The Most "Valuable" Players
Most of the players on this list are young, cheap, and talented players. That explains why so many teams chase and/or hoard prospects and other young players who have shown promise; they provide the most value for a team. When a player hasn't reached arbitration and is making the league minimum for their first three years, they are at their physical peak, and they provide a lot of value to a team.
Once a player hits arbitration or free agency, regardless of his WAR total, his value on a per-dollar basis decreases significantly. Therefore, some of the most valuable players on the Cardinals last year were younger players who performed well while still in pre-arbitration or arbitration.
The most valuable player for the Cardinals last year was Lars Nootbaar. He cost the league minimum of $732,000 and he racked up 3.2 fWAR. The Cardinals paid about $228,000 per win above replacement for Lars last year. The next most valuable player was Nolan Gorman; St. Louis paid him just under $300,000 per win above replacement.
Brendan Donovan ($347,000 per win above replacement), JoJo Romero ($600,000 per win above replacement), and Zack Thompson ($659,000 per win above replacement) round out the five most valuable players for the Cardinals in 2023. Some of these players have been labeled as "untouchable" by the front office throughout this offseason and this past Trade Deadline, and we now see why.
Willson Contreras was the most valuable non-arbitration-eligible player for the Cardinals last year. He was paid $10 million dollars, and he accumulated 2.4 fWAR, placing his value at $4.17 million per win above replacement. Due to Nolan Arenado's deferrals and Colorado paying part of his salary still, he was the 19th most valuable player on the team.
Using a WAR-per-dollar calculation, we can see which players provided the most for the Cardinals last year for the lowest amount of money. The team's young core provided the most value, but even their older, more expensive players provided the team with decent value based on their salaries.