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Thursday, October 07, 2021

Cubs’ Jed Hoyer seeks ‘value,’ making top free agents unlikely

“I’m not going to tip our hand as far as what we do in free agency. I’ve said repeatedly that we do have financially flexibility. We have money to spend this winter. But I think it’s really important that we do that in an intelligent way.”

In other words, the mega-revenue team with less than $40 million committed to only three contracts on the books so far for next season will stay away from the deep end of free agency and take more of a volume approach, looking for lesser-cost upside guys or players who might not be on everybody’s radar screen?

“I wouldn’t say that,” Hoyer said. “I think it’s just being opportunistic and striking when you feel like the value’s right.

“We’re going to be active,” he added. “We have a lot of holes to fill on this roster. We have a lot of areas we need to improve, so I think we’ll certainly be active. But I think we need to be active in a way that we feel we’re getting the right value for the dollars we’re spending and we’re also making sure that we’re not hindering ourselves going forward with expenditures for right now.”

Doesn’t exactly sound like a big-market team.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 07, 2021 at 11:43 AM | 47 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Rough Carrigan Posted: October 07, 2021 at 12:10 PM (#6044467)
Isn't there value in certainty or near certainty? Isn't there value in knowing that the guy you just gave a big contract to has a history of producing at a certain level and you don't have to just hope that a prospect takes a big leap forward? That's not worth nothing, is it, Jed?
   2. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: October 07, 2021 at 12:18 PM (#6044469)
Everybody on the market has significant drawbacks -- Seager and Correa, the marquee names, have both had very serious injury problems in their brief careers. They've already demonstrated that they're not interested in shelling out for Bryant, for whatever reason. Is Semien the superstar he seems like this year and in 2019, or the middling supersub he's been the rest of his career? Is Scherzer really going to keep this up into his 40s? And so on. I'd be a little wary of this free agent market, as well.
   3. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 07, 2021 at 12:29 PM (#6044471)
Isn't there value in certainty or near certainty? Isn't there value in knowing that the guy you just gave a big contract to has a history of producing at a certain level
...said GMs in 1990. If you're talking about top-dollar free agents, it's closer to a "near certainty" that they're not going to come anywhere near their established level of production, starting pretty close to the beginning of the contract. The typical result is a lot closer to the Heyward side of the continuum than the Scherzer side.
   4. Kiko Sakata Posted: October 07, 2021 at 12:51 PM (#6044479)
The typical result is a lot closer to the Heyward side of the continuum than the Scherzer side.


I don't know. Some of that is that the Heywards are more memorable. The Cubs made three major free-agent purchases in their recent window. We all focus on Heyward, but the other two were Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist who both seemed well worth their contracts - both kind of stunk it up in the last year of their contract, but I think that's a given; the Cubs' problem is that they never came up with a replacement for either of them.
   5. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 07, 2021 at 12:54 PM (#6044482)
I don't know. Some of that is that the Heywards are more memorable. The Cubs made three major free-agent purchases in their recent window. We all focus on Heyward, but the other two were Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist who both seemed well worth their contracts - both kind of stunk it up in the last year of their contract, but I think that's a given;
Fair point, but if someone were to do a study with a big enough sample across all teams over enough years, I would bet that my statement was accurate. Maybe not though, who knows.
   6. Darren Posted: October 07, 2021 at 01:13 PM (#6044485)
This interview sort of went like:

Interviewer: What's your plan?
Hoyer: Spend wisely.
Interviewer: So no big contracts?
Hoyer: That's not what I'm saying.
Interviewer turns to audience: There you have it, no big spending from the Cubs this year!
   7. Darren Posted: October 07, 2021 at 01:19 PM (#6044487)
We all focus on Heyward, but the other two were Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist who both seemed well worth their contracts...


In the sense that flags fly forever, you can argue that Lester was worth it. But he signed for 6/$155m and gave them 13.2 WAR. That's not really good. Kind of bad.
   8. Zonk demands an audit of your post Posted: October 07, 2021 at 01:53 PM (#6044496)
If you long for the days of David Dejesus, boy have we got an offseason for you!
   9. DCA Posted: October 07, 2021 at 01:56 PM (#6044498)
Cubs seem like exactly the type of team that shouldn't spend big this offseason. They have a lot of guys who might be as valuable as a higher-dollar free agent, but there's a lot of uncertainty. Most likely, some will hit, some will bust, some will kind of okay, and you don't know which will what.

