If you've channeled the El Guapo character from the movie "Three Amigos", you clearly know that the last few weeks have provided a plethora of big-money deals for baseball's free agents. In a sport awash with money, old-school fans are having difficulty wrapping their heads around the new budgetary guidelines. These days, even the 6th or 7th pitcher on a major league staff is commanding $6 Million a season and more.
The real question under the surface, however, is if these acquisitions can really make a difference in the standings? In other words, what is their contribution to winning games? We've discussed WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numerous times in this space and that statistical outcome does impact decisions made by writers voting on awards and General Managers making deals. It has become a mainstream analysis over the last decade and can help clarify and justify some contract amounts. For example, if you believe in the WAR calculations, it appears that the Yankees got a much better deal with Chase Headley (3.5 WAR, $13M per year x 4) than the Red Sox did with Pablo Sandoval (3.4 WAR, $19M per year x 5). Of course, that's just a snapshot of the 2014 season and all of these deals require projecting into the future.
This time, we'll turn to another statistical measure in an attempt to gauge the free agent market. The other stat that is team-result based is WS (Win Shares) as developed by the godfather of modern statistical analysis, Bill James. While trying to describe the formula is impossible (James wrote an entire book on the topic in 2002), it comes down to a system where each game a team wins during the season is meticulously analyzed and the three players most responsible for that win get a "win share." So, if a team wins 80 games, there will be 240 win shares distributed on the roster. Position players will have a tendency to accumulate higher totals than pitchers, but it's all about comparisons between players among positions. Only a handful of players had a number over 30 in 2014 and it's difficult to take exception with the results: Michael Brantley (31), Giancarlo Stanton (31), Andrew McCutchen (33), Robinson Cano (34) and Mike Trout (40). The pitching leader was Adam Wainwright (23) while Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez posted 22 each. AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber had 21.
Let's look at the free agent class through the prism of "Win Shares" and analyze the results...
> Max Scherzer, P - Available. The combination of intestinal fortitude and Scott Boras' influence allowed this 30-year-old righty to turn down a $144M offer from the Tigers prior to last season. His WS of 18 was very solid and follows the figure of 20 he put up in his 2013 Cy Young Award season. The best pitcher on the market, he'll probably get a deal worth at least $175M.
> Jon Lester, P - 6 year, $155M (Cubs). At age 31, he picked a great time to have his best season. He also had a WS of 18, which he has only matched once...back in 2008. Before raising the championship flags at Wrigley Field, however, remember that his WS in '13 and '12 were 12 and 8 respectively.
> James Shields, P - Available. A little older at 33, he does deliver consistency and durability. The average WS over the last four seasons is 16, so he should be able to score $20M per year on the open market.
> Hanley Ramirez, OF - 4 year, $88M (Red Sox). It seems that the reputation he built up early in his career still holds up because teams continue to pay for the player he once was. His WS from '06 to '09 averaged an incredible 29.5 but he's not that player anymore. Last season's WS of 18 is a much better gauge of his current production. Lots of corner outfielders have better numbers for less dollars.
> Pablo Sandoval, 3B - 5 year, $95M (Red Sox). According to WS, he's a much better buy than Han-Ram. His WS over the last four seasons has averaged a solid 21 and the consistency is evident with nothing under 18 during that span.
> Victor Martinez, DH - 4 year, $68M (Tigers). Giving a 36-year-old player this type of contract is a roll of the dice, but his WS of 30 in 2014 was going to translate to big dollars somewhere.
> Melky Cabrera, OF - 3 year, $42M (White Sox). Interesting that a 30-year-old outfielder couldn't get a 4-year deal. His WS of 19 last season was solid but he does have a PED suspension on his resume.
> Russell Martin, C - 5 year, $82M (Blue Jays). Another player in his thirties who cashed in on his most productive season, where he had a WS of 22. It also didn't hurt that there really weren't any other candidates at the catching position.
> Nelson Cruz, OF/DH - 4 year, $58M (Mariners). The song sounds familiar, as this 34-year-old posted his best WS ever at 22 while leading all of baseball in home runs.
> Ervin Santana, P – 4 year, $55M (Twins). A little surprising that this deal isn't much better than some less durable hurlers, but maybe his 2014 WS of 9 should tell us something. In ten seasons, he's only been above 14 once.
