Best Value Players At Each Position 1992-2011, Part 2

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.

Onward.

Shortstop

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.

Reyes was a fairly easy choice because the other high performing shortstops over the last twenty years had very lucrative contracts: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, and Barry Larkin.

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.

Third base

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.

Left field

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.

Center field

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.

Right fielder

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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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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Kyle
Member
4 years 4 months ago

I’d love to see some rough calculations that could show us what this team’s annual cost would be in today’s dollars, as well as how much WAR they “would have” produced.

Ryan King
Guest
Ryan King
4 years 4 months ago

Edmonds for the Hall!

Brett
Guest
Brett
4 years 4 months ago

I take it you are not counting players on rookie contracts?

sc2gg
Guest
sc2gg
4 years 4 months ago

I made a reply to a post some time ago examining what I thought were the best values on a year to year basis, but without the data you have available (or ability to use it, if I had it), and it was pretty clear that the WORST value contract was Adam Dunn at -21.2mil or something like that. He was paid 21.2mil more than the value provided. ARod was second, I believe. Only like 7 more years of that, Yankee fans.

As for your list, Jose Bautista and Yunel Escobar will probably be on this list or at least deserving of a mention in a couple years, if you require a minimum amount of data. The Yunel contract is especially unreal, in this day and age.

Jesse
Guest
Jesse
4 years 4 months ago

It does seem a little silly to include contracts buying out rookie years, because there were definitely guys who went without contract, cost less and produced way more.

The Real Neal
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

Maybe the best way to do it would to establish a baseline for what a WAR cost for each of the seven (or eight) different buckets of contract status.

So you compare the players’ WARP/$ against all players WARP/$ who are in the same contract stage. So if you want to analyze a 3 year contract, which covered his 3 years of arbitration eligibilty, you only give him benefit for the WARP/$ that he provided over alll other players in thier 4th, 5th, and 6th years, rather than comparing him with free agents, which I think is the standard WARP values that they’re using.

Lanidrac
Guest
Lanidrac
4 years 4 months ago

I’m guessing Pujols from 2001-2003 (when he had the best rookie season since McGwire in ’87 if not even better than that, and then finished 2nd to Bonds for MVP in back-to-back seasons) would have a clean sweep on the best pre-arbitration values.

Nivra
Guest
Nivra
4 years 4 months ago

Lincecum competes with pujols on 2 of 3 years

walt526
Guest
walt526
4 years 4 months ago

I’m just curious where Omar Vizquel’s contract with the Indians compares rate-wise. While his aggregate WAR would be considerably less than Reyes or any of the Trinity, for much of the 1990s he provided great value given what the Indians were paying him.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
4 years 4 months ago

The WAR value should be in constant dollars.

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
4 years 4 months ago

Yeah, the deflators have been a bit off for both parts.

Doug
Guest
Doug
4 years 4 months ago

This is very important. Without counting for inflation you’re comparing apples to oranges. 23 million of surplus value is worth a lot more in 1997 than in 2007. This distorts all the data and frankly discredits any analysis. I don’t say this to be harsh, just objective.

Doug
Guest
Doug
4 years 4 months ago

Thanks for the piece Wendy!

Joel
Guest
Joel
4 years 4 months ago

No mention of the Red Sox buying out Nomar Garciaparra’s arbitration seasons? I think it was a five-year contract that he signed in 1998 and he proceeded to accrue 26.6 WAR in that period, despite effectively missing a season.

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC
4 years 4 months ago

So now we’re celebrating the ability of ultra-mega rich capitalists to screw over their workers and pay them as little as possible? Is that what baseball fandom has come down to? We’re celebrating Stuart Sternberg — estimated net worth: $800 million — and his ability to bleed his workers dry of money they should be earning?

Jesus. Priorities much?

JayT
Member
JayT
4 years 4 months ago

Longoria is very underpaid for sure.However, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have minded having $17 million guaranteed to me when I was 22.

Longoria his still rich, just not as rich as he could have been. I don’t think he needs any tears.

