not including under-30 stars Ryan Braun, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. Now you know why they’re my pick to represent the NL in this year’s World Series.
–Just an aside, but that might be the coolest bullpen ever assembled.
Check back Monday for the American League, and a glimpse of an extensive zero-to-three research project, already in the works.
EDIT: Clayton Kershaw has been added to the team; he was accidentally omitted on first pass.
Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.