Who are the most underpaid athletes in Valley sports?
Sometimes, statistics don’t match the reality of an athlete’s bank account.
The list of the world’s highest-paid athletes, released by Forbes last week, gets the conversation going about athlete compensation. But who are some of the underpaid athletes in Arizona?
We know the Devin Bookers and Chandler Joneses of the world are well compensated for their production in their respective sports, while others either burst out unexpectedly or are on team-friendly deals early in their careers.
Here’s a look at which players on each of the big-four Valley sports teams are giving their employers the best bargain:
Cardinals: Budda Baker, S
With all due respect to Kyler Murray’s great first year at quarterback, it’s the Pro Bowler Baker who recorded 147 tackles in 2019, fourth-most in the entire NFL. He also provided six passes defensed, 10 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 2019 as the Cardinals used his versatility well in the first year under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
So what’d that earn him? A second-round pick in 2017, Baker will be a $2.2 million hit against the cap in 2020, which is a minuscule 1.1% of the team’s salary cap. That’s less than kicker Zane Gonzalez’s cap hit of $3.3 million.
Talk about bang for buck. It’s also why Baker’s free agency after this coming season will be a key storyline if he’s not extended.
— Kevin Zimmerman
Suns: Mikal Bridges, F
Bridges is one of the best young perimeter defenders in the league, and once the Suns get out of the NBA’s basement, expect some All-Defense appearances to come his way.
After a rough shooting stretch to start the 2019-20 season, Bridges shot 38.2% from three-point range over his last 47 games. He continues to grow into his offensive game and is a truly impactful two-way wing, a type of role player that is extremely sought after.
He makes $4.3 million next season, and the summer of 2021 that includes Kelly Oubre Jr. becoming an unrestricted free agent is also when Bridges is eligible for an extension off his rookie deal.
— Kellan Olson
Diamondbacks: Ketel Marte, 2B/CF
Breaking out with a 2017 season that saw him hit two triples in the NL Wild Card game, Marte got a five-year, $24 million extension before the 2018 season. Even thought back then to be a team-friendly deal, it’s become that and then some after his MVP-worthy 2019 season.
Last year, Marte hit .329 with 32 home runs and 92 RBIs along with a .981 OPS. He was an All-Star and finished fourth in MVP voting. He’s only 26 years old.
— Matt Layman
Coyotes: Conor Garland, F
Not only does Garland produce at a rate well beyond his pay grade, he’s the lowest paid player on the Coyotes and is leading the team in goals for 2019-20.
In fact, his $775,000 per season for 22 goals is the lowest cost-per-goal in the entire NHL among players not on their entry-level deals, per CapFriendly. Even including rookie deals, Garland is third in the NHL in that stat.
Garland had 22 goals in 68 games before the coronavirus paused the 2019-20 season. He has 35 goals in 115 NHL games over two seasons.