Predicting MLB's 10 Biggest Free Agents' WAR over Life of New Contract
MLB clubs have been spending big-time cash this offseason.
The question, though, is whether these teams have been investing their funds wisely. In order to figure that out, let's predict the WAR for MLB's 10 biggest free agents over the life of their new contracts.
According to Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus, "one win above replacement retails for about $5 million." Carleton notes that others put the figure closer to $7 million, but we'll stick with $5 million so as to keep our numbers nice and round.
Now, it's time for the predictions.
The following list includes the 10 biggest free agents who have actually signed new deals. That means there's no room for unsigned stars like Shin-Soo Choo and Ervin Santana. In the process of whittling down the list there were also some tough decisions to make.
A big shoutout to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Omar Infante, who just missed the cut. Now, though, let's move onto the top-10 list and start making predictions.
- One year, $16 million; plus $250,000 each for 190 and 210 innings pitched
In 2013, Hiroki Kuroda posted a 11-13 record with a 3.31 ERA, a 3.56 FIP and a 3.8 WAR. The right-hander put up a 3.7 WAR in 2012, so his level of production has been quite consistent in recent campaigns. Kuroda does turn 39 in February, though, so let's assume he regresses to a 3.5 WAR in 2014.
If one win is worth $5 million in 2014, that means that Kuroda has a projected value of $17.5 million. For the Yankees, this deal provides more than fair value. Sure, there is an inherent risk in relying so heavily on a pitcher of Kuroda's age. Still, for a team as thin on starters as the Yankees, the risk is worth the reward.
- Two years, $20 million
It's hard to know what to expect from Bartolo Colon moving forward.
In 2013, the right-hander earned an All-Star nod as he went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA. Colon also tallied a 3.23 FIP and a 3.9 WAR. However, the 16-year veteran turns 41 in May and faded noticeably after the All-Star break before rebounding in September.
Let's assume Colon posts a 3.0 WAR in 2014, which would make him worth $15 million next season for the New York Mets. That means in the first year of the deal Colon could actually be worth two-thirds of the total value of the contract.
Assuming Colon can produce at least 1.0 WAR in 2015, this deal is good business for the Mets.
- Two years, $32 million
Mike Napoli enjoyed a big year with the Boston Red Sox in 2013.
The first baseman hit .259/.360/.482 with 38 doubles, 23 home runs and a 3.9 WAR. At 32 years old, there's no reason why Napoli can't maintain his high level of production moving forward. The biggest concern for the slugger is the health of his hips long term.
However, the Red Sox only signed Napoli for two seasons, so they just need to make sure that Napoli doesn't break down before the current deal is up. If Napoli can produce 4.0 WAR seasons in 2014 and 2015 respectively, then the first baseman will be worth $40 million. Health permitting, Napoli will be a bargain for the Red Sox.
- Three years, $45 million
The toughest part about projecting Carlos Beltran's future value is determining just how much time he'll spend in the outfield as opposed to the designated hitter's spot.
The Yankees currently have Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano and Vernon Wells also jockeying for playing time in the outfield and DH rotation. Just how much time Beltran spends as a DH will ultimately be determined by the final composition of the Yankees' roster. However, the projections do not look kindly on the switch-hitter, who turns 37 in April.
Brian Cartwright's "Oliver 5 Year Projections" (available via FanGraphs) predict that Beltran will be worth just 4.3 WAR over the next three seasons. The breakdown is as follows:
- 2014: 2.2 WAR
- 2015: 1.4 WAR
- 2016: 0.7 WAR
At such a level of production, Beltran would provide the Yankees with just $21.3 million of value over the life of his three-year deal. After losing Robinson Cano, the Yankees had no choice but to ante up and offer Beltran a third year. By 2016, though, this deal could become quite the mess for New York.
- Four years, $49 million; plus a $13 million option ($1 million buyout) for 2018
The Minnesota Twins appear to have made a shrewd move in signing Ricky Nolasco. The right-hander went 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA in 2013 while splitting time between the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nolasco posted a 3.0 WAR last season after producing a 2.5 WAR in 2012 and a 3.1 WAR in 2011.
Based on that pattern and the fact that Nolasco is just 31, he should still have plenty of productive seasons ahead of him. So, let's predict Nolasco's WAR over the next four seasons:
- 2014: 3.0 WAR
- 2015: 2.5 WAR
- 2016: 2.0 WAR
- 2017: 2.0 WAR
In this scenario, Nolasco will have provided the Twins with 11.5 WAR over the course of his age 31 to age 34 seasons. At a value of $5 million per win, that would make Nolasco worth $57.5 million over the life of his deal.
One arm injury could alter the entire equation, but for now, the Twins have done quite well for themselves by locking up Nolasco on a four-year, $49 million deal.
- Four years, $53 million
In 2013, Jhonny Peralta was a hugely productive player as he hit .303/.358/.457 with 30 doubles, 11 home runs and a 3.6 WAR.
