We're getting to the point in the Major League schedule where we take a closer look at the MVP races and have our usual knock-down, drag-out debates over what the "value" equation ought to entail. Last week, our own Mike Lupica took an excellent, in-depth look at Mookie Betts and the American League MVP contenders.
But, for the purposes of this exercise, let's dig into actual dollars and cents. In the real world, we typically define "value" as what something is worth relative to what we paid. It is the mental metric that guides every coupon-cutting, garage-sale-shopping cheapskate you've ever known and loved.
So what we like to do in this space each year is take a look at the baseball players who have best exemplified that particular definition of value. The guys who have provided the biggest bang per buck.
To do this cleanly, we take a player's FanGraphs-calculated Wins Above Replacement mark (through Tuesday), multiply it by an industry estimate of the value of a win (we're going with $8 million here) and subtract the guy's actual salary from that total to come up with his Surplus Value.
Here are the 20 guys who have put the most V in MVP.
20. Wil Myers, Padres
Surplus Value: $29.9M
Two trades and a litany of wrist issues later, Myers, at age 25, has broken out as the centerpiece-type talent he was prescribed to be. He has a .267/.343/.473 slash, 23 homers and 72 RBI, good numbers to take into his first round of arbitration eligibility this winter.
19. Brandon Crawford, Giants
Surplus Value: $30M
One of the few legitimate All-Star snubs this summer, Crawford has continued to provide the NL's best glovework with strong offensive output (107 OPS+) for such a premium position and a cost-controlled contract that runs through 2021.
18. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Surplus Value: $30.2M
The man who scales walls and tarps in pursuit of foul pop-ups is, for the second straight year, a legitimate MVP candidate and a nice investment on the part of a Cubs team that signed Rizzo to a seven-year, $41 million extension in the midst of the 2013 season.
17. Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Surplus Value: $30.4M
The Nats' first choices for second base were Ben Zobrist and Brandon Phillips, but Zobrist signed with the Cubs and Phillips rejected a trade. So the Nats pivoted to Murphy, not knowing, of course, if his late-2015 power binge was the real deal. We can safely say it was, as Murphy hit the midweek mark carrying a league-best .604 slugging percentage an .993 OPS in the first of a three-year, $37.5M deal.
16. Corey Kluber, Indians
Surplus Value: $30.5M
With a 150 ERA+ and league-best 3.08 Fielding Independent Pitching mark, the Klubot has a legit shot at his second Cy Young in three seasons, and the Indians continue to reap the benefits of his late bloom. Before he signed his extension with the Indians, Kluber wasn't even scheduled to be arbitration-eligible until after his age-29 season in 2015, so the team had an awful lot of leverage to work with. Kluber wound up signing for five years and $38.5M, the total value of which is only about $4M more than the average annual value of Zack Greinke's deal with the D-backs.
15. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
Surplus Value: $31.5M
Bradley will be a first-time arbitration-eligible player this winter. In the meantime, he's made good on his second-half surge at the plate last season to become one of the game's more productive center fielders, with an .864 OPS and 21 homers.
14. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
Surplus Value: $32.2M
Another first-time arb-eligible for the Red Sox this coming winter, Bogaerts is a 23-year-old kid who deserves a ton of credit for the work he put in to prove he can stick at shortstop. his bat has really blossomed this year, with a .310/.367/.451 slash, 15 homers and 26 doubles.
13. George Springer, Astros
Surplus Value: $32.3M
Springer's late-May move to the leadoff spot helped spark a midseason surge that, at this point, is the only reason the Astros are still mathematically in the playoff hunt. He's got a .261/.360/.470 slash with 25 homers and 24 doubles, and he's an impact defender in right. We could eventually see more of him in center now that Carlos Gomez is out of the picture.
12. Carlos Correa, Astros
Surplus Value: $33.9M
He was a popular preseason MVP pick on the heels of his run to the Rookie of the Year a year ago, and that hasn't quite panned out. But there's still a lot to love about a 125 OPS+ and what is likely to be another 20-homer year from a 21-year-old shortstop. Correa's still more than two full seasons away from arbitration-eligibility.
11. Adam Eaton, White Sox
Surplus Value: $34.1M
Eaton had to move away from center field to tap into his true value. The shift to right field has revealed him to be a game-changing defender. Despite playing in the corner, Eaton leads all outfielders in putouts (330) by a significant margin and he's compiled 22 defensive runs saved in right.
10. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
Surplus Value: $36.4M
The Marlins made him a long-term offer last winter, but of course Fernandez is represented by Scott Boras and, at that point, had yet to log a 30-start season as a result of 2014 Tommy John. So it was no surprise negotiations didn't go very far. Doubtful they'll go very far this year, either, as Fernandez could be the key pitcher available in what is shaping up to be a ridiculous post-2018 free-agent class. In the meantime, Fernandez, who took a 133 ERA+ into Wednesday's start against the Royals, is, as advertised, the ace of a Fish club that has jumped into Wild Card contention, though the Marlins are going to continue to be careful with his innings in the home stretch.
