I recently read an article on Baseball Analysts by Sky Andrecheck in which the best possible team was built in 2009 using only players that were available as free agents that off-season. The team originally consisted of a line-up of replacement players who were capable of playing .300 baseball who were then individually replaced with a free agent acquisition. Sky then tallied the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and salaries of the players to come up with the best possible team. The maximum salary was set at around league average, or $80 million, and a team was constructed that would win 96 wins and cost $78.6 million. It included players like Gregg Zaun, Casey Blake, Bobby Abreu, Rual Ibanez, Randy Wolf, and CC Sabathia. One interesting thing Sky did was use all replacement players in the bullpen, a strategy which I did not use. Sky also employed a DH which allowed the accumulation of a few extra WAR. I found this whole idea incredibly interesting, and decided to do it for the 2008 season.
First of all, the rules:
· I did not take into consideration players that were obviously re-signing with their old team like Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.
· In the case of players will multi-year contracts, I used the average annual salary, not how much they were actually paid for the 2008 season. Most contracts escalate over the years, so this made the exercise more difficult.
· My payroll limit is $90 million, which was the major league average for the 2008 campaign.
· Each position will accrue about 700 plate appearances (PA) over the season, and the team will have 5600, as I am National League Team. I do not want to be paying a DH.
· I will need about 1450 innings (IP) from my pitchers.
· I filled a complete 25 man roster, but did not quite reach the number of plate appearances and innings required. However, due to injury, we will assume that replacement players will be called up to fill in these remaining appearances.
First I will start with the team that will deliver the most bang for my buck.
At catcher I signed Rod Barajas and Paul Bako for $1.59 million, 715 PA and 1.5 WAR.
Casey Blake was the only first baseman of any value, and his 0.2 WAR was not worth his $0.8 salary. A replacement player will be taking all of my at bats at this position.
Second base was a strong position, with Aaron Miles and Mark Loretta combining for 3.3 WAR, $4.15 million and 705 PA.
At third base, I will platoon Russell Branyon and Geoff Blum to the tune of to the tune of 2.2 WAR, $1.49 million and 508 PA.
My short stop will be Cesar Izturis, who cost $2.85 million but gave me 1.8 WAR and 508 PA.
My outfield was very strong. Mike Cameron, Milton Bradley and Willie Harris cost me $12.8 million but delivered 11.7 WAR and 1442 PA. Harris is the MVP of my team, delivering an incredible 3.2 WAR for the bargain price of $0.8 million.
On the bench I have Jerry Hairston and Eric Hinske. They each cost the major league minimum of $.39 million and combined to give me 4.6 WAR and 730 PA. Hairston will be used primarily in the infield and Hinske in the outfield.
That gives me thirteen players capable of delivering 25.1 WAR and filling out 5,254 of my plate appearances at the cost of $24.05 million. That is an incredible $0.96 million per WAR. My offence alone bumps me up to 74 wins from 49. Very respectable, but not a playoff contender. Let's move on to the pitchers.
Pitchers are not nearly the bargain that position players are, but they still managed to add value to my team. I put together six starting pitchers to give me 962 IP and 8.9 WAR for $23.89 million ($2.68 million per WAR). The pitchers are Kyle Lohse, Randy Wolf, Livan Hernandez, Kenny Rogers, Mark Hendrickson and Jamey Wright.
I can see why Andrecheck ignored the bullpen as they provided the least value at $2.87 million per WAR. However, they did still give me 5.7 WAR and 379 IP. My relief pitchers consisted of Kerry Wood, Jeremy Affeldt, Doug Brocail, Shawn Camp, Latroy Hawkins and Matt Herges.
Overall, my pitching delivered 14.6 WAR and a very respectable 1,341 IP.
Overall, my team was a bargain at $62.28 million, well below the major league average of about $90 million, and I paid $1.80 for each WAR. They produced a record of 88-74, which only would have got me into the playoffs if my team played in the NL West. However, I still have some money left to play with, so let's see if I can improve my team.
My first option would be to replace Blum with Mike Lowell (3.2 WAR, $12.5). This would boost my payroll to $75.68 million, but also increase my win total to 91. My team would make the playoffs in the NL West, AL Central, and as the NL Wild Card. Not too shabby.
My second option would be to replace Blum with Alex Rodriguez and his ungodly $27.5 million salary. However, he also brings 6 WAR to the table. Unfortunately, this brings me above my $90 million threshold, so I will have to ditch a player. Say goodbye to Rogers and his $8 million salary and 0.9 WAR. He was easily the worst value on my team, and will be replaced by a replacement level pitcher. My team now costs $82.68 million but will now win 93 games, and push me into the playoffs in the NL East over the World Champion Phillies.
As you can see, with the benefit of hindsight it is possible to build an inexpensive team consisting of only free agents that is capable of making the playoffs. However, in addition to this 20/20 vision, we also have to remember that most of these players are having career years, and will surely regress the next year. If they are signed to multi-year deals, the team will more than likely fall apart in year two. We also have to remember the players who turned out to be absolute busts and that if a team tried this in real life they would probably wind up with a lot of these stinkers. In 2008 they include Adam Everett, David Eckstein, Luis Castillo, Tadahito Iguchi, Kosuke Fukodome, Franciso Cordero, Michael Barrett, Eric Gagne, Jose Guillen, Geoff Jenkins, Andruw Jones and the list goes on.
Here are the full details of each player on my team.
I hope you enjoyed this. It was a lot of fun, and you should definitely check out Andrecheck's article for more background on the topic.