Free Agent Frenzy: Which Teams Spend Most Effectively in Free Agency?

Regardless of the state of your team at the end of the season, there is always room for improvement for next season. One of the ways teams seek to improve is through agency, which can be a goldmine for teams with smart investments and a terrible pitfall for teams that feel the need to splash out to appease. their short-term fans. Free agency is particularly attractive to teams as it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to significantly improve a team because in free agency the cost of acquiring a player is mostly the money. Signing a free agent usually doesn’t require international bonus money, prospects, or project capital (yes, I’m aware of compensatory picks, but that’s not often an issue in signing players ), unlike trades, and it’s a “faster fix” for holes on the major league roster than drafting or trading players.

However, free agency isn’t always all it is because a player’s first shot at free agency often straddles the middle or end of the player’s prime (why they hit agency free is then a debate for another article) production years, meaning that the start of a contract is where the player’s most productive years are. By handing out long-term contracts, teams will benefit from players in their prime years, when production is likely to be at its peak, but they must also be prepared for the player to enter their post-prime years, where production may decline. strongly or slowly, depending on the skill of the player. Thus, the teams distributed very long-term contracts to only a small number of players, such as Albert Pujol, Max Scherzer, Gerrit Coleand Bryce Harper. More recent examples from this offseason include long-term deals for Corey Seager and Marcus Semienamong others.

The majority of players entering free agency will never sniff the earnings of the players listed above. But many players entering free agency also have a lot to offer their new teams and can sometimes mean the difference between a run in the playoffs and no playoff berth. So even though free agency often focuses on 4-5 big names and contracts, it’s useful to get an overview of how effective (or not effective) each team is in the games. free agency spending, among all the contracts (stars, non-stars, and everyone in between) they’ve given away because it’s such an important part of team building. I wanted to see which teams got the most bang for their buck in free agency by calculating their dollars spent per fWAR earned, the exact methodology of which you can see below. Teams are ranked in tiers based on their effectiveness, with the top tier being the the most efficient spenders and the lower level being the less effective spenders.

The overall effectiveness of MLB spending is detailed below, under the “Methodology” section. For a closer look at each team’s spend over the measured time period, see the tabs at the top of this article.

Free agency contracts (or contracts in general), as I have discovered, are a minefield to navigate. Most contract details are usually made public through national journalists and beats editors, but we don’t always have a sense of what each player’s contract ends up paying because basically only the team, player/agent and MLB know the ins and outs. of each player’s contract. Thanks to excellent reporting by spotrac, which I used to calculate payouts to each player, we have a good idea of ​​what each player earns during their contract term. But the further back you go (especially 2012 and 2013, as I found), the harder it is to see exactly how much money teams are paying players who don’t complete their contract term with a team.

It is also important to note the methods I used to calculate $/fWAR, as they will not reflect the exact amounts of money players sign at the start of the transaction. Players are swapped all the time. They or the team will decline to exercise options for additional years on their original trades. The player could be cut. All of these things change exactly how much teams pay players for the duration of their contract with the team. So I tried to stick to the money paid to players that they specifically negotiated with the teams once they reach free agency.

That means extensions are not included because many extensions are agreed while the player is still employed in a team, and distinguishing between extensions negotiated in February and extensions in November was going to be too difficult, due to the large number of them . Players don’t actively present offers from all interested parties during extension negotiations as they could theoretically be during a real free agency period (it doesn’t always work out that way, but let a kid dream) . It is the same eligible offers, which are not included because they represent an average of MLB’s top 125 salaries, and not a reflection of any negotiation between the player and the team in a period of free agency. I felt the players accepting qualifying offers had never really “tested the free agent market” and therefore hadn’t negotiated their salaries and contract length with multiple offers in hand, so it wasn’t a good reflection of a team’s ability to get “value”. of a player in free agency. None of these types of contracts are included in my ultimate calculation of dollars per fWAR. It was also difficult to judge international free agents like Shohei Ohtani, Yoenis Cespedes, etc., because Ohtani was “posted” by his NPB team (which made up the majority of the Angels’ initial financial commitment), while guys like Cespedes weren’t, and was paid the major league minimum (plus a $2 million signing bonus) during his rookie season and $650k in 2019. Céspedes, Yasmany Tomasand Rusney Castillo had a different salary structure than Ohtani, so ultimately I chose not to include Ohtani in my calculations, but other international free agents remained.