Locked in: C Contreras, OF Happ
Peak / late peak guys who were really good for a partial season: 1B Schwindel, 3B Wisdom, OF Ortega
Young guys who might be ready to step in: SS Hoerner
Guys who were bad in 2021 but solid for several years prior: 2B Bote, OF Heyward

That's a full lineup! Maybe you spend big on a SS (or 2B) since at least one of the infielders will bust -- and you'll notice that the list above is all position players, so they could be in the market for up to four quality SP. But the Cubs aren't winning anything in 2022 and they have a roster that, at least on offense, just screams out for the opportunity to use the year for tryout and consolidation.
   10. Moses Taylor hashes out the rumpus Posted: October 07, 2021 at 02:02 PM (#6044500)
Interviewer turns to audience: There you have it, no big spending from the Cubs this year!

There's plenty of reason to not give the Cubs the benefit of the doubt here. They spent like drunken sailors for a few years after really bottoming out, then spent the last few years crying poor while still paying for some of their previous mistakes (they still have Heyward for 2 more years - just ####### DFA him already, so his friend manager will stop playing him).

Hoyer is right in that there are too many holes to fill, so signing a few big names isn't going to fix what's wrong. He's trotted out the line about "spending intelligently" about 100 times this past week, which is basically common sense enough to almost be a completely utterly worthless phrase beyond covering for what will surely be an underwhelming offseason ("hey we tried, but the market overpaid everyone and we didn't want to get in silly bidding wars"). *Everyone* would love to hit on signings like Semien, Ray, Morton, etc, but just like I don't trust the Cubs about spending serious money this offseason, I don't trust the Cubs spending what little money they do end up spend smartly (look at just about every move this FO has made in the offseason the past few years, including this past offseason's value shopping in Pederson, Arrieta, and Williams).

The Cubs can't, and won't say, they'll be uncompetitive next year. But they will, no matter how much they spend. Too many holes, and almost no internal options to fill any of them.
   11. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 07, 2021 at 02:03 PM (#6044501)
they have a roster that, at least on offense, just screams out for the opportunity to use the year for tryout and consolidation
Agreed. And the pitching, well, it just screams out.
   12. Moses Taylor hashes out the rumpus Posted: October 07, 2021 at 02:11 PM (#6044503)
Locked in: C Contreras, OF Happ
Peak / late peak guys who were really good for a partial season: 1B Schwindel, 3B Wisdom, OF Ortega
Young guys who might be ready to step in: SS Hoerner
Guys who were bad in 2021 but solid for several years prior: 2B Bote, OF Heyward


I would argue with most of what you say here:
Contreras: pending FA. So they really need to extend or consider trading him. If they aren't going to extend, might be better off trading him before the year. Ok, we can lock him in.
Happ: Hard to really know what you have here, probably should just keep trotting him out everyday though. Personally, I'm a bit sick of him. But sure, that's another spot locked in.
Schwindel: They kinda have to let it play out with him. He was the best of the late peak guys, and there's a fair amount to like here. Can't be surprised if he totally flames out though.
Ortega/Wisdom: Some good, mixed with bad. Ortega is just a platoon guy and was treated as such this year. Wisdom had a great run, then was kinda figured out, and never really came back. You can probably pencil them in for semi-regular time, but you know you're just biding your time until you can replace them (for Ortega, Davis will be up early next year, and he's the one bright spot that's close).
Hoerner: You probably should also put Madrigal in this same bucket, and it's hard to know what you really have in either. They should play, but I'm convinced Nico isn't an everyday SS and Madrigal has his own question marks (and both of them are injury concerns). I'll give you at least one spot filled here.
Bote: had one above average year, where he was mainly a utility guy. He will continue to be a utility guy, probably a bad one.
Heyward: was finally actually starting to be platooned more, as he should be, but I'm not counting last year as a solid year since that is literally the only one he's been above average with the bat with the Cubs (he had 100 OPS+ another year). He's bad, and I want him gone.

So I count 5 spots filled, maybe 6, and no bench of AAA options to fill it out. So yeah, in addition to adding maybe 4 SPs, they should add 2 fulltime bats and 3 or 4 backups. That's a lot of work.
   13. Zonk demands an audit of your post Posted: October 07, 2021 at 02:15 PM (#6044505)
The key thing to identify this offseason is who the new Casey Coleman is... The homegrown all-time suck pitcher to hate on for the next decade.