Cliff
Guest
Cliff
4 years 4 months ago

So are you in favor of complete free agency and the elimination of the anti-trust exemption, etc.?

Otherwise, both parties agreed to it.

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
4 years 4 months ago

Uh, what antitrust exemption?

wat
Guest
wat
4 years 4 months ago

dafuq

Bip
Guest
Bip
4 years 4 months ago

The ability to get great value out of players is critical to being able to build a team, considering most teams have to build on a budget, so this is something that is of supreme importance to fans. Also, I shouldn’t have to point out that we’re talking about multimillionaires paying other multimillionaires here, not people who have to decide between car insurance and healthcare.

Colm
Guest
Colm
4 years 4 months ago

I’m not clear on what the multiplying factors inflation should be for dollar inflation, and dollars-per-WAR, but surely Alex Rodriquez first five years as a starting shortstop for the Mariners must blow everything else out of the water?

He produced 37.2 WAR between 1996 and 2000 during which time he was paid $10.7M

Does that not count because he was just being paid under CBA rules for team-controlled players for some of that time – i.e. MLB minimums or yearly salaries agreed in lieu of arbitration instead of a long term contract.

JCA
Guest
JCA
4 years 4 months ago

C’mon – where is the DH? Edgar v. Papi! Papi never made over $12.5MM until this arb cycle. It’s only 2 years, but his 2005 – 06 contract for < $12MM while he piled up 10.7 WAR and $38MM value has to be one of the nices surpluses per year of the contract?

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
4 years 4 months ago

On a total net, those are better, but fractionally, the 2010 Thome-Twins deal blows those out of the water. Pay=$1.5M, production = 3.6 WAR. You are talking about production 10 times the pay.

Bip
Guest
Bip
4 years 4 months ago

On one hand, I think that this list should have only covered free agent years, i.e. contracts of players that signed as free agents or the portions of other contracts that cover free agent years. I realize this would exclude the Longoria contract, but there’s no fair way to compare Longoria’s contract to that of Reyes, which contained more free agent years than arbitration ones. The alternative is to also include $/WAR values for each step in arbitration.

On the other, just for entertainment purposes, it’s fun to see who got the most value out their players regardless of circumstance. For example, Kershaw basically was worth 7 wins this year, and was paid $500k, and on the market, 7 wins should be $31.5M, so the dodgers got 60 times what they paid for approximately.

Monroe
Guest
Monroe
4 years 4 months ago

Amen to this: comparing free agent contracts to pre-free agent deals makes absolutely no sense.

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
4 years 4 months ago

Have the Rays signed any other deals similar to the Longoria contract? If so, you can’t really count the ones that work without also including in the ones that don’t work. In a sense Longoria might have been like a junk bond–purchased with many others so that each bond that works looks like a genius move, but in total the bonds are not worth that much.

bender
Guest
bender
4 years 4 months ago

Matt Moore, Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Wade Davis, Rocco Baldelli, etc

Your point is false though, because the surplus value of Longoria’s deal is greater than the downside of all these other ones put together

Levi
Guest
Levi
4 years 4 months ago

Yes, this. The club options are what really make them so valuable.

Jake R.
Guest
Jake R.
4 years 4 months ago

Not to mention that most of those other deals produced surplus value for the Rays too. The basic principle of early extensions should work out to be a win-win for both parties involved.

The player sacrifices some percentage of their expected earnings over the time the extension covers to get those earnings guaranteed. The club saves the money the player sacrifices.

Keep in mind, expected earnings covers both upside and downside risk scenarios.

No one should feel bad for Longoria. He essentially sacrificed against his earnings upside to insure against his earnings downside. The player derives greater utility from the guaranteed dollars than from the chance of maximizing earnings while the club derives greater utility from minimizing average cost across all possible scenarios.

Put differently, if I offered you a guaranteed $1 million or a chance to flip a coin for $4 million, which would you choose?

Now, if you had $1 billion dollars and were offered the choice between giving away $1 million guaranteed or flipping a coin with the potential results being owing $4 million or nothing, what would you pick?

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