With just a couple weeks until MLB camps begin with pitchers and catchers reporting, most of the big-name free agents have found new homes and are looking to settle in and produce for their new team. However, there are still a few stragglers that are looking for the right opportunity for their services. Some players *cough* Drew, Cruz and Morales *cough* are finding it difficult to land a spot due to their limited markets. Likewise, most starting pitchers needed to wait out the Masahiro Tanaka saga before teams decided to move on.
While the pickings are slim when it comes to some positions, I wondered what a team complied fully of the remaining free agents would look like, and how they would stack up against the rest of the league if they formed a new team. For this example, they will be called the Free Agent Stragglers. Now, there were some guidelines when putting this team together. First of all, all WAR projections are taken from Oliver simply because the Oliver system projects all batters to receive 600 PA and sort of evens the playing field that way.
Obviously there are some flaws to this, most notably bench players who will not reach that mark, but, I digress. Also, personal opinion is left out. Players listed at each position are simply the highest projected WAR player left at that position at it stands right now, defense and other considerations be damned. Lastly, for this illustration, I made the hypothetical team an AL team simply to give to an extra spot in the lineup. Finally, to be eligible, there has to be an Oliver projection for that player. Basically, this just affected Suk-Min Yoon and Yenier Bello.
At any rate, here are the hypothetical Free Agent Stragglers:
Catcher: Kelly Shoppach (1.3 WAR)
First Base: Kendrys Morales (1.5 WAR)
Second Base: Elliot Johnson (0.1 WAR)
Third Base: Justin Turner (0.9 WAR)
Shortstop: Stephen Drew (1.7 WAR)
Left Field: Juan Pierre (0.9 WAR)
Center Field: Andres Torres (0.8 WAR)
Right Field: Nelson Cruz (2.6 WAR)
Designated Hitter: Lance Berkman (0.8 WAR)
Starting Lineup WAR: 10.6
Bench: Michael Young (0.5 WAR)
Bench: Dewayne Wise (0.6 WAR)
Bench: Jeff Baker (0.4 WAR)
Bench: Yorvit Torrealba (0 WAR)
Bench WAR: 1.5/3 = 0.5 WAR
*WAR was divided by three to try and compensate for the fact that bench players will not see the projected playing time that Oliver gives.
Starting Pitcher: A.J. Burnett (2.3 WAR)
Starting Pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez (1.8 WAR)
Starting Pitcher: Paul Maholm (1.3 WAR)
Starting Pitcher: Jason Hammel (1.2 WAR)
Starting Pitcher: Erik Bedard (1.1 WAR)
Starting Rotation WAR: 7.7
Closer: Fernando Rodney (0.7 WAR)
Setup: Matt Belisle (1.0 WAR)
Relief Pitcher: Rafael Betancourt (0.5 WAR)
Relief Pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez (0.4 WAR)
Relief Pitcher: Andrew Bailey (0.2 WAR)
Left Handed Relief Pitcher: Mike Gonzalez (0.0 WAR)
Long Relief / Alt Starter: Chris Capuano (1.0 WAR/3 = 0.3 WAR)
*Capuano’s 1.0 WAR is clearly for him being a SP. I divided it by three and rounded down to account for spot starts and actual bullpen work.
Bullpen WAR: 3.1
TOTAL TEAM WAR: 21.9
So, what does this tell us? According to the FanGraphs team Depth Charts, the Free Agent Stragglers would be better than exactly one team: Miami Marlins. The Marlins are currently projected at a team WAR of 20.9; 1.0 less WAR than this team. The next lowest team, that Chicago White Sox, have 4.3 WAR on the Stragglers. Now, as stated earlier, this is an imperfect list. The projections are made differently and the team charts take into consideration team depth and actual predicted playing time. Nonetheless, it still puts it into perspective a bit.
To look at it another way, Mike Trout’s 10.4 WAR 2013 would only be 0.2 worse than the team’s full lineup. Throw Kershaw into this rotation and he would have made up for 6.5 WAR (2.2 less than the team’s rotation).
Yes, I realize that Lance Berkman is set to announce his retirement. However, it is my assumption that this is the great opportunity that he was looking for and he signs on with the Free Agent Stragglers to become their full time DH. Moving on.