I do like the cut of Tommy Nance's jib but he's a bit old to be The One.
   14. DCA Posted: October 07, 2021 at 02:23 PM (#6044508)
Oh, I'm not counting more than 5 or 6 spots filled (including Madrigal, who I forgot since he didn't play). But it's not clear which ones. Take next year to sort it out and decide if you want to keep Contreras, and then shop at the late February FA bargain bin for complementary pieces.

   15. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 07, 2021 at 02:57 PM (#6044517)
Willson willll be turning 30 next May. He's been good, but I wouldn't bet too much on any catcher aging like Yadi.
   16. The Duke Posted: October 07, 2021 at 03:02 PM (#6044519)
There’s a huge market inefficiency in the $3-6 million low to mid 30s guys. If you hit the market hard and early you could put a helluva team together with signings like that
   17. Voodoo Posted: October 07, 2021 at 03:28 PM (#6044529)
If I'm the Cubs and I want to try to contend next year and also show everyone that I'm trying to contend, I get out the checkbook and spend big on short term pitching. Sign Scherzer and Greinke. Hope you can cobble together an offense out of what you have lying around, schwindel/madrigal/hoerner/wisdom/bote infield, happ/ortega/bdavis/hermosillo OF. Buy a #1 and #2 starter and we can at least dream of contention. Make a decision on Contreras (extend him) and like Moses said, just cut bait with Heyward altogether. I also just want him gone.
   18. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 07, 2021 at 03:32 PM (#6044530)
And then what? Lather, rinse, repeat for 2023, 2024, etc.?
   19. Moses Taylor hashes out the rumpus Posted: October 07, 2021 at 03:49 PM (#6044537)
And then what? Lather, rinse, repeat for 2023, 2024, etc.?

Until the farm starts producing replacement, perhaps. If they don't contend, then you sell those guys off. In theory, I like the idea, but in reality, unless you're really, really overpaying them, you're gonna have a hard time convincing those types of players to come here knowing they might only be around for half a season.

But if not that, what?

This all just means the Cubs probably really don't plan on contending the next few years but aren't going to publicly say as much. I think Jed is trying to thread the needle on the PR of their "plan", whatever it is.
   20. The Honorable Ardo Posted: October 07, 2021 at 05:49 PM (#6044575)
And then what? Lather, rinse, repeat for 2023, 2024, etc.?
It's the next 108-year plan; they're building a winner in 2124.
   21. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: October 07, 2021 at 05:52 PM (#6044577)
Sign Scherzer and Greinke.


You think the Dodgers are going to let Scherzer get away? I doubt it.
   22. Walt Davis Posted: October 07, 2021 at 05:58 PM (#6044579)
If there was a Bull Durham movie for GMs, it would feature Pat Gillick telling a young GM "just say you're going to spend wisely."

After the deadline, they went 20-36 which seems an accurate portrayal of the current talent level and, as noted, there's not anything on the farm that is likely to improve that very much in 2022. That record was the result of a probably over-performing offense (4.5 R/G) and a hopefully under-performing staff (6.5 R/G) ... but that latter hope is based only on the notion that nobody can be that bad over a full season can they? Before it was all over, the Cubs went through 34 position players and 35 pitchers, they had guys making their season debut on Oct 2 and 3. God only knows who's actually on the 40-man at the moment.**

But sure, other than CF, the lineup is "set." If they get a CF, that even leaves them with Bote and Heyward on the bench, you can always find a back-up C, the grab (I dunno) Villar or something. Sure that will likely be the worst offense in the league but so be it. The pitching staff is a complete mess. The bright spots there are ... Adbert put up a serviceable 93 ERA+. Other "bright spots" look not so bright on closer inspection -- Keegan Thompson (who does have potential) had a nice ERA+ but a FIP over 5; same with Sampson; same with Maples (7 BB/9) and Heuer (5 K/9).

Did they have a covid outbreak or just abuse the IL? They had 10 players including virtually every "name" player on the 10-day at the end of the year.

