Free Agent Spending

There were ten free agent contracts handed out this past offseason that exceeded $30 million in total money. At the time, I believed that three of them were actually good or fair deals for the respective teams.

Sadly for my ego, one of those was the $51 million given to Adam Dunn by the Chicago White Sox.

All of the contracts were for multiple years, but here’s how they’re looking with one month remaining on the first year via FanGraphs WAR, Baseball Reference WAR and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP.

  • Carl Crawford, BOS: 7 years for $142 million, 0.3 fWAR, 0.0 bWAR, 0.8 WARP.
  • Jayson Werth, WAS: 7 years for $126 million, 2.1 fWAR, 1.6 bWAR, 1.4 WARP.
  • Cliff Lee, PHI: 5 years for $120 million, 5.2 fWAR, 5.3 bWAR, 5.6 WARP.
  • Adrian Beltre, TEX: 4 years for $80 million,4.0 fWAR, 3.8 bWAR, 3.6 WARP.
  • Adam Dunn, CHW: 4 years for $56 million, -2.5 fWAR, -2.4 bWAR, -2.3 WARP.
  • Derek Jeter, NYY: 3 years for $51 million, 2.3 fWAR, 0.9 bWAR, 1.9 WARP.
  • Victor Martinez, DET: 4 years for $50 million, 1.9 fWAR, 2.1 bWAR, 2.1 WARP.
  • Paul Konerko, CHW: 3 years for $37.5 million, 3.4 fWAR, 3.9 bWAR, 3.5 WARP.
  • Rafael Soriano, NYY: 3 years for $35 million, 0.1 fWAR, 0.1 bWAR, 0.0 WARP.
  • Jorge de la Rosa, COL: 3 years for $32 million, 1.3 fWAR, 1.6 bWAR, 1.2 WARP.

With the exception of Lee, Beltre and possibly Konerko, none of these signings would crack the top 30 in either the American or National League when it comes to value provided to their teams. And that’s in the first of multi-year contracts.

While some of these players will improve their numbers next year by regressing back up to their true talent level, all of them are past their expected peak performance, which brings up a scary possibility for the nine teams that spent a collective $629.5 million on the top free agent signings this past offseason:

There’s a reason why I don’t like free agent deals.

Comments (12)

  1. The thing is, there’s a difference between value and absolute production. While you always strive to get the most value out of any player you acquire through development, trades, and free agent signings, no team is going to win a championship through focusing on value alone. It’s really, really hard to create a team with enough talent to get to the playoffs in the AL East and unless you get extremely lucky with players you develop, you’re almost certainty going to have to sign free agents to complete the roster. The key is to sign the right ones but obviously it’s not easy to determine who the right signings are.

    I think that once a team is ready to push into the playoffs, you need to forget about the value that a high impact free agent signing provides and worry about the absolute production he provides. For example, there’s a lot of talk about the Jays going after Fielder. He will cost a lot of money. He almost certainly won’t be worth the money that he gets, but trying to create the production he brings from other methods is difficult and time consuming and free agents get overpaid because this fact.

    • @Garold: I agree with almost everything you’re saying here. But I do believe it’s possible to build a system that’s good enough and able to replenish the roster enough to continually find success in the AL East simply by turning around from making a Fielder type investment (which I’m back and forth on) and spending that money on draft picks, international free agents, and including cash in trades.

  2. It’s not your money. Why do you care?

    Also, you thought Adam Dunn for $51 million was a good deal and you call yourself a baseball expert? I don’t really watch baseball anymore (I don’t know what WARP is), but even I know that’s crazy money.

    • They’re not my championships either. Cheering for a baseball team is a vicarious experience.

      Sam Miller wrote something like this one time:

      Nobody is arguing that taking on a bad contract is going to have any literal effect on your standard of living. The argument is that a) you want your team to win games, b) getting good players helps win games, c) overpaying for good players hurts your chances of getting more good players or better players. So if (C) hurts (B) and (B) promotes (A), then (C) hurts (A). Bad contracts make you sad.

