Projecting the 2014 WAR for Top 5 MLB Free Agents
The biggest free-agent signing to date has been Marlon Byrd, who inked a two-year, $16 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Considering it’s only the third week of October, however, there’s still plenty of time for teams to begin making legitimate offers to the top free agents.
The unequivocal featured target this offseason will be Robinson Cano. Cano, who has manned second base for the New York Yankees since 2005, is in line to net a historic contract.
But with a projectable 2014 bWAR of 7.43, perhaps Cano would actually be worth his rumored 10-year, $300 million contract.
The same can’t necessarily be said about Jacoby Ellsbury, who unlike Cano, has endured a career filled with injuries and inconsistency. With a wide range of bWARs over the past three seasons, a prospective team will have to roll the dice with projecting Ellsbury’s production in 2014 (and beyond).
Read on to see the rest of the top MLB free agents and their projected 2014 WARs.
Note: The projected 2014 WARs are based on the "5/3/2" projected-WAR formula. It weighs a player's 2013 WAR at 0.5, his 2012 WAR at 0.3 and his 2011 WAR at 0.2. The sum creates a projection of a player's 2014 WAR.
In addition, the projection of WAR beyond 2014 is based on a formula created by Tom Tango and Jeff Zimmerman. The formula assumes players lose 0.5 WAR from ages 28-32 and 0.7 WAR after age 32. The above formula also assumes that there will be a 5 percent inflation for the price per 1.0 WAR from year-to-year.
5. Masahiro Tanaka
PROJ. 2014 WAR
Even with free-agent pitchers like Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Hiroki Kuroda and Ubaldo Jimenez, most critics would agree that Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka will still be the top pitching target this offseason.
Tanaka owned a dominant 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 5.72 K/BB and a perfect 24-0 record in Japan last season. Given the 25-year-old’s performance, his posting fee is expected to break Yu Darvish’s record $51.7 million that the Texas Rangers paid.
But like all “import” players, it will be difficult to project how Tanaka will adapt to the major leagues. While it’s hardly an ideal method of projecting a player's future production, it’s worth noting that Tanaka and Darvish enjoyed similarly successful careers in Japan. Darvish posted a career 1.99 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 3.75 K/BB over 1268.1 innings. Tanaka tossed a comparable 2.30 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 4.50 K/BB.
In Darvish’s first season in Texas, the right-hander boasted a 3.9 bWAR. It’s possible Tanaka could match that metric if he were to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who unlike Darvish/Rangers, play in a pitcher-friendly stadium.
4. Brian McCann
PROJ. 2014 WAR
Brian McCann has been with the Atlanta Braves since the organization selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft. But the once durable backstop missed noticeable time in both 2012 and 2013, while also witnessing his production drop off from his prime years.
And if not for folk hero Evan Gattis, who collected 21 home runs while subbing for McCann (as well as playing left field and first base), the Braves might have felt compelled to overpay for the longtime catcher. But given Gattis’ emergence, McCann will likely be free to explore free agency.
A major suitor for McCann’s services could be the Texas Rangers. The Rangers attempted to replace Napoli’s offense with a combination of A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto behind the dish last season. While the Rangers brought Soto back, a McCann/Rangers union would make a lot of sense. McCann could split the catching duties with Soto while also seeing playing time at first base and designated hitter.
Regardless of where the 29-year-old catcher signs, his best offensive years are well behind him (but that doesn't make him less of a target).
3. Shin-Soo Choo
PROJ. 2014 WAR
The Cincinnati Reds were itching to upgrade their outfield last offseason. And despite only logging 83 career innings in center field prior to acquiring him, the Reds still tabbed Shin-Soo Choo as their starter there in 2013.
While Choo proved to be the game’s worst defender in center (with at least 700 innings), gloving a minus-17.0 UZR/150, his dynamic offense more than made up for it.
Choo hit to the tune of a .285 batting average, park-adjusted 143 OPS+, 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
Given his defense in center field, prospective suitors will likely pursue Choo as a corner outfielder instead. And considering the underachieving Detroit Tigers only garnered a 1.1 bWAR from left fielder Andy Dirks, Choo would be a perfect fit for Motown.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
PROJ. 2014 WAR
The past three seasons have been a bit of a roller coaster for Jacoby Ellsbury. After enjoying a 32 home run/39 stolen base campaign in 2011 (and arguably being the most valuable hitter in baseball too), the Boston Red Sox outfielder only garnered 323 plate appearances the following season. He also didn’t produce at nearly the same level, posting a 1.0 bWAR in 2012 versus an 8.1 bWAR in 2011.
Ellsbury’s 2013 proved to be a partial rebound season, as the speedster posted a .298 batting average, park-adjusted 114 OPS+ and 52 stolen bases. But the 30-year-old only went yard nine times, which marked a 71.8 percent reduction in home runs from his power-heavy 2011 season.
Regardless of Ellsbury’s inconsistencies, according to an interview with CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, agent Scott Boras might still ask for more than Carl Crawford’s seven-year, $142 million contract.
The Seattle Mariners, who ranked 26th in on-base percentage, 28th in stolen bases and last in outfield UZR/150, could certainly use a player like Ellsbury. That said, there aren’t any reports stating that the Mariners are willing to pony up the cash Boras is apparently expecting for his client’s services.
1. Robinson Cano
PROJ. 2014 WAR
Robinson Cano is the unanimous top free-agent target this offseason. Cano posted a .314 batting average, park-adjusted 145 OPS+, 27 home runs and even a solid 1.3 UZR/150.
Simply put, there are few middle infielders who can contribute offensively (and defensively) like Cano has and will continue to do. So considering Cano is available to the highest bidder, the final bid will undoubtedly be high.
The interest in Cano is well-founded, however. Even if he becomes the first $300 million man, Cano might actually be worth more over the next 10 seasons.
PROJ. VALUE ($ in MM)
Without a Plan B in place at second base, most critics believe the New York Yankees will retain Cano at whatever price Roc Nation Sports/Jay Z requests. Even though big long-term contracts have recently crippled the Yankees, Cano—unlike Alex Rodriguez, for instance—might actually be worth the historic price.
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