Anyway, they'll try to find a CF or possibly grab a SS and move Hoerner to CF (any chance Madrigal could handle CF?). They have almost no choice but to sign a couple of inning-eating SPs (what is that, 150 innings these days?) and maybe a couple of mid-level relievers. I assume they'll end up somewhere around a $120 M payroll, they won't be going Pirates on us.

** We joke about Schwindel having a 1920's name but what about Ladendorf, Gushue and Giambrone?
   23. Jesus Luzardo Maraschino Posted: October 07, 2021 at 06:23 PM (#6044590)
If the Cubs want to win I heard a bunch of Cubans defected...
   24. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: October 07, 2021 at 06:47 PM (#6044600)
If the Cubs want to win I heard a bunch of Cubans defected...

They wouldn't even have to change their uniforms much!
   25. McCoy Posted: October 07, 2021 at 08:31 PM (#6044632)
Lol. How times have changed. I recall saying that the Cubs should sign FA to go for it in 2012 and if it doesn't work out they trade them and I was told that that was impossible and ridiculous.
   26. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: October 07, 2021 at 09:26 PM (#6044666)
we do have financial flexibility.

DAMN YOU TO HELL, TOM HICKS, YOU CHEAP BASTARD!!!1!111!!!!
   27. Brian C Posted: October 07, 2021 at 10:02 PM (#6044676)
I wonder if it wouldn't make sense to move Contreras out from C. He's still pretty athletic, but his bat seems to suffer from playing C every day and the various injuries that come from that wear-and-tear. And aside from his arm, I don't think any of us really think of him as an outstanding defensive C.

Would his offensive production get more consistent after moving to, say, LF? Would that extend his career (provided that they sign him to an extension), just at a time when we would expect his abilities to erode behind the plate anyway? Would it make more sense to do that and then sign a cheap defensive-minded C?

It seems like something that's worth considering for a team that has so many holes to plug, anyway.
If you long for the days of David Dejesus, boy have we got an offseason for you!

You joke, but after enduring the days of Daniel Descalso and Steven Souza, I kinda do long for the days of David DeJesus.

   28. Ron J Posted: October 07, 2021 at 10:03 PM (#6044677)
#5 Free agents as a group make around 80% of their contribution to marginal revenue and break even in these terms ~40% of the time.

Completely predictable given the way the bidding for free agents works. With few exceptions when you sign a free agent you're paying more than anybody else thought they were worth.

In very simplistic terms they're worthwhile from a financial point of view if signing them if the difference between making and missing the playoffs but even here most GMs are under pressure to overestimate their chance of making the playoffs.

And there are secondary considerations. Signing a big name free agent generally functions as fairly efficient advertising is the first year of the contract.

And with so much fixed revenue these days there a lot to be said for signing anybody who can make a positive contribution and doesn't end up blocking somebody younger and better.
   29. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 07, 2021 at 10:08 PM (#6044679)
Interesting...how do you isolate and measure a given FA's individual contribution to marginal revenue? Is it just a general $/marginal win assumption?
   30. Ron J Posted: October 07, 2021 at 10:23 PM (#6044683)
#29 That's the way Zimbalist did it and most models basically start with Zimbalist's models. When I broke it down further I found that not all marginal wins are equally valuable. There's a very clear revenue impact of making the playoffs (with something like 60% of the revenue boost coming the year after that. And a small effect lingering the year after that). And an even larger boost for winning the World Series. I could find any evidence that it's important to come close. Or that reaching the World Series but not winning it matters.

Basically in terms of marginal revenue it seems a series of binary states. Made playoffs? Y/N. Won World Series Y/N.

There are a bunch of other factors important to revenue but random wins aren't worth a heck of a lot these days

The practical upshot is that player likely to move your win totals into the high 80s/low 90s are the most cost effective signings (since there isn't a heck of a lot you can do from planning purposes if some team has a year like the Giants. As a GM what you want to do is position yourself for the best chance to be in contention)

But as I said, there's an awful lot of money out there unrelated to team quality. It produces odd incentives for GMs.
   31. Walt Davis Posted: October 08, 2021 at 06:56 AM (#6044710)
The super-big contracts ... most of the current leaders are too early to judge and I'll limit to those we might judge. For current ones, remember that 2020 reduces both WAR and $ paid. Obviously marginal value changes over time, make whatever adjustments you think appropriate.