      • I understand that and I’ve used that exact argument. But I think what Truegooner is getting at is, if Rogers is willing to shell out the cash *and it doesn’t limit them from getting other good players* down the line, then let them spend it.

        • That’s a mighty big proviso.

        • The thing is though, even Rogers has a budget. So, even for them, signing Prince Fielder will limit the team elsewhere.

          • This is such a dumb thing that some people keep saying. Even the Yankees, with supposedly an unlimited amount of money, are still stuck playing some shitty players because of their contracts. It may not even have to do with trying to squeeze some value, however limited, out of them. It may just be a matter of principle (ie $10+ mil = playing time). So even assuming that Rogers would provide the Jays an unlimited budget, the costly mistakes would cost on the field.

            Dunn and Burnett are two obvious current examples. Even though he isn’t playing every day, Dunn is still costing the White Sox wins and I’m sure they would love to use that roster spot differently. But they can’t.

            I think the Jays’ approach is a good one for baseball reasons, not just the meta-reasons that Parkes talks about – that of playing along with the GM and as a fan enjoying not just winning, but also winning within a framework. I bet most of these big contracts over time cost teams in terms of winning (but I have a full time job and lack the time to adequately research this).

            You just have to be careful of taking replacement too far – hello JP and Mencherwilkerson. On that note, how about a piece examining whether AA really is the anti-Ricciardi? He seems to have determined to do the opposite of everything that didn’t work out for JP.

  3. And if Prince breaqks his femur trying to steal second, forget any sort competing team for the life of that contract.

  4. The fact that “it’s not your money” is exactly the point. These teams are owned by businesses and/or wealthy businessmen, and they make business decisions. If Vernon Wells is worth the same as a replacement-level player, why wouldn’t he just be waived? It’s the business instinct that says only give away money if you’re getting something in return, even if that “something” is VW hauling his pathetic slash line to the plate 4 or 5 times a game. If this was a video game and an untradable asset was filling up a roster spot, you’d cut loose that player. If it was your money, and you had a shitload of it, maybe you’d DFA Wells (or Dunn, or whomever). But it’s not your money, and those whose money it is, won’t necessarily do the “better” thing for their team. They’d rather hold on to these guys and hope their value increases than sell for the lowest possible return (nothing) — often despite the irrationality of that idea. They just are unable to throw good money after nothing, regardless of the better uses of that roster spot.

    So, in a sense, maybe a fan should wish it was our money — maybe we’d be more inclined to do the baseball-ically prudent thing.

  5. Take the money they would spend on Fielder and spend it on pitching. Trick Ned Colleti into trading Kershaw or go after FA pitching. Pitching is what wins it. Look at the Giants and then look at the Rangers. The Rangers could run circles around the Giants last year in terms of hitting but when it came down to the pitching the Giants dominated. The Jays at it stands now are probably a better hitting team than the Giants and if they had the Giants pitching would probably be a playoff bound team. Spend the money on pitching and keep drafting pitching. Its alot easier to trade pitching prospects for positional players if you are in a playoff race because rebuilding teams always need pitching. (they are usually rebuilding because they lacked pitching in the first place!!!)

  6. The Jays are probably a better hitting team than the Giants? I hope to god they are. I’m not sure if there is a team in the league that’s worse than the Giants offensively.

    But I do agree mostly with your idea. Pitching looks like it will be the weak link for the Jays next year. They have a number of young pitchers in the pipe, but it doesn’t look like many of them will be impact starters in 2012. Also, there isn’t much in the way of FA pitchers available next year.

    Completely hypothetical here (because he was going for nothing anyway), but wouldn’t Halladay look good at the front of this rotation? We got a decent return for Doc, but with all those guys still in the minors the big league team wouldn’t lose anything in 2012 if that trade didn’t happen.

    Again hypothetical. I understand he was going as an FA at some point anyway, but fun to think about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *