A few weeks ago, we provided some links to a few different custom leaderboards, which allow you to sort and compare free agents to your hearts content. These are super useful for seeing how various players on the open market have done in the past, but the leaderboards don’t contain future projections, which is mostly what we care about when discussing what kind of contracts a player is going to sign or whether a team should pursue one free agent over another.
So, today, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that you may or may not have noticed: we now have a free agent depth chart, complete with 2014 Steamer Projection data, so you can compare available free agents at each position to each other based on their forecasts for next season. These depth charts reveal some pretty fun facts, so let’s walk through a few of them and see why I’m going to be using this page regularly.
Don’t pay for Jarrod Saltlamacchia when Dioner Navarro is basically the same thing.
Navarro is one year older than Salty (2/9/84 versus 5/2/85) and isn’t going to land anything close to the same contract as the more notable free agent catchers, but their projections are almost identical. Steamer has Navarro forecast for a .316 wOBA, four points better than Saltalamacchia’s .312 mark. Both are switch-hitters, but Navarro’s career numbers suggest he’s better from the right side, so he’s not quite as good of a fit as a regular catcher as Salty (since most pitchers are RHPs), but he’s still effective enough against them to be at least a 50/50 catcher.
Navarro’s going to be priced like a backup and will probably sign for a few million dollars, and if he’s lucky, he might get a second guaranteed year. Salty’s going be looking for $10+ million annually on a multi-year contract, and the FanGraphs Crowd expects him to sign for $45 million over 4 years. Navarro is projected to give you most of the same production level for a tiny fraction of the cost.
The forecasts love Juan Uribe.
I’m pretty sure that no one is going to buy into this forecast, but it’s at least worth noting that Steamer is projecting Uribe and Shin-Soo Choo to post the same WAR in 2014. Yes, Uribe’s WAR is heavily driven by defensive value, but his defensive numbers have been consistently excellent over a long career, so at some point, the world is just going to have to accept that Juan Uribe is a very good defensive player. I’ll take Choo to outperform Uribe in 2014 too — sorry Steamer, I like you, but +2.9 WAR for Uribe seems a bit aggressive for even my tastes — but Uribe’s going to cost $7 to $10 million while Choo’s going to get $20 million for twice as many years. At the very least, Steamer reminds us that the gap probably isn’t as big as the market is going to suggest.
Don’t forget about Kevin Youkilis.
Coming off a terrible season in which he was bad and mostly injured, and heading for his age-35 season, it would be easy to assume that Youkilis is finished as a productive player. Steamer forecasts him for a .330 wOBA, however, which would make him an above average third basmean if he could still play the field on a semi-regular basis. Even if he can’t play third and needs to strictly be a 1B/DH at this point, that still makes him a decently useful player, not that different from Justin Morneau or James Loney. Odds are he’s going to have to take a deal not too different from what Eric Chavez got last year, and could be a nice cheap addition for a team looking for a hitter.
Dan Haren still has a lot of potential.
Haren was supposed to be a bounce back guy last year, only he didn’t bounce back, so it’s easy to assume that he won’t ever bounce back. But Steamer is not deterred, forecasting Haren as a +3 WAR pitcher for 2014, better than every other free agent starter besides A.J. Burnett and Hiroki Kuroda. It likes Haren more than Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, two other bounce back guys from last winter who actually did bounce back. Assuming that Haren’s going to come in slightly under what Tim Hudson just got — the Giants likely chose Hudson over Haren — Steamer thinks he might be the bargain of the winter.
Matt Garza, still wildly overrated.
Garza’s going to get a big contract from someone based on his reputation, but Steamer sees him as basically a league average starting pitcher, projecting +2.1 WAR over 188 innings pitched. It’s a worse projection than the system gives for Roberto Hernandez, and it puts him squarely in the same class as Jason Vargas, Chris Capuano, Jason Hammel, and Paul Maholm. Those guys are likely going to be shopping for short term deals at less than $10 million per year, while Garza is projected to sign for $59 million over four years. A couple of years ago, Garza was legitimately excellent, but he’s been mediocre for the last two seasons and his strikeout rate is rapidly trending the wrong way. Even if you think this forecast undersells him a little bit, throwing 4/60 at Garza seems like a great way to light money on fire when similarly valuable pitchers will be had for fractions of the price.
There’s plenty of other interesting nuggets on those depth charts, and yes, the team depth charts are updated with 2014 Steamer projections too, so you can look at how the forecasts might see your favorite team’s expected outcome based on their current roster. Marlins fans might want to avoid doing so, however.