Last week, I took a look at the value in signing starting pitchers to long free agent contracts and, surprisingly, found some good deals and surplus values for most of the free agent pitchers who were signed to deals of five years of longer.
Since 2006, 23 positional players have been signed to contracts of five or more years, and the results are not nearly as positive. When committing significant years and money to free agent position players, there are a few ‘deals' that were found on the free agent market, but mostly, the players' performance did not provide a good value for the team.
The average age of the positional players who have signed contracts of five or more deals is just a shade under 30. At that stage in their careers, players generally are on the downward side of the aging curve -- they have already peaked. This is particularly true if the player relies on speed as their primary tool, as this is generally the first skill to decline (see Shin-Soo Choo and Carl Crawford).
Estimating the current cost of a win between $6 million and $7 million, we see that even before adjusting for inflation, 13 of the 23 5+ year contracts signed since 2006 were overpays. Additionally, and not surprisingly, several have been unmitigated disasters. Five teams paid $10m+ per win for free agent talent on the free agent market, a significant overpay. There are a few good deals on the list, but overall, the numbers are pretty ugly.
|FA Walk Year||Player||Position||
|Previous Team||New Team||Years||Years Remaining||Years Fulfilled||Dollars||Annual Average Value||Cumulative Contract fWAR||Cost Per Win|
|2013||Jacoby Ellsbury||CF||30||Red Sox||Yankees||7||6||1||$153,000,000||$21,857,143||3.6||$6,071,429|
|2010||Adrian Beltre||3B||31||Red Sox||Rangers||6||2||4||$96,000,000||$16,000,000||22.8||$2,807,018|
|2010||Carl Crawford*||LF||29||Rays||Red Sox||7||3||4||$142,000,000||$20,285,714||5.5||$14,753,247|
|2006||J.D. Drew||RF||30||Dodgers||Red Sox||5||0||5||$70,000,000||$14,000,000||12.4||$5,645,161|
|2006||Gary Matthews Jr.**||CF||32||Rangers||Angels||5||0||5||$50,000,000||$10,000,000||-0.9|
*Traded ** Designated for Assignment
Eight of the long-term contracts signed since 2006 have come to terms, and the results are discouraging. Five of the eight contracts were overpays, including Rowand / Soriano / Lee / Matthews / Pierre; Matthews played so poorly, he was designated for assignment before the contract ended.
Perhaps surprising to Red Sox fans (though not to those paying attention), J.D. Drew's contract was one of the better values of the completed contracts. Drew amassed nearly a 12.5 WAR, costing about $5.6m per Win, which even after adjusting for inflation, was about market rate. Drew's reputation belies the value he created for the Red Sox, including an ALCS grand slam in 2007 that is not captured in the WAR numbers.
The Braves are in a challenging situation with B.J. Upton, who has been a complete failure in his first two seasons for Atlanta. Atlanta's having difficulty unloading the deal, and may even be struggling to give him away to a competitor. The Rangers are hoping they do not have the same situation on their hands with Shin-Soo Choo, whose AAV is $18m. He amassed .2 WAR in his first season in Arlington, which is certainly cause for concern.
On the positive side, Adrian Beltre has been of immense value to the Rangers. After coming off a one-year deal with Boston in 2010, Texas signed Beltre to a six-year, $96m deal. Since then, Beltre has amassed 22.8 WAR, costing the Rangers under $3m per WIN -- significantly under market value. Beltre has shown no signs of slowing down, and even if he never played again, the Rangers would still have paid him $4.2 million per Win, which is lower than market rate.
Likewise, Matt Holliday has been a good bargain for the Cardinals. Although his WAR has decreased the last two seasons, he is still an above-average player for St. Louis. Beltre and Holliday present the two most positive values on the list
|Contract Year||Adrian Beltre WAR||Matt Holiday WAR|
Although Robinson Cano started his ten-year contract with a strong 5.2 WAR, all other players who signed eight-year deals have not been good values. Prince Fielder and Alfonso Soriano were both traded mid-deal, and Albert Pujols, ARod and Mark Teixeira have been overpays.
In evaluating the recent history of long-term deals, it would be wise for teams to shy away from long-term deals, particularly for players on the wrong side of 30. In looking at the top five free agent position players, Pablo Sandoval is probably the lowest risk considering his age, but there are questions about his body structure and durability as he ages.
|Free Agent||Position||Age Going Into Next Season|
The Victor Martinez deal is a significant commitment for Detroit in terms of both years and dollars. The Tigers are betting VMart continues his productivity after coming off a career year, something that we have not seen in recent years.
Overall, signing positional players to 5+ year deals has not worked out well, and teams have generally overpaid compared to market rates for Wins. Teams would be better off signing mid-tier players to fewer than five years, or spending the money on the pitching market instead. A long-term deal with a positional player free agent is unlikely to be the significant value teams hope it will be -- buyer beware.
Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.