> David Robertson, P - 4 year, $46M (White Sox). It seemed like GM's had gotten away from this type of commitment to closers since the Jonathan Papelbon contract. With everyone in the pitching community throwing 95 MPH, replacements are easier to find than ever. His WS in each of the last two seasons has been 12.
> Brandon McCarthy, P - 4 year, $48M (Dodgers). A smart pitcher with good stuff and a lack of durability. 2014 was the first time in his career that he's logged 200 IP and his WS was 8. For about the same price, would you sign him or Santana?
> Chase Headley, 3B - 4 year, $52M (Yankees). Had one MVP-caliber campaign in 2012 when he posted a WS of 32. He's also posted a WS of 32 the last two seasons...combined.
> Andrew Miller, P - 4 year, $36M (Yankees). If you watched the Royals in the postseason, you clearly understand the value of shut-down guys in the bullpen. He posted a WS of 9 last season despite having only one save.
> Aramis Ramirez, 3B - 1 year, $14M (Brewers) - His WS of 15 shows he's not the contributor of 3-4 years ago.
> Colby Rasmus, OF - Available. He's a young free agent at age 28 and even though his 2014 WS was only 8, he's just one season removed from a number of 20. GM's understand that there's upside here.
> Jed Lowrie, SS - 3 year, $23M (Astros). Houston has the reputation of using analytics extensively, which makes this signing a head-scratcher. A 31-year-old coming off a WS season of 11 with a defensive profile that indicates he cost the A's 31 runs the last two campaigns. Must be the cost of "veteran leadership."
> Jason Hammel, P - 2 year, $20M (Cubs). Was finally healthy in 2014 and posted a 9 WS. That's the same as Santana and better than McCarthy.
> Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B - Available. Still wants to play shortstop, but his future is probably at another position. Had a productive 2014 with a WS of 15, but he's not the player he was a few years ago.
> Nick Markakis, OF - 4 year, $44M (Braves). His lack of flash seems to undermine his image to the fans and media. At this price, he's a pretty good deal with a 2014 WS of 20. Over nine seasons, he's averaged almost 18.
> Adam LaRoche, 1B - 2 year, $25M (White Sox). This might turn out to be a great short-term deal for the Pale Hose. The last three seasons, his WS has been 20, 14 and 22.
> Jake Peavy, P – 2 year, $24M (Giants). Another veteran starter with a 2014 WS of 9.
> Mike Morse, 1B/OF - 2 year, $16M (Marlins). Protection for Giancarlo Stanton at a reasonable price. His WS last year was 13 and he still might have something left in the tank.
> Michael Cuddyer, OF - 2 year, $21M (Mets). You only sign this player if you think your team can contend (he'll be 36 on opening day). Injuries limited his production in 2014, but he did post a 19 WS in '13.
> Alex Rios, OF - 1 year, $11M (Royals). His WS has dropped the last three seasons from 22 to 15 to 9 and he's going to be 34. Who were they bidding against?
> Edinson Volquez, P - 2 year, $20M (Royals). This is one of those stories that only seems to happen in baseball. A top prospect (he was traded for Josh Hamilton prior to the '08 season) who posted ERA's like 5.71 and 6.01 in his 20's. Then, at age 30, seems to figure it all out and puts up a WS of 11. In 2011 and 2013, his WS was zero (0)! America is a wonderful country.
> Torii Hunter, OF - 1 year, $10.5M (Twins). A nice story with him going back to Minnesota, but the WS of 13 was his lowest since 2005...Father Time always wins.
> A.J. Burnett, P - 1 year, $8.5M (Pirates). Took less money to go back to Pittsburgh, but he barely blipped the radar in '14 with a WS of only 3 after a total of 20 the two previous seasons.
> Francisco Rodriguez, P - Available. Here's the riddle...Robertson had 39 saves, a WS of 12 and a WAR of 1.2 that equals $11.5M per year for four years. K-Rod had 44 saves, a WS of 13, a WAR of 1.5 and is still unemployed.
> Billy Butler, DH - 3 year, $30M (A's). Seems to fly in the face of all the other moves made by Billy Beane this off-season. The WS of 12 was his lowest since '08.
Hope all your free agent signings win their share of games.