The All Minor League Contract Team

We’re a couple of weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting, and by now, most free agents have figured out where they’ll be going during spring training. Some may be rolling up in more expensive clothes than they had last year, thanks to a shiny new contract they signed this winter. Today, though, I’m more interested in the guys who will be recycling last year’s digs – the ones who come to camp with non-guaranteed contracts and will spend March fighting for a job on a big league roster. Let’s take a look at what kind of team could have been assembled this winter without handing out a single Major League contract. Essentially, these guys are the NRI All-Stars.

Position: Player – Marcel Forecasted wOBA/FIP

Catcher: Gregg Zaun – .310 wOBA
First Base: Casey Kotchman – .304 wOBA
Second Base: Adam Kennedy – .310 wOBA
Shortstop: Adam Everett – .278 wOBA
Third Base: Felipe Lopez – .323 wOBA
Left Field: Laynce Nix – .323 wOBA
Center Field: Lastings Milledge – .321 wOBA
Right Field: Jeremy Hermida – .315 wOBA

Bench: Josh Bard (.286 wOBA), Willie Harris (.316 wOBA), Gabe Kapler (.316 wOBA), Travis Buck (.309 wOBA), Kevin Frandsen (.295 wOBA), Jason Giambi (.326 wOBA)

Starting Pitcher: Freddy Garcia – 4.52 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Micah Owings – 4.48 FIP
Starting Pitcher: J.D. Martin – 4.70 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Jeff Suppan – 4.83 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Rodrigo Lopez – 4.98 FIP

Bullpen: Dana Eveland (4.08 FIP), Andrew Miller (4.11 FIP), Nate Robertson (4.47 FIP), Mark Hendrickson (4.58 FIP), Chad Gaudin (4.60 FIP), Fernando Nieve (4.77 FIP)

Obviously, this team isn’t a contender. The offense is lousy, the starting pitching is full of back-end starters who wouldn’t be able to work deep into games, and the bullpen is a bunch of guys with big platoon splits, so there’s no good choice for a closer. This would almost certainly be the worst team in baseball. But how bad would they be?

Using weighted averages, the offense projects out to about a .310 wOBA, which is actually better than eight teams posted a year ago. But this assumes that everyone would stay healthy and they wouldn’t have to rely on any other players listed besides the 14 position players we cherry picked from the free agent pool, which is an unreasonable assumption. We can reasonably drop the team wOBA projection down to .300 or so to account for the playing time of fill-ins.

Defensively, this team looks okay. The infield defense would be average or maybe even a tick above that, while the outfielders would be a bit below average but not disastrous. With Kapler and Harris getting work as defensive substitutions and some decent gloves in Kotchman, Kennedy, Everett, and Nix, I’d be comfortable calling this a roughly average defensive team. A .300ish wOBA and average defense would equal out to around +10 WAR for the position players. Basically, it’s the 2010 Astros with slightly better hitting.

On the pitching side of the ledger, the performance of the guys on the roster isn’t so bad (a weighted average of about a 4.62 FIP), but because they can’t be counted on for significant quantity of innings, we’d have to fill out the staff with hundreds of innings of inferior pitchers. That pushes the overall estimated FIP into the 4.75 range, which is worst in the league range. The Diamondbacks had a +4.76 FIP last year, for instance, and were the worst pitching staff by a pretty good margin. But that was still good enough to be worth +7.5 WAR.

All told, our NRI All-Star team looks like they’d be worth somewhere in the +15 to +20 WAR range. We shouldn’t be surprised that these guys are a bit better than replacement level, considering that we’re hand selecting the best 25 guys we could find from the entire population of guys who are generally considered for those kinds of roles. Beyond that, several of these guys don’t fit the classic definition of freely available talent, as their contracts call for higher-than-minimum salaries once they are placed on a big league roster. This group would cost more than the baseline of around $11 million that it would take to pay a 25 man roster.

That said, I do find it somewhat interesting how not-totally-awful this team would be. A projected +15 to +20 WAR would put them in the 61-66 win range, so while they’d be among the worst teams in the league, they probably wouldn’t threaten historical records of futility. They’d also be historically cheap, as there are no scouting or player development costs associated with putting this roster together, and the total payroll (even with all the needed fill-ins) would be under $25 million.

Bottom line – if your team isn’t doing better than the projected performance of the guys listed above, then you’re doing something wrong.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.