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Free agents who paid off their debt early

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We spill a lot of ink analyzing free agent contracts, but don't always go back and reevaluate those analyses. Let's do that now.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

If you're a die-hard baseball fan, you might remember that last offseason centered around a few clusters of chaotic free agent activity. Deals came fast and furious, we churned out analytical content, and then we moved on to the next thing. We talked about who did well, who did poorly, and buzzed about the words "financial flexibility." But the 2014 season is over, and before we get to the 2015 free agent class, let's take a quick peek back at how it all went down. Specifically, let's look back at the multi-year deals and how they look one year later.

Below, I believe I have identified all 58 free agent deals from last winter in which the player signed for more than one year and were slated to play primarily in the majors (i.e. Alex Guerrero isn't listed). If you think you've found an error, please let me know. The list was culled from the MLB Trade Rumors list and augmented by author, so it's possible a player got added or subtracted incorrectly.

What you'll notice in this chart are a number of things.

  • Number of years
  • Total value of the contract
  • Total WAR needed to break even at $6.5 million/WAR
  • WAR needed per season to break even at $6.5 million/WAR
  • 2014 fWAR
  • New total WAR needed to break even at $6.5 million/WAR
  • New WAR needed per season to break even at $6.5 million/WAR
  • The difference between the two averages

There are a few important things to note before you scroll down and look at the table. First, $6.5 million/WAR is a rough estimate of the cost of a win on the 2014 free agent market. It could be $6 million, it could be $7 million. It's an estimate, use it properly. Also, it's important to remember that not every team will place the same dollar value on each win and that you can't automatically say a signing was good or bad solely using this methodology.

What this chart shows you is that if you use this method of $/WAR as a rough determination of value, you can evaluate who paid off a lot of their deals early and who dug pretty serious holes. The goal is to have a very negative "Diff" column, which indicates you need to average far fewer WAR per season the rest of the way to pay off your deal.

To the numbers!

