Top 10 All-Star Bargains
The 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star game was held on July 14 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The game is a celebration of the baseball's brightest stars and up-and-comers. While we all know that player salaries have gone through the roof in recent years, there are still players out there who have all-star caliber seasons without cashing in superstar paychecks. Here's a look at the top 10 all-star bargains from last season.
Tim Wakefield - $4 Million
It was a long time coming for the Red Sox knuckle-baller. The 42 year-old and veteran of 16 seasons made his long-awaited All-Star Game debut last season, representing the American League and become the second-oldest player to make an All-Star debut.
Wakefield has had a long and successful career in Beantown, highlighted by the 2004 World Series, which broke the much maligned "Curse of the Bambino". Wakefield recently broke Roger Clemens' record for most games pitched in a Red Sox uniform and is inching closer to Clemens' and Cy Young's team record for wins.
Last season, Wakefield led the American League with 11 wins at the break and was instrumental to the Red Sox leading the ultra-competitive American League East, sitting ahead of the Yankees and Rays. Although his 4.31 ERA was nothing special, "Wake" had a great first half worthy of All-Star honors.
Felix Hernandez - $3.8 Million
Felix Hernandez, or "King Felix", was nothing short of regal in the first half of 2009. Hernandez came into the majors with high expectations and it appears as though he is starting to live up to the billing. The 23-year-old Mariners' ace is considered one of the best young arms in all of baseball, and his triple-digit fastball and repertoire of nasty off-speed pitches only strengthen the argument.
Hernandez took advantage of the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field in Seattle to post an 8-3 record and an ERA of 2.62 in the first half of 2009. Hernandez was also among the league leaders in wins (8), strikeouts (114) and innings pitched (116.2). The Mariners' flamethrower was dominant last season, and has the potential to throw a no-hitter in virtually every start.
Zach Greinke - $3.75 Million
It looks like the Kansas City Royals finally have a player to build their team around. The 25-year-old ace has exploded onto the scene after three years of up-and-down baseball with the Royals. After signing a four-year contract to stay with the Royals at the beginning of the season, Greinke has proved to be one of baseball's biggest bargains, and should be in the Cy Young conversation every year in the years to come.
Take a quick look at all the major statistical categories for pitchers in the American League last season and Greinke's name was littered across the box-scores. At the break he led the American League in ERA (2.12), innings pitched (127.1) and complete games (5). Greinke also ranked second in wins (10) and strikeouts (129). Greinke's numbers were great - one can only imagine how good he could be with a stronger Royals team surrounding him.
Aaron Hill - $2.59 Million
Look up, look way up; All the way to Toronto at the the Blue Jays. The Blue-Birds, which have had no luck when it comes to injuries to their pitching staff, had to rely heavily on their bats last season to win games, and Aaron Hill was a major contributor.
The 27-year-old second baseman, who missed much of the 2008 season with post-concussion syndrome, exploded out of the gates to lead all American League second basemen in home runs and RBI in the first half of 2009. Hill hit .300 and has was the engine behind the Jays' offense. Hill had already set a Jays single season record for home runs by a second basemen by the All-Star Game. His defense also landed on sports highlights shows on an almost nightly basis last season.
Hill looks to be one of the best young second basemen in the game, reminding Blue Jay fans of another Gold Glover who wore the blue and white during their championship seasons.
Ryan Franklin - $2.5 Million
One of the more polarizing players in last year's All-Star Game, Ryan Franklin was deserving of the nod none-the-less. The 36-year-old right-hander has seen his share of ups and downs over the past few years. Franklin was suspended in 2005 following a positive steroid test, and was later named in the Mitchell Report as one of the dozens of big-leaguers who had used performance-enhancing drugs.
That being said, the Cards' closer has paid his debt to baseball and definitely deserved to appear in front of his home crowd at last year's All-Star Game. The St. Louis stopper had himself a great first half, recording 20 saves in 21 opportunities and posting a minuscule 0.83 ERA in the process. Many have questioned whether an admitted steroid-user should have been allowed to compete in the mid-summer classic, but the numbers and Franklin's turn-around spoke for themselves.
Jason Bartlett - $1.98 Million
The Tampa Bay Rays are pinching themselves for the returns they've received from the deal that sent Delmon Young to the Twins for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. Both players have outperformed any expectations that were placed on them upon their arrival and were instrumental in the Rays' trip to the World Series in 2008.
Bartlett has solidified an infield that struggled with errors before his arrival and had a career year in 2009 for the Rays. Bartlett was hitting .357 at the break, 70 points higher than his career average. Had he not spent some time on the disabled list (DL) earlier in the season, Bartlett would have been second in the majors at the break in batting average behind only Joe Mauer. Also, for a guy who doesn't hit in the middle of the order Bartlett delivered with some very good production numbers, including 38 RBI and .557 slugging percentage mid-season. The Rays are arguably the best young team in baseball, and Bartlett has proved to be a leader for Tampa.
Ryan Braun - $1.03 Million
The Brewers have themselves a bright future with a stable of great young players, and none is better than their all-star left-fielder Ryan Braun. "The Hebrew Hammer" won the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year award and followed that up with an all-star selection in 2008 and a Silver Slugger award. He also lead the Brew-Crew to its first post-season appearance since 1982.
Braun has been was on a tear in the first half of the 2009, ranking among the league leaders in batting average (.324), runs (59) and RBI (58). The power-hitting outfielder came under fire early last season from Brewers management for being critical of the team's pitching staff, but he has also pointed the finger at himself and other offensive leaders for Milwaukee's inconsistent play last season.
Tim Lincecum - $650 Thousand
At the ripe young age of 24, Tim Lincecum won his first National League CY Young Award and repeated the feat last year. The hard-throwing righthander has dominated the National League since making his debut in 2007, and has solidified his position as the best young pitcher in the National League.
Last season, Lincecum was nothing short of sensational. He led the National League in strikeouts (141), and was tied for second in both wins (9) and ERA (2.23) at the All-Star break.
Josh Hamilton - $555 Thousand
Josh Hamilton is one of the true feel-good stories in all of sports. Going from first overall draft pick to being out of baseball and addicted to drugs, Josh Hamilton has re-emerged as a superstar in waiting. Hamilton has carried on the tradition in Texas of big hitting outfielders, but his defense may be the best part of his game.
Hamilton became a national story in 2008 when his torrid start earned him a place in the 2008 All-Star game in Yankee Stadium. It was there that Hamilton won the hearts of millions, swatting a record 28 home runs in the opening round of the Home Run Derby and finishing with 35 for the contest, another record. His incredible comeback season put him on the MVP ballot, where he finished seventh.
Last year, Hamilton came out of the gates hot and racked up six home runs and 24 RBI in the early going until he was placed on the disabled list in early June after doctors discovered a tear in his abdominal cage. Nevertheless, the fans voted Hamilton back into the All-Star game, a deserving recognition for a man who's fought his way back to become the ball player many knew he was capable of being.
Ben Zobrist - $415 Thousand
As the other man up the middle for the Rays, Ben Zobrist has combined with Jason Bartlett to form a middle infield that's the envy of many teams. Zobrist was part of the Rays team that went to the World Series in 2008 and has been a valuable defender for Tampa, thanks to his ability to play almost any position on the field.
Last year Zobrist had a breakout season, recording 17 round-trippers, three of which were grand slams by the break. The 28 year-old was also a solid cog in the Tampa Bay offense, accounting for 50 RBI and a slugging percentage of .608, ranking him second in the American League at the break.