Stanton $325 M -- 22.5 WAR so far, heavily backloaded with 6/$189 left. (extension)
ARod II $275 M -- 23 WAR minus one suspended year
ARod I ~$158 M before opt-out -- 56 WAR
Miggy II $248 M -- 4 WAR, 2/$64 left (extension)
Pujols $240 M -- 13 WAR
Cano $240 M -- 25 WAR ... Seattle did fine (about $168 M all up), Mets not so much but just $48 M (both adjusted for his suspension)
Votto $225 M -- 30 WAR, 2/$50 left (extension)
Price $217 M -- 11 WAR, 1/$32 left (opted out of 2020 entirely)
Kershaw $215 M -- 36 WAR (extension, bought out an option I think)
Fielder $214 M -- 7 WAR (I think the last 2 years covered by insurance)
Scherzer $210 M -- 42 WAR
Greinke II $207 M -- 19 WAR (seems it should be higher)
Jeter I $189 -- 41 WAR (an FA contract per b-r)
Mauer $184 -- 22 WAR
Heyward $184 -- 10 WAR, 2/$44 left
Tex $180 -- 19 WAR
Verlander $180 -- 36 WAR, extension
Felix $175 -- 17 WAR

I get, give or take, 6 wins, 9 losses, 3 break-evens. Big wins are ARod I, Scherzer and Verlander. Then I guess there are about 6 where it fell somewhere between the team coming out about $2 M per year ahead or $2 M per year behind. A contract like Felix's -- obviously $10 M per WAR isn't likely to be great return but it's hardly a disaster. Stanton still have a good chance of making it to that level but the contract covers a couple of arb years and I haven't adjusted for that.

But there are several disasters here. The first obvious lesson is don't offer a guy in his 30s a 10-year contract (Pujols, Miggy, Cano, ARod II) although Votto's working out fine. Due to injury, even Trout's contract is not off to a good start and has 9/$304 to go. Dodgers must be a bit worried that Betts missed a chunk of time and his baserunning and defense weren't superb this year. Lindor's first year was pretty lousy and we're already worried about Tatis's durability (and can he handle SS). Arenado, Harper and Machado are doing OK but you'd arguably expect more to this point.
   32. Russlan thinks deGrom is da bomb Posted: October 08, 2021 at 09:07 AM (#6044717)
Cano $240 M -- 25 WAR ... Seattle did fine (about $168 M all up), Mets not so much but just $48 M (both adjusted for his suspension).

Cano still does have two years left on his contract so the WAR could change.
   33. DCA Posted: October 08, 2021 at 09:15 AM (#6044719)
I think ~$10m/WAR is probably fine for a mega-contract. You'd expect the performance to be front-loaded so that NPV of performance is relatively higher than NPV of cost. And these are good players, so there's a premium to get the player in addition to the $/WAR cost. Not a win at that price, but not something to complain about.

In that sense, the real losers here are Cabrera, Pujols, Price, Fielder, and Heyward. Cabrera and Fielder were obvious mistakes at the time of signing, no defense there, but the others were in the range of normal bad luck: Pujols declined sooner/faster than would reasonably be predicted, Price got hurt and missed time (his rate performance was fine), and Heyward's bat disappeared between St Louis and Chicago.

Add Jeter (4.5m $/WAR) and Kershaw (6m $/WAR) to the big win bucket and it really looks like most of these work out more or less okay, with approximately equal probability of a big hit or big miss. FWIW - Kershaw also opted out so his original deal per B-R was 31 WAR for $145m, exactly in the Verlander/Scherzer range.
   34. DCA Posted: October 08, 2021 at 09:20 AM (#6044720)
Greinke II $207 M -- 19 WAR (seems it should be higher)

Per B-R, Greinke adds another 2 wins with the bat and gets probably another 2 wins if you pro-rate 2020 to a full season. That's 23 WAR over 6 seasons or 4 WAR/year which seems reasonable.
   35. Walt Davis Posted: October 08, 2021 at 08:02 PM (#6044909)
#33 ... I debated Kershaw. I was trying to avoid a long debate about exactly where $/WAR was at any given point in time. Kershaw works out to $6 per WAR so it depends on where you set your $/WAR universal guesstimate. If we assume $8 and are accepting $10 as "inefficient but OK" then $6 is just the other side "efficient but not great." Or, in Kershaw's case, if we would accept 21-22 WAR as "a bit of bad luck", 28 as break-even, then 36 is "a bit of good luck." Scherzer and Verlander came out at $5/WAR ... and ARod I, any contract where you get 56 WAR in 7 years was a great deal. I'm totally comfortable calling those excellent outcomes. I don't have any problem adding Kershaw to that group.