Player Years Amount Total WAR WAR/Year 2014 WAR Total New WAR nWAR/Year Diff
Juan Uribe 2 $15MM 2.3 1.2 3.8 -1.5 -1.5 -2.6
Phil Hughes 3 $24MM 3.7 1.2 6.1 -2.4 -1.2 -2.4
Scott Kazmir 2 $22MM 3.4 1.7 3.3 0.1 0.1 -1.6
Justin Morneau 2 $12.5MM 1.9 1.0 2.5 -0.6 -0.6 -1.5
Dioner Navarro 2 $8MM 1.2 0.6 2.0 -0.8 -0.8 -1.4
Jhonny Peralta 4 $53MM 8.2 2.0 5.4 2.8 0.9 -1.1
Carlos Ruiz 3 $26MM 4.0 1.3 3.2 0.8 0.4 -0.9
Jose Abreu 6 $68MM 10.5 1.7 5.3 5.2 1.0 -0.7
Marlon Byrd 2 $16MM 2.5 1.2 1.9 0.6 0.6 -0.7
Rajai Davis 2 $10MM 1.5 0.8 1.4 0.1 0.1 -0.6
Bartolo Colon 2 $20MM 3.1 1.5 2.1 1.0 1.0 -0.6
Hunter Pence 5 $90MM 13.8 2.8 4.7 9.1 2.3 -0.5
Jason Vargas 4 $32MM 4.9 1.2 2.6 2.3 0.8 -0.5
Ryan Webb 2 $4.5MM 0.7 0.3 0.7 0.0 0.0 -0.4
Oliver Perez 2 $4.25MM 0.7 0.3 0.6 0.1 0.1 -0.3
Matt Garza 4 $50MM 7.7 1.9 2.5 5.2 1.7 -0.2
Robinson Cano 10 $240MM 36.9 3.7 5.3 31.6 3.5 -0.2
Matt Thornton 2 $7MM 1.1 0.5 0.7 0.4 0.4 -0.2
Chad Qualls 2 $6MM 0.9 0.5 0.6 0.3 0.3 -0.1
Fernando Rodney 2 $14MM 2.2 1.1 1.2 1.0 1.0 -0.1
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 3 $21MM 3.2 1.1 1.3 1.9 1.0 -0.1
Joe Smith 3 $15.75MM 2.4 0.8 1.0 1.4 0.7 -0.1
Jacoby Ellsbury 7 $153MM 23.5 3.4 3.6 19.9 3.3 0.0
Mike Napoli 2 $32MM 4.9 2.5 2.5 2.4 2.4 0.0
Scott Feldman 3 $30MM 4.6 1.5 1.6 3.0 1.5 0.0
Joaquin Benoit 2 $15.5MM 2.4 1.2 1.2 1.2 1.2 0.0
Masahiro Tanaka 7 $155MM 23.8 3.4 3.2 20.6 3.4 0.0
Tim Hudson 2 $23MM 3.5 1.8 1.7 1.8 1.8 0.1
Brian McCann 5 $85MM 13.1 2.6 2.3 10.8 2.7 0.1
James Loney 3 $21MM 3.2 1.1 0.9 2.3 1.2 0.1
Omar Infante 4 $30.25MM 4.7 1.2 0.5 4.2 1.4 0.2
Ricky Nolasco 4 $49MM 7.5 1.9 1.2 6.3 2.1 0.2
Ryan Sweeney 2 $3.5MM 0.5 0.3 0.0 0.5 0.5 0.3
Edward Mujica 2 $9.5MM 1.5 0.7 0.4 1.1 1.1 0.3
Willie Bloomquist 2 $5.8MM 0.9 0.4 0.1 0.8 0.8 0.3
Skip Schumaker 2 $5MM 0.8 0.4 0.0 0.8 0.8 0.4
Garrett Jones 2 $7.75MM 1.2 0.6 0.2 1.0 1.0 0.4
Curtis Granderson 4 $60MM 9.2 2.3 1.0 8.2 2.7 0.4
Shin-Soo Choo 7 $130MM 20.0 2.9 0.2 19.8 3.3 0.4
Ubaldo Jimenez 4 $50MM 7.7 1.9 0.5 7.2 2.4 0.5
Jeff Baker 2 $3.7MM 0.6 0.3 -0.2 0.8 0.8 0.5
David DeJesus 2 $10.5MM 1.6 0.8 0.3 1.3 1.3 0.5
J.P. Howell 2 $11.25MM 1.7 0.9 0.3 1.4 1.4 0.6
Boone Logan 3 $16.5MM 2.5 0.8 -0.3 2.8 1.4 0.6
Javier Lopez 3 $13MM 2.0 0.7 -0.5 2.5 1.3 0.6
Manny Parra 2 $5.5MM 0.8 0.4 -0.2 1.0 1.0 0.6
Eric O'Flaherty 2 $7MM 1.1 0.5 -0.1 1.2 1.2 0.6
Brayan Pena 2 $2.275MM 0.4 0.2 -0.6 1.0 1.0 0.8
Grant Balfour 2 $12MM 1.8 0.9 0.0 1.8 1.8 0.9
Brendan Ryan 2 $5MM 0.8 0.4 -0.7 1.5 1.5 1.1
Bronson Arroyo 2 $23.5MM 3.6 1.8 0.5 3.1 3.1 1.3
Joe Nathan 2 $20MM 3.1 1.5 0.2 2.9 2.9 1.3
Carlos Beltran 3 $45MM 6.9 2.3 -0.5 7.4 3.7 1.4
David Murphy 2 $12MM 1.8 0.9 -0.5 2.3 2.3 1.4
Nate McLouth 2 $10.75MM 1.7 0.8 -0.6 2.3 2.3 1.4
Mike Pelfrey 2 $11MM 1.7 0.8 -0.6 2.3 2.3 1.4
Jose Molina 2 $4.5MM 0.7 0.3 -1.3 2.0 2.0 1.6
Tim Lincecum 2 $35MM 5.4 2.7 -0.1 5.5 5.5 2.8

Four players have already paid off their deals (Uribe, Hughes, Navarro, and Morneau), and we have a nice distribution of players who did very well and those who didn't. As far as big money deals go, Peralta, Abreu, and Pence are in terrific shape, while Choo, Jimenez, Beltran, and Lincecum didn't do themselves many favors.

There's no perfect way to take this information. The first year of a deal should be the best on average, but there's no reason why any individual player couldn't turn things around with a strong second year, except Big Time Timmy Jim, perhaps. That's going to be tough.

Typically speaking, free agent deals are more expensive that contract extensions that pay for free agent years, but there are plenty of free agent deals that work out. With a peek at this data, we can get an early sense of which multi-year deals are off to good starts and which are doomed. Also, if you want to feel awful, you favorite team could have paid Uribe about $20 million and snatched him up.

I mean, post hoc fallacies aside.

...

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors.

Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, the Site Educator at FanGraphs, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D