The 25 most underpaid MLB players

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By NICK SELBE
PointAfter

As the lone American professional sports organization without a salary cap, the amount of money players can earn in MLB is virtually limitless. In total, 61 players have signed contracts worth at least $100 million, including seven free agents who signed this offseason. But, as several teams who signed past-their-prime free agents can attest (Albert Pujols, anyone?), dolling out nine-figure contracts often leaves organizations saddled with overpaid players.

On the flip side, other players grossly outperform their salaries and become bargains for their clubs. With this in mind, PointAfter took a look back at the 2015 season to find the league's most underpaid players.

SEE ALSO: Which MLB ballpark is the best (and worst)?

To do this, we took into consideration all players who were worth at least 2.0 wins above replacement (WAR) last season, according to Baseball-Reference (an average full-time starting position player or starting pitcher is worth about 2.0 WAR, according to Fangraphs). We then divided each player's 2015 salary by his 2015 WAR to find which players cost the least per 1.0 WAR.

Most of the players on this list are team-controlled and have not had the opportunity to test free agency, meaning they probably won't be underpaid for much longer. We'll count down the 25 most underpaid players of 2015 until we get to one budding star who was paid less than $70,000 per 1.0 WAR.

#25. George Springer

2015 salary: $512,900
2015 WAR: 3.8
Cost per WAR: $134,974

Despite missing 60 games in 2015, George Springer ranked third among Astros position players with 3.8 WAR. After sitting out virtually all of July and August, Springer posted a .304/.373/.464 slash line in September and October, showing no ill effects from the right wrist injury that sidelined him for nearly 40 percent of the regular season. Springer isn't eligible for arbitration until 2017 and won't hit free agency until 2020, meaning Houston has at least four more seasons of control over its 2011 first-round pick.

#24. Odubel Herrera

Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

2015 salary: $507,500
2015 WAR: 3.8
Cost per WAR: $133,553

Odubel Herrera signed with the Texas Rangers as an international free agent in 2008, when he was just 16 years old. He was selected by the Phillies in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft and finally made his Major League debut in 2015, posting a slash line of .297/.344/.418 and playing strong defense in center field. For a player with such little power, Herrera's 24 percent strikeout rate is concerning, but as he enters his age 24 season, he should make better contact and give the lowly Phillies a nice building block for the future.

#23. Carlos Martinez

2015 salary: $520,000
2015 WAR: 4.0
Cost per WAR: $130,000

After spending much of 2013 and 2014 as a relief pitcher, Carlos Martinez burst onto the scene in 2015 as an emerging ace. He struck out 184 batters in 179.2 innings but missed the Cardinals' postseason run with a right shoulder strain. The injury did not require surgery, and the right-hander should be ready for Opening Day. Martinez is under club control for the next four seasons and won't become a free agent until 2020.

#22. Miguel Sano

2015 salary: $263,456
2015 WAR: 2.1
Cost per WAR: $125,455

After a much-hyped minor league career, Miguel Sano finally made his big league debut in 2015 and proved to be well worth the wait. Lauded for his power after slugging .564 in the minors, the 22-year-old mashed 18 home runs in 80 games last season with a .530 slugging percentage. His 35.5 strikeout rate should dip as he matures, and his 15.8 walk rate demonstrates his good feel for the strike zone.

Sano spent the majority of his minor league career at third base but was primarily a DH for Minnesota in 2015. Wherever he plays in 2016, expect him to hit home runs in bunches at a discounted price as the Twins hope to return to the postseason for the first time since 2010.

#21. Cody Anderson

Jason Miller/Getty Images

2015 salary: $296,734
2015 WAR: 2.4
Cost per WAR: $123,639

As the Indians' No. 5 starter, it's easy for Cody Anderson to get overlooked in favor of his four rotation mates. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer combined to average 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 2015. In his rookie season, Anderson averaged a measly 4.3. His batting average on balls in play allowed of .237 indicates he benefited from some good luck last season, but he was still able to keep the ball in the yard, with just 0.89 home runs allowed per nine innings. Anderson averaged 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors — nothing eye-popping, but enough to suggest that he should Major League strikeout totals increase with more experience.

#20. Franklin Gutierrez

2015 salary: $285,642
2015 WAR: 2.4
Cost per WAR: $119,018

In 2009 and 2010, his first two seasons in Seattle, Franklin Gutierrez posted a combined 8.8 WAR, winning a Gold Glove in 2010 and playing in 305 games. His promising career was derailed by a litany of injuries that limited him to just 173 games from 2011 to 2013, and he missed the entire 2014 season while dealing with a gastrointestinal issue.

The Mariners signed him to a minor league contract in 2015, and after a successful 48-game stint in Triple A in which he hit .317/.402/.500 while playing left field, Gutierrez finally returned to the big leagues on June 24. He mashed 15 home runs in 59 games — three short of his career high set in 2009 — and will contend with Nori Aoki and Seth Smith for at-bats in 2016.

#19. Jacob deGrom

2015 salary: $556,875
2015 WAR: 4.7
Cost per WAR: $118,484

Coming off a breakout first season in which he was named the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom was simply sensational in his sophomore season. The hard-throwing righty made his first All-Star appearance and posted a stellar 5.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In a rotation that features fellow young studs Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and, eventually, a healthy Zack Wheeler, the Mets have no shortage of young, cheap starting pitching. Set to turn 28 in June, deGrom won't hit free agency until 2020.

#18. Xander Bogaerts

2015 salary: $543,000
2015 WAR: 4.6
Cost per WAR: $118,043

Xander Bogaerts had an interesting start to his career. After making his big league debut in 2013 and appearing in just 18 regular season games, Bogaerts emerged as Boston's starting third baseman during the postseason and hit .296/.412/.481 in 12 games as the Red Sox won the World Series. That led to massive expectations heading into the 2014 season, but the then-21-year-old struggled mightily as he adjusted to being an everyday player.

Things finally clicked for Bogaerts in 2015, as he hit .320/.355/.421 while playing 156 games at shortstop. He was the seventh-best defensive shortstop in the game last year, according to Fangraphs, and gives the Red Sox long-term stability at a premier defensive position, as Bogaerts doesn't hit free agency until 2020.

#17. Gerrit Cole

2015 salary: $531,000
2015 WAR: 4.5
Cost per WAR: $118,000

After a promising first two seasons in the bigs, Gerrit Cole enjoyed a breakthrough 2015 campaign. The former No. 1 overall pick finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting and made his first All-Star team. Cole will be arbitration-eligible in 2017, at which point his price tag will start to climb dramatically, but the Buccos will still be able to enjoy elite ace-level production for a fraction of the price in 2016.

#16. Matt Duffy

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2015 salary: $509,000
2015 WAR: 4.9
Cost per WAR: $103,878

After being taken in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, Matt Duffy turned in three solid yet unspectacular minor league seasons. He played three infield positions and had a very good slash line of .304/.387/.413, but had little to no power (13 home runs in 248 games) and a slight frame, with a listed height-weight combo of 6-foot-2, 170 pounds.

Following a brief 34-game stint with the big league club in 2014, Duffy came out of nowhere to seize the starting third base job in 2015, playing in 149 games and hitting .295/.334/.428. His .336 batting average on balls in play is probably unsustainable, and he could improve upon his 4.9 percent walk rate. But Duffy played good defense last season, and his percentage of hard-hit balls suggests that he has some untapped power potential in his future.

#15. Kevin Pillar

2015 salary: $512,000
2015 WAR: 5.2
Cost per WAR: $98,462

With an OPS+ of 96 in 2015, Kevin Pillar was slightly below average at the plate. Much of his value lies in his glove, as he was among the league's best defensive outfielders. Pillar made plenty of phenomenal plays last season and should continue to show up on the highlight reel in 2016.

#14. Ender Inciarte

2015 salary: $513,000
2015 WAR: 5.3
Cost per WAR: $96,792

Signed at age 16 as an international free agent in 2008, Ender Inciarte broke into the Majors in 2014. He posted a 3.7-WAR season in 118 games and finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. After he built upon his performance as a sophomore in 2015, the Diamondbacks promptly traded him to the Braves as part of a motherlode haul for Shelby Miller, giving Atlanta a cheap, productive center fielder who won't hit free agency until 2020.

#13. Michael Conforto

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

2015 salary: $202,445
2015 WAR: 2.1
Cost per WAR: $96,402

The Mets picked Michael Conforto with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft, then watched as he hit .308/.382/.471 across three levels in two minor league seasons. He made his Major League debut on July 24 and became the everyday left fielder, helping the team reach the World Series. A full season of Conforto in the middle of the lineup should help the Mets score more runs to support their strong pitching rotation.

#12. John Lackey

2015 salary: $507,500
2015 WAR: 5.7
Cost per WAR: $89,035

After making just over half a million dollars in 2015, John Lackey signed a two-year, $32 million contract with the Cubs in December, so he clearly no longer qualifies as being underpaid. He appears on this list as the result of a stipulation in his previous contract that mandated he play for the league minimum in 2015 if he missed significant time because of a pre-existing elbow injury. Lackey missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, which activated that clause.

Still, the Cardinals enjoyed a strong bounce-back campaign from the veteran last season, who posted his highest single-season WAR since 2007 and topped 200 innings pitched for the first time since 2010.

#11. Sonny Gray

2015 salary: $512,500
2015 WAR: 5.8
Cost per WAR: $88,362

The A's suffered through a miserable 2015 season, but Sonny Gray served as one of the few bright spots. In his third season in the big leagues, Gray made his first All-Star team and finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. The 27-year-old will be eligible for arbitration in 2017 and won't be cheap much longer. If Oakland's struggles persist, Gray might emerge as an extremely enticing trade piece.

#10. Nolan Arenado

2015 salary: $512,500
2015 WAR: 5.8
Cost per WAR: $88,362

Playing in Colorado brings a certain level of anonymity to a player, but the Rockies appear to have a budding star in Nolan Arenado. In three big league seasons, Arenado has amassed 13.6 WAR and won three Gold Glove Awards. Last season, he made his first All-Star team, won the Silver Slugger Award and finished eighth in NL MVP voting, leading the NL with 42 home runs and 130 RBI.

Arenado has made jaw-dropping plays his entire career, like this one from his rookie season. His bat finally came around in 2015, and even though he won't hit free agency until 2020, he should be due for a big payday much sooner than that.

#9. Mookie Betts

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

2015 salary: $514,500
2015 WAR: 6.0
Cost per WAR: $85,750

In 52 games during the 2014 season, Mookie Betts flashed star potential. The 5-foot-9 speedster flashed legit power potential in the minors as well as good plate discipline, drawing more walks (174) than strikeouts (137) in his minor league career.

Betts struggled out of the gates in 2015, hitting .246/.304/.389 in May and April. He caught fire from that point on and hit .315/.361/.525 the rest of the way, with 13 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Betts has the look of a future star and won't be eligible for arbitration until 2018, giving the Red Sox two more years of All-Star caliber production in center field for a fraction of what he would get on the open market.

#8. Carlos Correa

2015 salary: $330,013
2015 WAR: 4.1
Cost per WAR: $80,491

As far as No. 1 overall picks go, few in recent years have had as much hype as Carlos Correa. The youngster out of Puerto Rico drew comparisons to Alex Rodriguez shortly after being drafted, and after quickly working his way through the minor leagues, Correa made his Major League debut on June 8 of last season.

The 20-year-old made an immediate impact for the suddenly-competitive Astros, hitting .279/.345/.512 in 99 games with 22 home runs. His performance earned him the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and his unique blend of power and speed at the shortstop position make the comparisons to A-Rod seem reasonable at the early stages of his career.

#7. Kris Bryant

2015 salary: $471,448
2015 WAR: 5.9
Cost per WAR: $79,906

The Cubs expected a quick rise to the big leagues for Kris Bryant when they drafted him No. 2 overall in 2013, but even they must have been pleasantly surprised with how quickly the 23-year-old adjusted to his new role. Bryant hit .275/.369/.488 with 62 extra base hits in his first taste of the Major Leagues. The 2015 NL Rookie of the Year struck out in 30.6 percent of his plate appearances, only slightly worse than his minor league K rate of 26.6 percent. If he can cut down on the whiffs, he'll become an even more fearsome force in the middle of the Cubs lineup.