On Kershaw and the opt-out ... it's far from clear to me how that worked. If he opted out, then he would have been an FA when he re-signed and b-r should report it as a FA signing but they don't. Cot's weasles and refers to it as an "extension after he opted out" which makes no sense. His Wiki page says he had the option "BUT he and the team agreed ..." Now maybe the contract had some clause giving the Dodgers an exclusive window or he opted out but the Dodgers re-signed him before the officiel FA date. The ESPN story gives the most detail ... says the original date for him to decide fell on a Wednesday but both sides agreed to extend the deadline to that Friday and the deal was done by Friday. So I hereby rule the option was never exercised and it is an extension not a FA contract. :-)

How exactly to handle $, years, etc. in that situation isn't clear but I messed it up relative to how I usually do it -- treat it as one big contract. That doesn't help the contract thought. If we put them together, it's 8/$250 which is $7/WAR. But sure, you can treat them as 5/$150 (per Cots) then 3/$93 (b-r lists $99). So that was 29 WAR for $150 which is in line with Verlander and Scherzer then 7 WAR for $93 which is not good. Or 34 WAR for the original $215 which is back to $6/WAR. Anyway, just nerding out, putting Kershaw in the HoVG of FA contracts or the HoF doesn't change our conclusions much.

Now on Cabrera in particular and maybe Fielder ... Cabrera was an obvious bad idea from the start because it was signed two years early and took him through age 40. But even if they had waited, a contract of 5/$160 (say) would have looked pretty reasonable and still would have been a disaster at 4.5 WAR. Similarly signing Fielder for 9 years was silly but 5/$120 would have looked pretty reasonable and produced just 7 WAR. We can't just write those off to GM stupidity, the stupidity just turned them from Hamilton/Howard into even bigger busts. In Fielder's case of course we don't know how much of it was related to the chronic condition that ended his career which is what insurance is for.

On Jeter -- I just have no idea what $/WAR back in 2001 could reasonably have been -- I assume that contract worked out really well at $4.5/WAR but I'm not gonna go to the trouble of providing evidence.

Anyway, agree with your general conclusion. On average (or maybe median), things turn out OK. That's probably especially true as long as the team is prioritizing production over the first 3-4 years of the contract. Possibly the wins don't quite balance the disasters (although ARod I helps tremendously). The big but obvious lesson, at least for position players, is that giving the guy 8-10 years when he's FA at 26-27 is OK .... not such a good idea at 30-32.
   36. Ziggy: social distancing since 1980 Posted: October 08, 2021 at 08:24 PM (#6044915)
Heyward's bat disappeared between St Louis and Chicago


I don't know that this is Heyward's fault, really. I can't tell you how many times I've lost something flying into O'Hare.
   37. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 08, 2021 at 09:03 PM (#6044919)
I was trying to avoid a long debate about exactly where $/WAR was at any given point in time. Kershaw works out to $6 per WAR so it depends on where you set your $/WAR universal guesstimate. If we assume $8 and are accepting $10 as "inefficient but OK" then $6 is just the other side "efficient but not great."
Not to start a long debate, but I think I've maybe come up with a better way of articulating my problem with using $/WAR figures based only on historical free agent contracts and performance for these calculations/discussions.

I think the issue is that, yes, teams ended up paying those amounts of money for those performances - but they didn't voluntarily pay those prices. It's just where things ended up, factoring in a lot of what teams would say turned out to be terrible contracts. Would a team willingly sign, say, Max Muncy (14.5 WAR over the last 3 non-2020 seasons) to a deal for $38 million a year or so? Of course not, because that would be terrible in comparison to the alternatives (both FA and others).

