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Jose Fernandez and Bryce Harper have company: the NL All-Minimum team

Which NL teams are getting the most bang for their buck by getting impact production from players earning league-minimum salaries?

Jose Fernandez enters 2014 with Cy Young talent and a $500,000 salary
Jose Fernandez enters 2014 with Cy Young talent and a $500,000 salary
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I took a look at the best bargains in the American League. The inspiration here is to identify which teams and/or divisions are doing the best job of developing impact talent that can be productive at league minimum salaries. Now it's time to put the National League under the microscope.

In case you missed the methodology from week, I'll briefly review it. These players all play at or near the league minimum and aren't arbitration eligible until 2015 at the earliest. I used the FanGraphs Standings page, which displays projections that are a 50/50 blend of Steamer and ZiPS, to calculate a WAR total for each player on the All-Mininum Team roster with the following playing time allowances:

  • All starting position players are given 525 plate-appearances
  • All bench position players are given 320 plate-appearances
  • All starting pitchers throw 180 innings
  • All relief pitchers throw 65 innings, except the long man (listed last) who throws 100 innings
  • All players had to appear in a major league game in 2013

With the absence of the DH, I decided to carry an extra bench player and distribute the DH's at-bats among the bench players. While it may be unlikely that a team's fifth outfielder receives 320 plate appearances, keep in mind that the point is to establish a baseline for the sake of comparison. From the AL to the NL, the only difference in projected WAR applies to bench position players as the AL bench players were only allotted 200 plate appearance. Otherwise, all totals are comparable between this post my previous one last week. Now, let's get to the talent.

National League East
Lineup WAR Rotation WAR
C Travis d'Arnaud, NYM 3.3 RHP Jose Fernandez, MIA 3.7
1B Evan Gattis, ATL 1.5 RHP Julio Teheran, ATL 1.6
2B Anthony Rendon, WAS 2.1 RHP Mike Minor, ATL 2.0
3B Cody Asche, PHI 1.7 RHP Henderson Alvarez, MIA 2.3
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL 3.4 RHP Tanner Roark, WAS 2.2
OF Domonic Brown, PHI 1.9
OF Bryce Harper, WAS 3.5 Bullpen
OF Christian Yelich, MIA 2.5 LHP Alex Wood, ATL 1.0
RHP Carter Capps, MIA 0.7
Bench RHP Gonzalez Germen, NYM 0.3
C Christian Bethancourt, ATL 0.7 RHP Vic Black, NYM 0.1
SS Tyler Pastornicky, ATL 0.7 LHP Jake Diekman, PHI 0.2
INF Wilmer Flores, NYM 0.9 RHP David Carpenter, ATL 0.2
OF Marcell Ozuna, MIA 1.1 RHP Jenrry Mejia, NYM 1.2
3B Ed Lucas, MIA 0.2
Team WAR Total: 39.0

The National League East has talent at the league minimum, and some it is significant. Players like Andrelton Simmons, Bryce Harper and Jose Fernandez are among the best young talents in the game, with players like Travis d'Arnaud and Christian Yelich not far behind. But while there are some serious names here, there's a noticeable lack of impact depth from young players, as attempting to fill out the roster was quite a challenge.

Atlanta seems to be in the best position to capitalize on talent at the league minimum. With one of the game's premier player development track records, they have both impact talent and depth. On the flip side, the Phillies are devoid of such players, as they continue to overpay for production. The Nationals aren't too far ahead as Bryce Harper is their only true impact youngster. Miami and New York have some nice pieces (d'Arnaud and Fernandez), but also question marks. These teams will hope that a few more players emerge from the minors to support their budding young stars.

National League Central
Lineup WAR Rotation WAR
C Welington Castillo, CHC 2.8 RHP Gerrit Cole, PIT 2.1
1B Anthony Rizzo, CHC 2.9 RHP Lance Lynn, STL 2.4
2B Matt Carpenter, STL *3.5 RHP Michael Wacha, STL 2.4
3B Todd Frazier, CIN 2.8 RHP Tony Cingrani, CIN 2.7
SS Jean Segura, MIL 2.2 RHP Shelby Miller, STL 2.1
OF Starling Marte, PIT 3.0
OF Khris Davis, MIL 1.5 Bullpen
OF Billy Hamilton, CIN 0.9 RHP Trevor Rosenthal, STL 1.1
RHP Brandon Kintzler, MIL 0.4
Bench RHP Carlos Martinez, STL 0.7
C Devin Mesoraco, CIN 1.5 LHP Will Smith, MIL 0.4
SS Zack Cozart, CIN 1.2 LHP Justin Wilson, PIT 0.2
2B Kolten Wong, STL 1.1 RHP Seth Maness, STL 0.2
OF Junior Lake, CHC 0.5 RHP Wily Peralta, MIL 0.8
CI Matt Adams, STL 1.2
*Positional Adjustment Team WAR Total: 40.6

As one of baseball's most competitive divisions, it's no surprise that the National League Central boasts a lot of young talent and much of that cheap talent comes to the division by way of St. Louis. The Cardinals continue to churn out productive major leaguers and while it's easy to think of their pitching talent, additions like Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong make their roster perhaps the most enviable in baseball. With a healthy Oscar Taveras right around the corner, things only look better for St. Louis in 2014 and beyond.

