Photo Credit: NESN
Everyone is looking for a deal. We want high benefits at low costs. Major League General Managers are no different, especially those whose teams have hard caps on their spending. More money does not necessarily mean more success, though it certainly helps. Teams with the highest payrolls are getting less “bang for their buck.”
Value does not frequently come from those playing on free agent contracts – at least not lengthy ones. Some value may be found in short-term free agent contracts, but the majority of a team’s ‘value’ comes from those players who have not yet reached free agency.
To no one’s surprise, a cost-conscious team like the Tampa Bay Rays, are heavily dependent upon the production of players who are still pre-arbitration eligible. Prior to the 2017 season, the Rays acquired the likes of Tommy Hunter, Colby Rasmus, and Logan Morrison via free agency.
By handing over to the three players a combined commitment of around $10 million, the team benefited by receiving 5.6 WAR from the trio. Even still, the team’s biggest free agent contract was handed over to catcher Wilson Ramos, who provided the team a mere 0.4 WAR in the first year of their 2 year, $12.5 million investment. Among the 11 best Rays players, in terms of WAR, only Logan Morrison was acquired on a free agent deal.
The Red Sox are not a cost-conscious team, unless you’re talking about their conscious effort to stay under the luxury tax threshold. Their ability to spend money affords them the flexibility of having multiple players who make little to no contribution to the overall performance. Allen Craig, Rusney Castillo and Pablo Sandoval were given $40 million in 2017 (Tampa Bay Rays entire team payroll was below $70 million), and they produced a combined -0.4 WAR. The funds are not unlimited, even for the Red Sox, and sustained future success depends on value.
For purposes of this article, we will examine the value of the 2017 Red Sox by comparing their salary with their WAR, according to Fangraphs. You won’t see the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Chris Young, Robby Scott, and Brock Holt who are among the 12 players to post a negative WAR. For our purposes, we will only consider players who produced at least 1.0 WAR for the 2017 season, also leaving off the likes of Devers, Smith, Hembree and Leon.
Let’s take a look at the five most valuable Red Sox players from the 2017 season:
5. Matt Barnes – $563,500/WAR –
Barnes produced exactly 1.0 WAR on the season, pitching out of the bullpen. He’s currently on track to be arbitration eligible in 2019 and an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
4. Christian Vazquez – $351,000/WAR –
The backstop produced 1.6 WAR on a $561,000 salary. He is currently arbitration eligible for the first time and will hit the market in 2021.
— Marino Pepén (@Marino_Pepen) August 5, 2017
3. Eduardo Rodriguez – $278,000/WAR –
Though he only pitched to 6 wins, he was good for 2.1 WAR. Like Vazquez, E-Rod is arbitration eligible for the first time and is expected to earn a raise on his $584,500 salary. He is set to hit free agency in 2022.
2. Andrew Benintendi – $249,000/WAR –
The rookie left fielder was good for 2.2 WAR on the season while playing for a measly $549,000. He won’t be arbitration eligible until 2020 and will hit free agency in 2023.
— Razorback Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) October 9, 2017
1. Mookie Betts – $179,000/WAR –
As the most valuable player on the team, the Legacy Agent client will certainly be looking for a raise as he also finds himself arbitration eligible for the first time. MLBtraderumors projects Betts’ salary to increase from $950,000 to $8.2 million. The Red Sox are hoping to sign Betts to a long-term deal before he hits free agency in 2021.
Started watching some 2017 Sox highlights and reminded myself how much I love @mookiebetts
He ranked 7th in WAR in the AL last year in a “down season”. Just turned 25 years old and already has an MVP runner up on his resume pic.twitter.com/i2V2unyXg4
— Too Much Tuma (@toomuchtuma) January 8, 2018
These five players combined to generate 12.2 WAR while costing the team a smooth $3.2 million. To put that into perspective, the entire team produced 41.8 WAR. Those five players accounted for 29% of the total team WAR and yet they occupied a mere 1.5% of the team’s payroll!
That’s bang for your buck, Dave.
As long as the Red Sox remain among the highest spending teams, they will continue to have the flexibility to hand out bad contracts with little or no overall value. Actually, it is the very success of the young players that permit them to take free agent risks. But even the big spenders rely heavily on production from their youngest players to remain successful. The upcoming season will be no different. Aside from a handful of one-year reclamation projects, value won’t be found on the free agent market. Next year’s most valuable players are probably already in the clubhouse – or Pawtucket.