So by declaring $8M/WAR "good," these models basically normalize and measure against a figure that is nowhere near what the voluntary market would be. Saying, then, that Player X provided good value is often really just saying that he burned the team less than other FAs have. Or, put another way, he was somewhat less massively out of line with what his actual market price would have been.
   38. McCoy Posted: October 09, 2021 at 09:39 AM (#6044964)
Matt Swartz of FG had FA dollars per war at around 4.5 million per in 2006 and in the 5's the rest of the decade.
   39. McCoy Posted: October 09, 2021 at 09:42 AM (#6044965)
My issue with $ per war for FA is it's based on contracts in which 29 other teams said never mind.
   40. Ron J Posted: October 09, 2021 at 10:18 AM (#6044968)
#39 Right. Zimbalist's work (and others that followed) shows that the open market price that free agents command is somewhere around a 20% overpay if you consider players as revenue generating assets as opposed to costs.

It's just that I'm no longer convinced the revenue generating asset approach really works as the marginal revenue becomes a smaller piece of the pie.

The Rays very much operate on the revenue generating asset approach and one thing that's served them well is that they a very low amount of "dead money" (IE payouts to players not contributing)
   41. Ziggy: social distancing since 1980 Posted: October 09, 2021 at 11:24 AM (#6044974)
It's just that I'm no longer convinced the revenue generating asset approach really works as the marginal revenue becomes a smaller piece of the pie.


There's two issues we need to look at. One is that, for a lot of teams, much of their revenue comes from income streams that don't change with team quality. Like revenue sharing, MLBAM, merch sales (since those are pooled across the league), and the like. For these purposes, you'll still want to look at players as revenue-generating assets, it's just that the revenue they're generating will shrink, and so the number you use should go down.

The other issue is that wins short of making the playoffs aren't worth much. So, maybe we should see FA signings as buying playoff-probability-shares instead of wins.
   42. Ron J Posted: October 09, 2021 at 06:33 PM (#6045051)
#41 Though I haven't phrased it that way (nice terminology), I've been looking at free agent signings that way for a while.

It's complicated though. I mean you can get some notion for the upcoming year but any further than that is ... well calling it an educated guess feels like it's overstating the accuracy of the estimate.
   43. Jack Sommers Posted: October 09, 2021 at 08:08 PM (#6045077)
Alfonso Soriano is available
   44. sunday silence (again) Posted: October 10, 2021 at 09:51 AM (#6045125)
would the analysis change if you measured $/WAA? After all if you're talking playoffs then WAA seem a bit more relevant to that. Its arguable obviously, but maybe the numbers make more sense?
   45. Walt Davis Posted: October 10, 2021 at 07:01 PM (#6045168)
#37 ... but these are voluntary payments. Seriously, what in the world is "non-voluntary" about the FA market. Teams aren't forced to hand out these contracts, they choose to do so. Teams of course have access to the same info we have AND have access to much better info than we have on marginal revenue and the other factors yet they CHOOSE to sign a guy for 8/$240 M. Are they all morons? Teams know perfectly well how much a player is projected to produce over the next 3/5/8 years, they know the majority of that value comes in the first 3 years, they (and the players) choose to defer that cost over multiple years. I projected Cano to 25-30 WAR over the life of that contract and if I can figure that out, so can the Mariners.

We have two excellent recent examples that don't even involve long-term contracts. The Dodgers signed Bauer for 2/$85 for, they hoped, 360 innings knowing full well he might get hurt. Over the previous 3-4 years, Bauer had conveniently averaged about 4.5 WAR per year. A few years ago, the same Dodgers offered Harper 4/$180 for the rest of his 20s -- Harper, not Trout, not Betts, a guy who averaged (conveniently enough) 4.5 WAR per season in the 4 years prior and has put up about 5 WAR per 650 PA in the 3 years since. Both of those contracts suggest the Dodgers price things at about $10/WAR. About the only previous example we've had for a star on a short-term contract is the end of Clemens career when he was paid $22 and $28 for 2/3 of a season in 2006-7 and that was 15 years ago (Cots).

In the case of Bauer, both sides agreed to the short-term deal with bells and whistles. In the case of Harper, the Dodgers (presumably) decided not to beat the extra 9/$150 offered by the Phillies which is interesting -- they must really think he's not going to age well. For Betts, I don't recall any rumors of a short, big money deal ... as a 12-year deal that takes him through 39 and further defers almost 1/3 of that total over the 12 years following the end of the contract, it's so massively deferred that I'll leave it to somebody else to estimate the NPV and provide some guess as to what it says about the short-term value of a win to the Dodgers. (It was signed in the middle of the pandemic, July 2020, so both sides were dealing with a lot of uncertainty.)