However, player and team options are included in a contract, as long as the contract was negotiated during free agency (and during or after the 2011-12 free agency period) as it reflects the bargaining power of the player and the team – and therefore their ability to get “value” – during free agency. Contracts with favorable or multiple options are certainly becoming more popular for players who carry a lot of weight in free agency, such as Carlos Correa and the unnamed Dodgers pitcher. So those contract years (and the dollars needed to decline them) are included in my ultimate calculation of dollars per fWAR.

Additionally, players who are traded in the middle of their contract will be only have the dollar amount (known as “committed dollars” in my analysis) that they were paid when they were with the team assigned to their dollars by fWAR calculation. Seems unfair to reflect a player’s full contract amount in the $/fWAR calculation for a guy who no longer plays for the team he signed with unless the team is still responsible for the money owed to the player. For example, David PricePer fWAR’s dollars with Boston are going to be different from the reported aggregate amount Boston signed him for because Boston paid him the full $30 million a year he negotiated in free agency from 2016-2019, and now that Boston is paying half of Price’s salary in 2021 and 2022 while he’s with the Dodgers, his overall dollars committed with Boston (on my charts) will be less than the $217 million he agreed with Boston during the 2015-16 free agency period.

All dollar amounts are courtesy of Spotrac, and all fWAR amounts are courtesy of Fangraphs. Spend and fWAR data is based on the period from the 2011-12 offseason to the 2020-21 offseason. Thus, contracts at the end of this period will have relatively low dollar commitments, but only because the life of the agreements has not happened. For example, Gerrit ColeThe huge deal with the New York Yankees in the 2019-2020 offseason only reflects 2 years and $49,333,333 paid to Cole because it would be unfair to charge the Yankees for the 9 years and $324 million that they committed to the deal when the remaining 7 years had yet to be played out.

Contracts are listed by the year they were first signed, with the total amount paid over the term of the deal being attributed to the offseason they signed. Thereby, Lorenzo CainBrewers’ deal was signed during the 2017-18 free agent period, and the money he was paid and the fWAR he generated (before 2021-22 he was paid $48.9 million and produced 9.2 fWAR) is listed under $ Committed in 2017-18.

Finally, I toyed with the idea of ​​creating a different rating system for pitchers, but decided to use a stat that people are more familiar with to determine value versus dollars committed. Throwing fWAR isn’t the best way to determine player value, but I thought if all pitching contracts were compared by the same metric, it could still be a good contract value comparison.

The $/fWAR remained around $10 million for 1 fWAR through free agency. Some teams went way below that, others way above that number. Keep this in mind when comparing each team’s overall $/fWAR and $/fWAR per year metrics.

Data visualization by @Kollauf on TwitterDollars, fWAR and $ per fWAR (per season)

Here’s the $/fWAR per season, broken down into $committed for hitters, pitchers, and then overall numbers. Keep in mind that deals that have continued through 2020 will reduce committed dollars (and dollars per fWAR) due to pro-rated wages from the 2020 season. And, 2020-21 will likely see a decrease in value ($/fWAR increase) as players age in their transactions. Remember that the early years of a player’s trade are generally more productive, so the $/fWAR in later seasons may decrease as the player’s skill decreases. This is not true in all cases – ask Max Scherzer – and the numbers probably won’t change so dramatically as to make 2020-21 a total “flop”, just keep in mind that teams have been more cautious following a drop in revenue in 2020 and that the players are more productive (in fWAR numbers) in the early seasons of their trades.

Thanks to @Kollauf for the data visualization and Justin Redler for the article’s featured image.

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