The rest of the division lags behind, but there are plenty of productive players at the minimum to go around. The Cubs can boast some nice position players, Cincinnati has Tony Cingrani to go along with a developing core of position players and the Brewers also have some key pieces in place, most notably shortstop Jean Segura. Pittsburgh has impact talent in the here and now, specifically Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte, while having more on the way soon in Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco. If you're a fan of young, up-and-coming talent, keep your eyes on the National League Central.

National League West
Lineup WAR Rotation WAR
C Wilin Rosario, COL 3.4 LHP Patrick Corbin, ARI 3.0
1B Brandon Belt, SFG 3.0 RHP Juan Nicasio, COL 2.8
2B Jedd Gyorko, SDP 2.9 LHP Wade Miley, ARI 2.2
3B Nolan Arenado, COL 2.3 RHP Andrew Cashner, SDP 2.3
SS Didi Gregorius, ARI 1.6 RHP Tyler Chatwood, COL 2.3
OF Yasiel Puig, LAD 3.9
OF A.J. Pollock, ARI 2.5 Bullpen
OF Corey Dickerson, COL 1.5 RHP Addison Reed, ARI 0.9
RHP Rex Brothers, COL 1.1
Bench RHP Nick Vincent, SDP 0.3
C Tim Federowicz, LAD 1.0 RHP Burch Smith, SDP 0.3
MI Chris Owings, ARI 0.9 LHP Paco Rodriguez, LAD 0.4
OF Scott Van Slyke, LAD 0.5 RHP Adam Ottavino, COL 0.6
2B Josh Rutledge, COL 1.1 LHP Robbie Erlin, SDP 1.1
OF Tony Campana, ARI 0.5
Team WAR Total: 42.4

Exercises like this are valuable because it can lead to new discoveries. I was surprised when breaking down the National League West to see how much good, young, cheap talent the Rockies have. It's easy to sleep on teams like Colorado, but we have to acknowledge the surplus value they're getting out of guys like Wilin Rosario, Nolan Arenado, Juan Nicasio, Tyler Chatwood, Rex Brothers and more. It seems like we've been told for the last few years that the Rockies were a threat to be taken seriously and while it hasn't worked out that way as of late, it would be foolish to discount their young core, which will make a combined salary that's roughly half of what someone will pay Bronson Arroyo this year.

The Dodgers have the biggest impact player in the division with Yasiel Puig, but there's little behind him at the minimum (although I'm sure the Dodgers could care less). Arizona has done a nice job of utilizing a number of guys and while Patrick Corbin is the only true standout, there's some productive, valuable depth on that roster while they await the arrival of Archie Bradley. The Giants and Padres are lacking similar depth. While they can boast Brandon Belt and Jedd Gyorko, respectively, there's not a ton to get excited about.

Before getting started with National League All-Minimum teams, I had been curious to see if the National League had more young talent than the American League. We've heard for years that the American League has more veteran players than the National League, thanks in large part to the designated hitter. Through this study, however, we don't see a large discrepancy between the two leagues. The AL East is noticeably shallower than the other divisions, but that's best explained by the large payrolls in the division, rendering talent at the league minimum less important.

The teams that are developing their own homegrown talent and utilizing the three years of minimum salary at a high rate are getting the best possible return on their investment. Some franchises contend regularly with middle-level payrolls by collecting and employing the types of players above with great frequency. Others have the payroll to blow the doors off with tremendous free agent salaries. Still, there teams that fall into neither category as they misuse their resources or simply have so few of them that contention is nearly outside the realm of expectation.

Going forward, I'm intrigued by identifying which teams have the highest incentive to utilize players at the league minimum salary and whose minor league systems are capitalizing on the best bargains in baseball. While this was a fun exercise, I'm excited to see how the principles can be applied. Along the way, hopefully I've uncovered some trends while also providing a glimpse of the most exciting young players and teams in the game. There's clearly a lot of talent to get excited about heading into 2014.

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Jeff Wiser is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score and co-author of Inside the 'Zona, an analytical look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. He occasionally blogs about craft beer at BeerGraphs and you can follow him on Twitter @OutfieldGrass24.