Last week, in Part 1, I set out my criteria for “best value players” and selected the pitcher, catcher, first baseman, and second baseman that, in my view, best met those criteria in the twenty seasons from 1992 to 2011.
Today, in Part 2, I select the “best value players” at shortstop, third base, left field, center field, and right field over the same twenty-year period.
First, a note about values prior to 2002. In Part 1, I explained that the Wizards of FanGraphs had calculated the dollar value per WAR for the years 2002-2011, but not for 1992-2001. When comparing contracts from the 1990’s to contracts in the 2000’s, I did my best to estimate values by taking inflation into account. I agree with several of the comments that simply taking the value of contracts from the 1990’s and estimating their present value based on inflation may not be the most accurate way to go about it.
For Part 2, I’m trying something different. Remember, here’s the chart with the FanGraphs-devised dollar values for each WAR for the years 2002-2011:
Based on these figures, I’ve approximated dollar values for each WAR for the years 1992-2001, as follows:
These are estimates, and they are by no means perfect. But, I’ve decided it’s a fairer way to compare contracts from different decades.
Jose Reyes-New York Mets: 5 years/$34 million (2007-2011)
In this contract, the Mets bought out Reyes’ last two years of arbitration and his first three years of free agency. The original contract was for 4 years/$23 million, but it had a club option for 2011 at $11 million, which the Mets exercised.
Over the life of the contract, Reyes had two great seasons (2008, 2011), one very good season (2007), and two seasons when he was hampered by injuries and missed a lot of playing time (2009, 2010). Even so, in those five seasons, Reyes accumulated 26.7 WAR for a value of $95.7 million, or 2.8 times the salary he was paid.
I did consider Troy Tulowitzki. He signed a 6-year contract with the Rockies before the 2008 season, to run through 2013, for $31 million. That deal would have bought out five years of arbitration and one year of free agency. But Tulowitzki and the Rockies extended that contract, beginning in 2011 and continuing for ten years, for a total package of $157.50 million. Tulowitzki accumulated 13.1 WAR between 2008-2010 for a value of $55.5 million, more than ten times what he was paid over the first three years of his contract. But the renegotiated extension wiped out the last two years of the original contract, making it difficult to compare it to Reyes’ fully-completed 5-year deal. It remains to be seen what value Tulowitzki will produce for the Rockies over the next nine seasons.
Evan Longoria-Tampa Bay Rays: 6 years/$17.5 million + 3 club options totaling $30 million (2008-2013, plus 2014-2016)
This is where it all began, the idea for this post. My love and adoration for the Evan Longoria contract. And it really is an absolutely fantastic deal for the Rays.
The initial six years of the contract cover Longoria’s first six seasons in the league, and, therefore, all his arbitration-eligible years. If the Rays exercise their club options, they’ll get the first three years of Longoria’s “free agency” for just $30 million. To date, Longoria has accumulated 26.9 WAR for a value of $117.1 million. If we make conservative assumptions about the next two seasons — i.e., that Longoria will produce, on average, 5 WAR per season; and that each WAR will be worth $4.5 million — then Longoria will have produced $162 million in value for the Rays at a cost of just $17.5 million. After 2013, if Longoria stays healthy, and if he weren’t under contract for the Rays, he’d likely command in the range of $25 million per year. Getting three years of Longoria in his prime for just $30 million total is an absolute steal for the Rays.
It’s worth noting that the Atlanta Braves had a very favorable contract with Chipper Jones from 1996-1999: 4 years/$8.25 million. Over that span, Jones accumulated 25.5 WAR with an estimated value of $38.3 million, or 4.6 times his actual salary. If not for Longoria’s contract, the Braves four-year deal with Jones would have easily made him the best value third baseman in the last twenty years.
Barry Bonds-San Francisco Giants: 3 years/$33.2 million (1999-2001)
Bonds had four contracts with the Giants and in all but the last one (for 2007), he provided more value than he was paid. The best value for the Giants was the three-year deal covering 1999-2001, when the team paid Bonds $33.2 million and he produced 24.3 WAR, valued at $53.8 million. Incredibly, Bonds posted only 3.6 WAR in 1999, his lowest WAR/season since his rookie year of 1985.
Bonds’ first contract with the Giants was slightly less valuable to the team. Under that contract, covering 1993-1998, the Giants paid Bonds $43.75 million — at the time, the most lucrative contract ever — and Bonds produced 51.5 WAR for an approximate value of $56.1 million.
The third Bonds-Giants contract covered 2002-2006 and paid Bonds $90 million. If Bonds hadn’t missed nearly all of 2005 with knee surgery, this contract likely would have eclipsed the 1999-2001 deal in value to the Giants. Over the course of this contract, Bonds produced 39.1 WAR valued at $114 million.
Jim Edmonds-St.Louis Cardinals: 6 years/$57 million (2001-2006)
This was a bit of a surprise to me, perhaps because I’d forgotten what a terrific player Jim Edmonds was in the first part of the 2000’s. And perhaps because I was expecting the winner to be either Ken Griffey, Jr.’s 4-year deal with the Mariners for $34 million (1996-1999) or Andruw Jones‘ 6-year deal with the Braves for $75 million (2002-2007).
But this Edmonds-Cardinals deal was the clear winner. Over the six seasons, Edmonds produced 36.8 WAR with an approximate value of $107 million. That’s nearly two times Edmonds’ $57 million salary.
Bobby Abreu-Philadelphia Phillies: 3 years/$14.2 million (2000-2002)
Another surprising winner, in my view. I was expecting Ichiro to win this one going away with his 4 year/$44 million contract with the Mariners from 2004-2007. But Abreu’s 3-year deal with the Phillies was just a fantastic deal for Philadelphia. Abreu produced 18.6 WAR with an approximate value of $43.5 million. That’s more than three times what the Phillies paid Abreu over the life of the contract.
So there you have it. I’m sure you’ll tell me everything I got wrong in the comments. And if I got something right, tell me that, too.
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