Baseball on the Cheap


You are a new general manager for a major league baseball team. Your owner walks into your office just as you are getting comfortable and begins talking. He says “Our farm system is abysmal. We need to change that. Unfortunately, money is tight, so I can only budget you three and one-quarter million dollars. Good luck.” He walks out as you reach for the Tylenol (S2S staff, can we use this as a product placement?) on your desk. Luckily for you, this article is here to help.

In today’s baseball environment,  the Miami Marlins just signed Mark Buehrle – who’s closer in my opinion to a middle of the rotation starter than a frontline stud – to a contract that will pay him close to fifteen million dollars per year over the next four years. Lesson: Veterans are expensive; amateur players are the market inefficiency.  More and more teams – and agents – are catching on as of late, causing bonuses to sky rocket. The Royals are a perfect example. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both just broke into the majors this past year. Both were picked in the top three of back-to-back drafts and combined their signing bonuses equaled ten million dollars. Royals top prospect Wil Myers was a third-round pick back in 2009 and signed for a cool two million dollars, more than several first round picks. Spending has revitalized the Royals farm system and has brought hope back to Kansas City.

That’s not the only way though. In lieu of money, an elite farm system can be built with a excellent scouting, excellent player development and a bit of luck . The following list, comprising of thirteen players – eight positional players able to fill out a full starting lineup and a five man rotation – proves that. Luckily for you, it’s even cheap enough that you can afford it with your 3.25 million dollar budget. In fact, you can buy yourself a nice car with what’s left over… if that’s allowed

Here is the lineup, with the bonuses paid to each player upon their signing as an amateur.

  1. Starling Marte – Centerfield – $85,000
  2. Oscar Taveras – Left Field – $145,000
  3. Jon Singleton – Right Field – $200,000
  4. Anthony Rizzo – First Base – $325,000
  5. Xander Bogaerts – Third Base – $410,000
  6. Eddie Rosario – Second Base – $200,000
  7. Andrelton Simmons – Shortstop – $522,000 (only player over 500k)
  8. Ryan Lavarnway – Catcher – $325,000

Starling Marte – Leading off is Pirates prospect Starling Marte. He’s not necessarily the prototypical leadoff hitter – he barely walks, which limits his on-base percentage – but he does offer a nice speed and power combination. He’s never hit under .300 in his pro career which is never bad for a leadoff hitter and helps sustain hi on-base percentage to a degree. Marte also provides an elite glove in centerfield with a plus-plus arm.

Oscar Taveras – Batting second is Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras.  Taveras has an elite hit tool – despite the unique hitch in his swing – a coveted ability for a hitter in the second hole.  He should also walk enough to post high on-base percentage numbers.  His frame should allow for above-average power potential as he develops.  Taveras also has the athleticism to play an acceptable left field.

Jon Singleton – Singleton, part of the Astros system,  is a monster of an offensive prospect.  He played his entire last season at age 19 in High-A ball, which is impressive in itself.  It’s even more impressive because he posted a .298/.392/.441 line.  That’s not even scratching his power potential either, which is well above-average.  Singleton has the bat for first base and has the chance to stick in right field, even if he’s a bit below average with his glove.

Anthony Rizzo – The new Cubs first baseman will man the cleanup spot for our club as well as first base. Although Rizzo had a disappointing debut for the Padres last year, he still has the skillset to put up prototypical first base stats, including solid average and on-base percentage, along with plenty of power.  Rizzo may not have a superstar ceiling, but he could still be very good and is a relatively safe prospect who’s major league ready.

Xander Bogaerts – Currently, this Red Sox prospect is listed as a shortstop, but I’ll go ahead and move him to third base.  He could end up at the hot corner in the future anyway and his bat should play regardless.  He only hit .260 last year as 18 year old in Low-A ball in the South Atlantic League, but he also showed decent plate discipline.  However, Bogaert’s calling card was his power.  His .249 ISO, fueled by an impressive sixteen homeruns, was historical taken into context with his age and level of competition

Eddie Rosario – Batting sixth is Twins prospect Eddie Rosario.  Rosario had a massive year last year for Elizabethon at age 19.  His .337 batting average was impressive but not as impressive as his absurd .333 ISO which included twenty-one homeruns. Reports are he will now be moved from the outfield to second base.

Andrelton Simmons – In the seven hole will be Braves prospect Adrelton Simmons.  Simmons put up a .759 OPS last year as a 21 year old in High-A ball.  That number is solid, but looks even better next to Simmons real strength, his plus-plus glove at shortstop.  Simmons will need to refine his baserunning skills.  He got caught stealing eighteen times with only twenty-six successful swipes last season.

Ryan Lavarnway – Batting eigth is the second prospect from the Red Sox on the list, catcher Ryan Lavarnway.  He doesn’t offer immense upside, but he has plenty of bat and has made strides to stick at catcher.  If is able to stick behind the plate, Lavarnway can be an above-average catcher for the next several years with a good amount of power for a backstop.  His strength is his floor; Lavarnway is major league ready right now.

Here is the rotation, with the bonuses paid to teach player upon their signing as an amateur.

  1. Matt Moore – $115,000
  2. Manny Banuelos – $112,500**
  3. Trevor May – $375,000
  4. Nathan Eovaldi – $250,000
  5. Chris Archer – $161,000

Matt Moore – Moore is the best pitching prospect in baseball and it’s not particularly close.  The Rays lefty has immense upside and is ready to contribute right now.  That’s evident in his performance last year as a rookie.  Here are the details of a start against the Yankees where he struck out eleven batters in five shutout innings.  In the playoffs, he pitched seven shutout innings against the Rangers in game one.  Even more telling is the fact that Moore and Strasburg are now being mentioned in the same breath.

Manny Banuelos – With Jesus Montero being traded to the Mariners, Banuelos has inherited the crown as the Yankees best prospect.  Banuelos is another lefty with top of the rotation potential.  He isn’t as major league ready as Moore and may end up as a #2 instead of a true ace, but Banuelos is a fairly safe prospect and any system would be thrilled to have him as their second best pitching prospect.

Trevor May -May, one of the Phillies top prospect, is an impressive specimen on the mound.  His 6’5 foot frame indicates a innings eating workhorse while his stuff – highlighted by a fastball that touches the mid 90’s with plenty of movement – screams top of the rotation starter.  He also may not be a true and he has longer to go to make the show than the pitchers ahead of him, but May is an impressive prospect in his own right.

Nathan Eovaldi – Eovaldi will have to add a third pitch to be a significant factor in the Dodgers rotation and he walks too many batters right now, but those are the negatives.  The positives are an impressive fastball in the low to mid 90’s as his go to pitch and the fact that he made the show at the ripe young age of 21.  He could end up in the bullpen, or as an starter with a nontraditional arsenal that slightly worse than a top of the rotation guy but better than a middle rotation innings eater.

Chris Archer – Archer, who has already pitched in triple-A for the Rays farm system, has great stuff.  He will need to learn to harness it better – he essentially walked an batter every other inning last year – but he has the stuff to be a #2 starter.  It’s more likely he ends up as a #3-4 guy if things go fairly well.  Ultimately, that’s a solid pitching prospect

So there you have it.  All the players on this list cost a total of 3.225 million dollars to sign.  Not a bad top 13 prospects to have, especially for a cash-strapped general manager as yourself.

**Footnote – This link explains that the Yankees signed four players, one of which was Banuelos, for $450,000.  I simply used the average to calculate his signing bonus at $112,500.


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