Building a Team of Free Agents on a Budget

There is no need to emphasize how bizarre this off-season has been. By this time last year, the best available free agents were Matt Wieters and Jason Hammel. This year, there are enough available free agents to create an all star team. With that in mind, I began to wonder if a team could actually be competitive by signing 25 free agents. A super-team of current free agents would undoubtedly contend this year. However, it would also require a payroll in the range of $300MM. If such a team had to stay within the luxury tax threshold, it would need to make significant cuts.

To satisfy my curiosity, I made a spreadsheet of WAR and salary projections for all of the remaining free agents. I attempted to construct the best teams possible within a variety of budgets, and compared my projected WAR totals to teams with similar payrolls. Constructing a great team was more challenging than I expected. I encourage readers to give it a try.

Note: Most contract values are based on a combination of reported offers, the MLBTR free agent predictions, and recent signings. It is likely that many of these players will sign deals that are far off my projections.

Download the Team Builder:

Click Here or the link below to download the team builder spreadsheet. The file should be titled “Free Agent Team Builder 2018”. I suggest using Excel, I haven’t tested it on other programs.

Create your own free agent super-team, or see if you can build a competitive roster on a budget. Feel free to comment or share your team, and see how your team stacks up against mine.

Here are two examples of teams I created:

Small Market Team ($90MM Payroll)

Pos. Name 2017 WAR DC Proj. WAR My Proj. WAR Proj. AAV Years Total Value
Starting Lineup
CF Ben Revere 0.0 0.0 -0.1 $2.0MM 1 $2.0MM
SS Eduardo Nunez 2.2 1.7 2.2 $8.5MM 2 $17.0MM
3B Todd Frazier 3.0 2.4 2.3 $11.0MM 4 $44.0MM
DH Lucas Duda 1.1 1.8 1.3 $7.0MM 2 $14.0MM
RF Jose Bautista -0.5 0.0 0.2 $5.0MM 1 $5.0MM
LF Melky Cabrera 0.0 0.1 0.2 $3.0MM 1 $3.0MM
1B Mike Napoli -0.5 0.3 0.3 $2.5MM 1 $2.5MM
2B Chase Utley 1.3 0.0 0.1 $2.0MM 1 $2.0MM
C Carlos Ruiz 0.5 0.0 0.2 $2.5MM 1 $2.5MM
C Jose Lobaton -0.6 0.2 -0.1 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
IF Cliff Pennington 0.4 -0.1 0.1 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
OF Craig Gentry 0.1 0.0 0.1 $1.0MM 1 $1.0MM
OF Alex Presley 0.2 0.0 0.0 $1.0MM 1 $1.0MM
SP Alex Cobb 2.4 1.7 2.0 $14.5MM 4 $58.0MM
SP Jeremy Hellickson 0.3 0.2 0.7 $5.5MM 1 $5.5MM
SP Brett Anderson 0.8 1.7 0.5 $5.0MM 1 $5.0MM
SP Jesse Chavez 0.3 0.1 -0.2 $3.0MM 1 $3.0MM
SP Nick Martinez 0.0 0.3 -0.2 $2.0MM 1 $2.0MM
CP Huston Street 0.1 -0.1 0.0 $2.0MM 1 $2.0MM
SU Tyler Clippard 0.2 -0.1 0.3 $3.0MM 1 $3.0MM
SU Fernando Abad 0.3 0.0 0.2 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
MR Luke Hocheaver 0.0 0.0 0.3 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
MR Zac Rosscup 0.1 0.0 0.1 $1.0MM 1 $1.0MM
MR Shae Simmons 0.0 0.1 0.0 $1.0MM 1 $1.0MM
LR Henderson Alvarez -0.1 1.0 0.0 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
2017 WAR DC Proj. WAR My Proj. WAR
Total WAR 11.6 11.3 10.5
2018 Payroll and Total Commitments $90.0MM $182.0MM


Big Market Team ($197MM Payroll)

