central intelligence

Best great-bargain players

Every AL Central team has a payroll of at least $85 million, and in the Tigers' case, it's nearly twice that. But even with all the big salaries, it's important for teams to find valuable players at bargain prices. Here are the division's most valuable players, among those earning $1 million or less, through the first five weeks of 2014:

Indians: In his third full season, Zach McAllister has gained confidence in his changeup, making his fastball even more effective. He's allowed only one home run in 36 innings, and his 3.18 ERA shows the righthander may be on the verge of delivering All-Star performance for a minimum-salary ($500,000) price. (Runner-up: ­Lonnie Chisenhall.)

Royals: Center fielder Lorenzo Cain, with his $546,000 salary, was a runaway winner in this department, batting .360 over the first 14 games, until he went on the disabled list with a strained groin. Jarrod Dyson, earning $530,000, stepped in and batted .317 while Cain was out. (Runner-up: Yordano Ventura.)

Tigers: He's only made three starts, but already Drew Smyly is showing why the Tigers felt comfortable trading away Doug Fister last winter. The $520,000 lefthander owns a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings, has struck out 21 and walked only six. (Runner-up: Nick Castellanos.)

White Sox: For a team that got only a .321 on-base percentage from its leadoff hitters in 2013, Adam Eaton, acquired in a trade with Arizona, has been a huge improvement. His .364 on-base average, at a salary of only $511,000, has helped Chicago lead the AL in runs scored. (Runner-up: Tyler Flowers.)