There were some puzzling omissions with this as well, the main person being Ervin Santana. While Steamers gives Santana a projection of 2.6 WAR, Oliver likes Ervin for only 0.6 WAR. After looking into it further, aside from the names listed above for the team, Oliver projections has six additional starting pitchers slated to give their team more than Santana can. That list includes Tommy Hanson (1.0), Jeff Niemann (0.9), Roy Oswalt (0.9), Bronson Arroyo (0.8), Johan Santana (0.8) and Jake Westbrook (0.7). Let that sink in for a moment.
Now, you cannot just have one team enter the league. Let’s take the hypothetical one step further. What if a team was formed just as free agency started? What would the team look like if the top players signed with the team from the beginning? How good could that team be? Only stipulations other than the ones listed above are that they had to have actually gone to free agency i.e. signed on or after November 5th, and they cannot be listed on the above team. I’ll call them the Free Agent Sluggers. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Catcher: Brian McCann (4.1 WAR)
First Base: James Loney (1.8 WAR)
Second Base: Robinson Cano (4.2 WAR)
Third Base: Juan Uribe (2.1 WAR)
Shortstop: Johnny Peralta (2.6 WAR)
Left Field: Marlon Byrd (3.3 WAR)
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury (3.8 WAR)
Right Field: Shin-Soo Choo (5.4 WAR)
Designated Hitter: Carlos Beltran (2.4 WAR)
*Like Yoon and Bello, a projection was not available for Jose Abreu.
Starting Lineup WAR: 29.7
Bench: Curtis Granderson (2.0 WAR)
Bench: Omar Infante (2.8 WAR)
Bench: Kevin Youkilis (1.9 WAR)
Bench: Dioner Navarro (3.6 WAR)
Bench WAR: 10.3/3 = 3.4 WAR
*Divided by three per Bench WAR note above.
Starting Pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka (6.4 WAR)
Starting Pitcher: Hiroki Kuroda (2.8 WAR)
Starting Pitcher: Ricky Nolasco (2.6 WAR)
Starting Pitcher: Matt Garza (1.9 WAR)
Starting Pitcher: Bartolo Colon (1.7 WAR)
Starting Rotation WAR: 15.4
Closer: Joe Nathan (0.8 WAR)
Setup: Jesse Crain (0.8 WAR)
Relief Pitcher: Edward Mujica (0.5 WAR)
Relief Pitcher: LaTroy Hawkins (0.4 WAR)
Relief Pitcher: Joaquin Benoit (0.4 WAR)
Left Handed Relief Pitcher: Eric O’Flaherty (0.3 WAR)
Long Relief / Alt Starter: Scott Feldman (1.7 WAR/3 = 0.6 WAR)
*Feldman’s WAR adjusted for new role
**Ryan Webb, John Axford and Matt Thronton all have a projection of 0.4 WAR. Hawkins and Benoit received the spots due to having a higher actual WAR last season.
Bullpen WAR: 3.8
TOTAL TEAM WAR: 52.3
This number crushes the top team projection of 46.7 for the Boston Red Sox. That is all with the weak spots still at the corner infield positions. Now, again, there are some flaws to this, but this is just to have some fun. These two teams really show how weak the free agent market was for most infield positions; especially if you take out the top player. Many of the secondary options are much less appealing.
There were a few surprises with this team as well. First of all, Oliver LOVES Tanaka. There seems to be a bit of a crush for him. Tanaka’s projection would have been the second-best WAR by a pitcher each of the last two seasons (tied for second with AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer). Also, I was a bit surprised to see Balfour at only 0.2 WAR, and therefore not making the team. He has yet to have a full season below 0.4. The last big surprise was Mike Napoli not being able to make the team, even as a bench player. While Steamer’s projection of 2.0 WAR would have given him the starting first base gig for the Sluggers, Oliver knocks him down to 1.7 WAR, barely missing the cut.
The 2013 Free Agent pool certainly had talent. It would be exciting to see what would happen if a team like this actually came together, but alas, it will never happen. All we can do is sit back and watch as the last few dominoes fall as teams try and fill their final needs with the players that are still available.