Pos. Name 2017 WAR DC Proj. WAR My Proj. WAR Proj. AAV Years Total Value
Starting Lineup  
CF Jon Jay 1.6 0.5 1.5 $7.0MM 2 $14.0MM
SS Eduardo Nunez 2.2 1.7 2.2 $8.5MM 2 $17.0MM
RF J.D. Martinez 3.8 2.7 4.4 $25.0MM 6 $150.0MM
1B Eric Hosmer 4.1 2.8 2.7 $20.0MM 7 $140.0MM
3B Todd Frazier 3.0 2.4 2.3 $11.0MM 4 $44.0MM
LF Carlos Gonzalez -0.2 1.0 0.9 $10.0MM 1 $10.0MM
C Jonathan Lucroy 1.2 2.4 2.0 $10.0MM 2 $20.0MM
DH Melky Cabrera 0.0 0.1 0.2 $3.0MM 1 $3.0MM
2B Brandon Phillips 1.6 1.1 0.9 $6.0MM 1 $6.0MM
C Jose Lobaton -0.6 0.2 -0.1 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
IF Cliff Pennington 0.4 -0.1 0.1 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
OF Craig Gentry 0.1 0.0 0.1 $1.0MM 1 $1.0MM
OF Seth Smith 0.5 0.8 0.3 $2.5MM 1 $2.5MM
SP Yu Darvish 3.5 3.6 3.8 $26.0MM 6 $156.0MM
SP Alex Cobb 2.4 1.7 2.0 $14.5MM 4 $58.0MM
SP Andrew Cashner 1.9 0.9 1.3 $8.5MM 2 $17.0MM
SP Jeremy Hellickson 0.3 0.2 0.7 $5.5MM 1 $5.5MM
SP Brett Anderson 0.8 1.7 0.5 $5.0MM 1 $5.0MM
CP Greg Holland 1.1 0.1 1.3 $11.5MM 3 $34.5MM
RP Seung Hwan Oh 0.1 0.2 0.4 $5.0MM 1 $5.0MM
SU Tony Watson 0.1 0.0 0.4 $5.0MM 2 $10.0MM
MR Tyler Clippard 0.2 -0.1 0.0 $3.0MM 1 $3.0MM
MR Fernando Abad 0.3 0.0 0.0 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
MR Luke Hocheaver 0.0 0.0 0.0 $1.5MM 1 $1.5MM
LR Jesse Chavez 0.3 0.1 -0.2 $3.0MM 1 $3.0MM
2017 WAR DC Proj. WAR My Proj. WAR
Total WAR 28.7 24.0 27.7
2018 Payroll and Total Commitments $197.0MM $710.5MM

My Analysis: 

Based purely on WAR projections, my small market team would be the worst team in baseball. It’s worth noting that this spreadsheet has some flaws. Projected WAR would increase with a full 40 man roster, but so would payroll obligations. With that in mind, this team would still doubtfully have a winning record. There is some potential upside throughout the roster, but my lineup is heavily reliant on veteran players returning to old form. The bullpen is probably the biggest weakness, but spending my budget on relief pitching would have been a tough decision to make.

The big market team is much more promising. However, my projected WAR would still rank them among the bottom tier of teams. With some added depth, I think this team would have a winning record, but contending for a World Series would be a bit of a reach. With such a high payroll, this team would likely also rank among the teams getting the lowest amount of value for each player.

In a way, I believe this project exemplifies one reason why the free agent market has been so stagnant. While these teams are respectable, they would project poorly compared to others. I knew beforehand it would be tough to build a team paying 25 players for past performance, but attempting to put these teams together helped me further appreciate the value of homegrown talent.

Now it’s your turn to build a team, download the spreadsheet and give it a shot! If you have any thoughts or anything to add, please feel free to comment below.

Print This Post

Stephen Coelho is a graduate from LaGrange College, where he pitched on the varsity baseball team and was president of the Sports Management Club. He is now a coach at Atlanta Baseball Academy, and a Baseball Logger for Synergy Sports Tech. twitter: @stephenjcoelho linkedin:

newest oldest most voted
Michael Augustine

What is ‘DC proj’ WAR?


depth charts projected

H.W. Linwood

Great work, Stephen!
I decided to try and build a small market roster and definitely found it challenging. As you said, a team made up of these guys would be heavily reliant on bouncebacks and older players, and that certainly was the case. I had to make sacrifices in the bullpen and on the bench to meet payroll, but I was able to cobble together a usable core of position players. Here’s my team:

CF Jarrod Dyson
2B Neil Walker
DH Melky Cabrera
1B Lucas Duda
C Jonathan Lucroy
LF Seth Smith
RF Chris Young
3B Trevor Plouffe
SS Stephen Drew

Bench: C R. Cabrera, INF D. Barney, OF A. Presley, OF C. Gentry

SP: J. Garcia, R. Nolasco, C. Tillman, U. Jimenez, H. Alvarez (N. Martinez as injury insurance)

RP: S. Oh, T. Cahill, F. Abad, S. Simmons, K. Jepsen, Z. Rosscup, N. Martinez

WAR: 2017 – 8.0, 2018 DC – 17.9, 2018 SC – 12.1
Payroll: $90.0 MM

So this team most likely wouldn’t be very good at all, although Depth Charts is more bullish on the group. Returns to health from Simmons and Alvarez would be huge for the group, as would bouncebacks from Lucroy, Plouffe, Tillman and Jepsen. Cahill and Oh would be ideally deployed in high leverage situations with Martinez filling a long relief role if Alvarez is healthy. The corner outfield group would be heavily mixed and matched to play platoon matchups and defensive replacements between Smith, Young, Presley, and Gentry. There’s some youth on this squad and some potential for bouncebacks, but realistically, it’d take a miracle for this group to contend.