Free Agent Predictions* denotes the contract includes an option year
Some of Ken's predictions are spot on or nearly so, and the total years and dollars of the 29 signed contracts are remarkably close. So, while Ken generally nailed this one — yes, I'm making an exception to the otherwise-uiversal Price Is Right rules — let's look at this with a broad perspective since that sheds light on the free agency system.
What do the actual contracts tell us about the price of free agent players based on past performance and projected WAR? (For those who want a simple, easily digested primer on WAR, see this fine piece by Alex Remmington.) Last winter, free agents who signed multi-year contracts were paid more per expected WAR than those who signed one-year deals. As Tango summed it up,
"So, we see a clear divide between those guys who signed a 1 year deal, against those guys who signed multi-year deals. If we add up all the 35 multi-year guys, they are being paid 991MM$ for 181.8 wins, or 5.45MM$ per win. The single year guys as noted are being paid 2.6MM$ per win."
Ken predicted this year's free agents, the ones some might consider the 29 best (ignoring Randy Johnson), would get 58 years of commitment for $549MM. That's $9.47MM per player year. Those same 29 players made $417.02MM during the 2008-09 seasons and produced a total of 149.7 WAR. That's equal to $2.79 MM per win.
Ah, but the lure of a free agent often compels general managers to do strange things. Too often, the one-time opportunity to acquire a player drives up the price, and this year's free agent pool suggests teams continue to have times when it's difficult to control themselves.
Worse, by the time a player is a free agent, the odds are high that he is at or near his decline phase. Tango, who has studied this extensively, puts the standard player decline at 0.5 WAR per year. Yes, there are exceptions — guys who perform differently even when they're past the supposed peak age — but they are not the norm. Even better, Tango's research is not just of recent player data, so his 0.5 WAR per year decrease includes the statistical impact of players who buck the trend.
Sky Andrecheck found that last winter, a year that many labeled a down market for free agents, the average cost per win of a free agent was $6MM. So what happened this year?
The 39 signed players listed above — remember, these were the top WAR-performing players over the last two years who were available as free agents, so presumably the ones most likely to provide the greatest bang for the buck moving forward — have an expected WAR over their contracts of 111.3 and an actual total cost of $526.72. That's $4.73MM per win. In the past two season these same players were paid $2.78MM per win.
These players have done nothing on the field since last Fall, yet, on average, they've increased in paid value by $1.95MM per expected win. We can also further understand how the free agent market operates by breaking these new deals down into categories like Sky did:
All 39 Contracts: $4.73MM per WAR
20 Position Players: $4.66MM per WAR
9 Pitchers: $5.06MM per WAR
All Multiyear Contracts
All 12 Multiyear Contracts: $5.41MM per WAR
8 Position Players: $5.2MM per WAR
4 Pitchers: $5.9MM per WAR
All One-Year Contracts
All 17 One-Year Contracts: 2.92 per WAR
12 Position Players: $2.73MM per WAR
5 Pitchers: $3.14MM per WAR
Clearly, as a player in search of high earnings, the ideal is to be a pitcher considered worthy of a multiyear deal. At the other end are the position players who received one-year deals. All in all, though, free agents did well in terms of guaranteed earnings.
Of course, the projected WAR figures could prove wildly different from what the players do on the field. Maybe everyone will outperform their projections, or maybe this free agent crop will match the 2006 free agent pitching class for poor results. That year, 20 free agent pitchers (including Kei Igawa and Dice-K via the posting system used with Japanese players) were guaranteed about $440MM and have thus far produced a total WAR of 18.9. No matter how well the six players still under contracts signed that winter perform for their remaining years — Igawa for 2 years at $8MM, Dice-K for 3 years at $28MM, Zito for 4 years at $83MM, Meche for 2 years at $24MM, and Ted Lilly for 1 year at $12MM — that group of free agent pitcher signings will likely rank among the worst ever.
For this year's free agents, we'll have to wait a couple years to get a feel for how savvy, foolish or lucky teams were with these signings. For most teams, the odds are that the greatest opportunity for exceeding market value will come from the one-year deals given to position players. The greatest risk will come from the multiyear commitments given to pitchers.
But for the players, well, for them every penny of those contracts is guaranteed, no matter how well or how poorly they perform. On top of the contract values shown above, there are additional opportunities for additional earnings from incentive clauses and option years.
No wonder a guy like Michael Weiner, head of the MLBPA, would never agree to have his constituents work in an environment with caps and floors and other salary restraints when the people who choose to write the checks consistently make decisions like these.
Thanks, NaOH! Coming up tomorrow: Richie G. will present, "Did the BBWAA Whiff by Not Inducting John Stearns Into the Hall of Fame?" Or...maybe I'll just start doing my own work again.
--Off yesterday's Mets workout, I wrote this column about the Mets' medical practices. I am more convinced than ever, as I speak to people around the game, that the Mets' doctors should not be blamed for what has gone down here. David Altchek, the Mets' medical director, is occasionally utilized by other teams that respect him.
No, the problem here, IMO, has been a basic failure - flowing downward from ownership - to see the bigger picture. An anxiety about today, rather than respect for tomorrow.
Joel Sherman wrote about Reyes' maturity, while John Harper reports that Tony Bernazard conceived last year's idea that the Mets' hitters needed to hit more to the opposite field. Harper's column demonstrates another one of Sherman's themes, with which I agree: The Mets need an experienced consultant in the mix, someone who can hear an idea like Bernazard's and have the juice to say, "That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard."
--Interesting piece by NoMaas about the Yankees' defense.
--Legendary Reds writer Hal McCoy thinks that Dusty Baker will make it through the season as Cincinnati's manager. What I think is, if Reds owner Bob Castellini was willing to pay so much to have Baker manage, he should consider paying near the top of the managers pay scale to bring in Bobby Valentine next year.
--The Mets are having their first and only intra-squad game, and Jamey Newberg offers some good perspective on conclusions that will (and shouldn't) be drawn from these events.