#6. Ketel Marte

Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

2015 salary: $180,259
2015 WAR: 2.3
Cost per WAR: $78,373

After signing with the Mariners as an international free agent in 2010, Ketel Marte made his big league debut on July 31 last season at 21 years old. In 57 games, the rookie sported an impressive .283/.351/.402 slash line with good plate discipline. His speed is his biggest asset at this point, and Seattle has him under club control until 2021.

#5. Manny Machado

2015 salary: $548,000
2015 WAR: 7.0
Cost per WAR: $78,286

Manny Machado has been making highlight-reel plays since his debut in 2012, so it's hard to believe he's still just 23 years old. After missing nearly half of the 2014 season due to injury, Machado played in every game in 2015 and earned his second All-Star bid. He hit .286/.359/.502 — all career bests — and finished fourth in the AL MVP voting.

After flashing doubles power in 2013, Machado crushed 35 home runs in 2015, more than doubling his career total heading into the season. The Orioles have already expressed interest in inking him to a contract extension, and he won't hit free agency until 2019.

#4. Dallas Keuchel

2015 salary: $524,500
2015 WAR: 7.2
Cost per WAR: $72,847

It's a credit to the patience of the Houston Astros that Dallas Keuchel was able to emerge as a bona fide ace. In five minor league seasons, Keuchel fit the profile of a crafty lefty. He didn't have an overpowering fastball and struck out just 5.9 batters per nine innings, but he showed great control (1.9 BB/9) and didn't give up the long ball (0.6 HR/9).

His first two seasons in the big leagues were lackluster — he had a 5.20 ERA in 239 combined innings from 2012 to 2013 — before putting it all together in 2014. Keuchel took another step forward in 2015, beating out David Price for the AL Cy Young Award and finishing fifth in MVP voting. The Astros appear interested in singing the lefty to a contract extension before he hits free agency in 2019.

#3. Kevin Kiermaier

2015 salary: $513,800
2015 WAR: 7.3
Cost per WAR: $70,384

In an era when teams are valuing defense more than ever before, Kevin Kiermaier is the poster boy for the cause. He's become known for his acrobatic catches in center field, and his game-changing defense has proven enough to compensate for his so-so offensive skill set.

Kiermaier doesn't walk much, with a 5.2 career walk rate in 260 games, and has limited power. Still, his 2015 OPS+ of 97 suggests he's just a tick below league average, which is more than enough justification to keep his glove in the lineup everyday.

#2. A.J. Pollock

2015 salary: $519,500
2015 WAR: 7.4
Cost per WAR: $70,203

The Diamondbacks went all-in this offseason in hopes of building a contender. However new acquisitions Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller perform, Arizona will only go as far as their two homegrown stars — Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock — will take them.

Each was worth at least 7.0 WAR last season, and Pollock played at a much cheaper price. The 27-year-old made his first All-Star appearance and won his first career Gold Glove Award. He'll reach free agency in 2019, giving Arizona at least a three-year window to contend.

#1. Francisco Lindor

2015 salary: $316,147
2015 WAR: 4.6
Cost per WAR: $68,728

There are plenty who believe Franciso Lindor — not Carlos Correa — is the game's best young shortstop. Two primary reasons exist for why Correa gets more attention: the Astros made the postseason in 2015, and Lindor took some time adjusting to Major League competition.

Lindor hit .238/.271/.320 in his first 30 games from June 14 to July 21, during which time Correa hit .295/.333/.529 in 31 games and established himself as baseball's brightest young star. From there, Lindor quietly (and quickly) morphed into a beast, hitting .347/.389/.556 over his final 69 games, with 10 home runs and 11 stolen bases. Correa projects to have more power in the long run, and Lindor is superior defensively. Both appear poised for successful careers, but in 2015, the answer is clear — no player had more bang for your buck than Lindor.

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