The catch, of course, was that Peralta also served a 50-game ban for PED use last season. Back in 2012, the shortstop posted a 2.6 WAR, so there's reason to be believe Peralta's true talent level lies somewhere in the middle of those two figures.
Let's predict the following WAR for the two-time All-Star over the course of his four-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
- 2014: 3.0 WAR
- 2015: 3.0 WAR
- 2016: 2.5 WAR
- 2017: 2.0 WAR
In this scenario, Peralta would be worth 10.5 WAR over the next four seasons. At $5 million per win, that would make Peralta worth $52.5 million, or just $500,000 less than the actual value of the deal.
Peralta's PED history is an undeniable cause for concern. Still, the lack of shortstops on the free-agent market makes this a signing worth making.
- Four years, $60 million
Curtis Granderson endured a rough season in 2013 as he appeared in just 61 games and hit .229/.317/.407.
However, there's a strong chance that Granderson will be far more valuable in 2014. As Eno Sarris of FanGraphs writes, it's a "reasonable assumption" to think that Granderson will be worth 3.0 WAR next season.
Granderson will be 33 years old next year, so let's predict that he maintains the 3.0-WAR level for the first two seasons before beginning to regress.
- 2014: 3.0 WAR
- 2015: 3.0 WAR
- 2016: 2.7 WAR
- 2017: 2.5 WAR
In this prediction, Granderson will be worth 11.2 WAR over the course of his deal. That would mean that the Mets would be getting approximately $56 million million of value from Granderson.
In the end, the deal will likely be a slight overpay from the Mets' perspective. As long as Granderson stays healthy, though, it will be far from a disaster.
- Five years, $85 million; plus a $15 million option for 2019
Bill Cartwright's "Oliver 5 Year Projections" look very favorably upon Brian McCann. In fact, so favorably it's almost absurd. In 2014, Oliver projects that McCann will be worth 4.3 WAR and rack up 600 plate appearances.
In nine seasons, McCann has never once totaled 600 plate appearances. However, now that he has the DH spot available to him that figure is far more obtainable. McCann will be 30 years old by the start of the 2014 season and eventually he will have to move out from behind the plate.
In the interim, though, he has the potential to maximize his at-bats and his value. Here's the prediction for McCann's WAR over the course of his contract:
- 2014: 4.0 WAR
- 2015: 4.0 WAR
- 2016: 4.0 WAR
- 2017: 2.5 WAR
- 2018: 2.0 WAR
In this scenario, McCann would provide 16.5 WAR, which would make him worth $82.5 million. It appears as though the Yankees won't quite get full value, especially if McCann spends extensive amounts of time at first base or DH.
Then again, the ability to get McCann's bat in the lineup more consistently will counter balance the loss of defensive value.
- Seven years, $153 million; plus a $21 million club option ($5 million buyout) for 2021
Ellsbury enjoyed an excellent final season with the Red Sox as he hit .298/.355/.426 while stealing 52 bases, clubbing 31 doubles and posting a 5.8 WAR. Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe recently explored Ellsbury's projected value, and he used an aging curve in which Ellsbury loses 0.5 WAR per season.
Following that pattern, let's predict Ellsbury's WAR:
- 2014: 5.3 WAR
- 2015: 4.8 WAR
- 2016: 4.3 WAR
- 2017: 3.8 WAR
- 2018: 3.3 WAR
- 2019: 2.8 WAR
- 2020: 2.3 WAR
In this prediction, Ellsbury total WAR is 26.6. That would make the center fielder worth a projected $133 million, which is well short of the total value of the seven-year deal. The equation gets even uglier, though, when factoring in Ellsbury's less-than-perfect health record.
Over the past four seasons, Ellsbury has averaged just 96 games per year. There's no doubt that Ellsbury provides a dynamic presence atop the Yankees lineup, but the club will have to pay a steep price in exchange.
- 10 years, $240 million
Cano is coming off a stellar 2013 campaign which he hit .314/.383/.516 with 41 doubles, 27 home runs and a 6.0 WAR. The second baseman will be 31 next season; so, let's assume he maintains a similar level of production for the first four years of his new contract:
- 2014: 6.0 WAR
- 2015: 6.0 WAR
- 2016: 6.0 WAR
- 2017: 5.5 WAR
Entering the 2018 season, Cano will be 35 and will begin to decline at a sharper rate:
- 2018: 4.8 WAR
- 2019: 4.1 WAR
- 2020: 3.4 WAR
For the final three years of the deal, let's predict that Cano has become a full-time DH:
- 2021: 2.0 WAR
- 2022: 1.7 WAR
- 2023: 1.4 WAR
In this prediction, Cano's total WAR for the Mariners equals 40.9. At a price of $5 million per win that works out to $204.5 million. Even if Cano fails to live up to the $240 million price tag, though, the deal isn't a bust.
With Cano playing on such a lengthy contract, it's nearly impossible to predict the full impact that the five-time All-Star will have on the Mariners. If Cano can help spark the floundering franchise, this deal will be worth it after all.
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