#39-40: Of course. This is well known, it's the auction winner's curse. By definition really, in an open auction, the person who wins is the person who values the object the most (and can afford it) and, nearly always, they are not that much smarter than the field. In something like baseball, it's of course doubly challenging because there is usually no similar asset available in the market so you either win the auction or you go without.

But like my earlier point, it doesn't particularly matter. If the winners of the auctions are paying $8-10 M/WAR then that's what you've got to pay to win the auction whether that's the effect on revenue or not.

Note also that the goal from the team perspective is not to break even but to make profit on the deal. So you guys are surmising that not only are team buying wins at a price that leaves no profit but that they are going even further and buying them at a loss? You really think that if we saw the books, that's what we'd find?

#40-41: Yep, marginal revenue is now (give or take) 50% of local revenue and that needs to be accounted for.

#44: I've proposed that before and it has at least some superficial support. It's been obvious for some time that a 1.5 WAR guy like Jonathan Villar doesn't get $12 M a year, even on a 1-year contract. (Villar is arguably even a 2-WAR player depending on how much weight you want to give his 2019.) Now he was getting arb payments not far off that sort of AAV assumption (i.e. $5 and $8 in his last two years of arb) but, possibly because of a lousy 2020, he got just $3.5 M in his first year as FA. CJ Cron, somewhere between a very good bench player and an average 1B, just signed for 2/$15 ... by the Rox, not the brightest FA decision-makers in the world.

Some of that obviously is there's a much bigger supply of 1-2 WAR players than 5 WAR players. But sure, I wouldn't be surprised if a good approximation was something like the first 2 WAR are priced at about $5 per and each WAA is priced at about $10. That would put Bauer and Harper around $35 in the short-term and Mookie at $50-60.

Anyway, at the end of the day, if the Dodgers and Yanks are willing to pay $10 M per WAR (or whatever) then, if you want that asset, you've got to at least match that -- it's the price. Why should we care whether that matches the revenue generated? The combination of revenue sharing and the lux tax are intended to keep that under control -- if they keep paying a price substantially higher than other teams are willing/able to pay, then they will run out of cap room while the Cards, Braves, White Sox will have plenty of money to swoop in on next year's crop at $8/WAR.

To be clear, I agree that (projected) wins at different stages of (projected) success differ in value and that the value of wins also differs across markets. And yes, the common and shared revenue and the lux tax all should be factored into this. And of course whatever the long-term effects of covid on revenue turn out to be. If somebody wants to do all the work to bring that all together, make it available to us regular folks, estimate different team/player FA values (Szym did that once for Stanton I recall) then that would be great. Until then, I'll continue to use the shortcut of a simple $/WAR approximation which, after all, is gonna work on average.

Meanwhile other people need to realize that there is inflation yet we've been using $8M/WAR for closing in on a decade. Again, ARod got 10/$250 back in 2001 ... MLB revenues have tripled since then while Trout's deal is only about 1.7 times ARod's. The notion that free agents are overpaid is highly questionable at best. Back in the day (2009-12), a multi-year contract at $22 M per got you the best 1B on the market (Tex, AGon) ... now you pay 7/$245 for Anthony Rendon's 30s (or 7/$215 for Arenado's 30s).
   46. Walt Davis Posted: October 10, 2021 at 07:16 PM (#6045170)
It's pretty weird to single out the Rays as working on a marginal revenue model. What the Rays have demonstrated is that, whether due to their own market-building incompetence or being stuck in the worst market in baseball history, they have essentially no marginal revenue to generate. They are stuck in an ugly stadium on a long-term lease (finally coming near its end) with nobody all that excited about building them a new stadium. Winning hasn't had much impact on attendance, I don't know about ticket price. They did sign a good TV deal back in 2018 but those revenues are locked in (as much as any RSN revenues can be considered locked in at this point) through 2032. So the Rays revenues are pretty much fixed or at least they treat them as so. They are primarily maximizing profit relative to a fairly fixed income -- i.e. the $210 M they get from MLB every year plus half their local revenues.
   47. McCoy Posted: October 12, 2021 at 08:52 PM (#6045922)
Re 45. Yes I think if the teams opened up books the vast majority of FA contracts wouldn't be net gains for the teams.

As for the winner's curse and 8 to 10 million being the market price, that's my point. Right now when a team offers that much everyone else bows out. That implies that that amount is an overbid.

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