9. Francisco Lindor, Indians
Surplus Value: $37.9M
His middle-infield mate, Jason Kipnis, very nearly made this list (he ranked 21st, for the record) and has been around longer, but there's no denying Lindor is the signature star of this first-place Indians team. He's a dynamic defender who has had a consistent season (.311/.357/.449) at the plate. He isn't eligible for arbitration until after '18, though the Indians have a long history of locking up their young stalwarts when they can.
8. Manny Machado, Orioles
Surplus Value: $39M
Another potential member of what could be an epic post-2018 free-agent class, the 23-year-old Machado has taken another big step forward in his emergence as one of the game's top two-way players. He has a .301/.356/.549 slash with 28 homers and 37 doubles while splitting his time between third and short this season. Entering his second year of arbitration, he's about to get a big price bump.
7. Mike Trout, Angels
Surplus Value: $39.1M
Trout actually ranked in the exact same spot on this list one year ago, despite making $10M less than he does now. So that's just a way of demonstrating that the now-25-year-old Trout is holding his value very well, even as the more expensive portion of his $144.5M extension begins to kick in (he'll make $20.1M next year, for the record). You just wonder if Trout is headed toward yet another second-place finish in the MVP voting on account of not playing for a playoff club.
6. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
Surplus Value: $39.6M
The A's decided to deal Donaldson before his rising arbitration value exceeded the value of his production -- and yeah, about that. The reigning MVP has a .955 OPS and 28 homers and is once again a candidate for the AL's top individual honor. And though he had a 760-percent increase in salary from 2014 to '15 ($500K to $4.3M) and a 172-percent raise from '15 to '16, Donaldson, at age 30, continues to deliver performance that far outweighs his paycheck.
5. Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Surplus Value: $41.9M
You take a 2.61 ERA and pre-arb-eligible contract, mix in three homers (the most by a Mets pitcher since Walt Terrell in 1983), and you've got the most valuable pitcher in the game, according to this little exercise. The Mets called up Thor in May of last season, so he's scheduled to reach arbitration eligibility after 2017.
4. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Surplus Value: $46.6M
Just for the sake of context, when I ran these calculations a week ago, Betts was No. 1 on the list. So at this point, we're definitely in the cream of the budget-friendly crop. Betts has remarkable bat speed that gives him power potential you wouldn't expect from a dude listed a 5-foot-9, 180 pounds. He has tapped into that power potential in a big way this season, in particular this month, and his .313/.353/.555 slash and 28 homers, combined with great defense, make him an even more viable MVP candidate than a certain 40-year-old DH having the greatest farewell season of all-time. Betts is the real deal, and, for now, he comes real cheap, as he won't be arbitration-eligible until after '17.
3. Jose Altuve, Astros
Surplus Value: $50.9M
Altuve, who last week notched his 1,000th hit at just 26 years old, also provides outsized production for his 5-foot-6 physical frame, so it's fitting that he outperforms his paycheck, too. The Astros locked him up to an insanely team-friendly four-year, $12.5M contract midway through 2013. At the time, he had a career .284/.325/.377 in 290 Major League games. In the time since, that slash is .330/.374/.472 in 496 games. So Houston certainly made a wily buy and still holds options of $6M and $6.5M on Altuve for 2018 and '19, respectively.
2. Corey Seager, Dodgers
Surplus Value: $53.1M
This kid is a virtual lock for NL Rookie of the Year, and he's got a darn good shot at NL MVP, too, especially if the aforementioned Rizzo and the next guy on this list split votes (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki are the only players to win both Rookie of the Year and MVP). Unless the Dodgers lock him up (and Lord knows they have the financial means to do so), Seager is still two full seasons away from a legit raise. This is a 22-year-old shortstop with a 147 OPS+ who already has 22 homers and 35 doubles this year. Crazy good.
1. Kris Bryant, Cubs
Surplus Value: $53.8M
Remember when the Cubs delayed Bryant's callup a few days last season to delay his free agency? Good call. Rizzo and Bryant have very similar offensive numbers this year (a .298/.396/.560 slash with 25 homers and 37 doubles for Rizzo, and a .300/.392/.574 slash with 33 homers and 29 doubles for Bryant). Voters are going to look for tie-breakers, and the WAR tally, which obviously impacts the pair's respective standing on this list, could contribute. Bryant is still more than a full season away from arbitration-eligiblity, so he is the bargain among bargains. For now.
--Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.