After the World Series ended and the Nationals emerged victorious, I wrote about how the Astros had put together one of the greatest regular seasons of all time and joined the (perhaps ignominious) list of great teams without a title. In doing so, I created the below graph, which shows team winning percentage and WAR, highlighting some of the greatest teams of all time:
At the time, I didn’t mention the teams at the very bottom-left of the graph. If the teams at the top-right are the greatest, then the teams in the bottom-left are the worst. In trying to find a single number to determine just how good or bad a team was, I created an IQ-like score for both winning percentage and team WAR, where 100 is average and every standard deviation away from the mean was worth 15 points. Then I took the average of the two scores for one final number. For reference, this year’s Astros team ended up at 136.5; more than 90% of all teams from 1903 through this season were between 75 and 125. Read the rest of this entry »
In his career, Adam Wainwright has started 330 games, pitched in 410, and thrown 2209 and a third innings, including the postseason. Every one of those games has been in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, and for at least one more season, his 16th season in the majors, the 38-year-old will pitch for the redbirds. The Cardinals announced the news, though has of this writing, terms have not been disclosed.
Update: Ken Rosenthal is reporting the deal is for $5 million guaranteed with $5 million in potential incentives. The guarantee looks to be a bit of a bargain given Wainwright’s 2019 and is under both Kiley McDaniel and the crowd’s estimates.
Wainwright turned 38 years old near the end of August, but that didn’t stop him from putting up a solid regular season campaign with an even better postseason. He ranked 29th on our list of Top 50 Free Agents, with Kiley McDaniel and the crowd expecting a one-year deal worth between $8 million and $10 million. I wrote the blurb that accompanied those predictions, and noted that Wainwright was in line for a much better deal than the one he had to settle for a year ago:
Heading into last offseason, Adam Wainwright couldn’t have been thrilled to find himself at a point in his career where he had to accept a contract with a low guaranteed salary and a ton of incentives based on games started, but he looks to be in much better shape after meeting those incentives in 2019. The 38-year-old started 30 games and put up a league average FIP and ERA. He was even better in the postseason, with 19 strikeouts in 16 and two-thirds innings to go along with just three walks and three runs. His fastball sits at just 90 mph, but heavy use of his signature curve keeps hitters off balance. It’s difficult to envision Wainwright and the Cardinals separating after 15 seasons, and after the year he just had, his guarantee should be a bit higher than the $2 million he got last winter.
Every year, FanGraphs asks our readers to provide contract predictions for the game’s top free agents and every year, our readers do an admirable job with their winter forecast. The predictions for this offseason’s most notable free agents can be found in our Top 50 Free Agents post; if you prefer a sortable, filterable table where you can easily see all the predictions, plus players’ actual contracts (when signed), we have that option as well. While their predictions are important and valuable to the site, I hope our readers will not take offense when I say that over the last few years, their contract prognostications have not been as good as they were in the past.
Going back to the winter prior to the 2014 season, here is what our readers predicted teams would spend, as well as the actual dollars spent, by year, with some figures coming from this 2018 post and Max Rieper’s prior research:
|Year||Players||Crowd ($/M)||Contract ($/M)||Difference||% Difference|
|TOTAL (’14-’19)||295||10277.1||9212.6||-$1064.4 M||-10.4%|
Over six offseasons, the crowd’s predictions were roughly a billion dollars too high. That total is only about 10% off, which doesn’t seem so bad. Looking at the individual years above, we can see that the billion dollar difference is housed almost entirely in the last three winters. From 2014 through 2016, the crowd fluctuated a bit but with over five billion dollars in predicted salary, the crowd was off the actual mark by just $23 million, less than half a percent off the total amount. Over the last three seasons, major league payrolls have remained static. The lack of upward movement in spending has come almost entirely at the expense of free agents, who make up roughly two-thirds of total payroll. Based on the crowdsourced predictions, it’s fair to say that readers expected payrolls to rise. The lack of a decent increase in 2017 was a surprise, as was the fact that there was no upward correction in 2018. Last year, readers were closer than they had been the previous two offseasons, but still missed the mark by 17% compared to the actual contracts signed. Read the rest of this entry »
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were the two best position players in free agency last year and each received contracts of at least $300 million. Anthony Rendon is better than Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. He was better last season and the year before that. Rendon’s 19.9 WAR over the last three years is fourth in baseball and more than any three-season stretch Harper and Machado have ever had. But nobody expects Rendon to get $300 million despite better play due to Rendon’s age. Harper and Machado were entering their age-26 seasons while Rendon will be 30 years old for most of next season. Rendon also doesn’t need to hit $300 million to get a contract just as good as Harper or Machado.
In our list of Top 50 Free Agents, both Kiley McDaniel and the crowd expected Rendon would receive right around seven years and $30 million per season. That’s clearly not in the stratosphere of Harper and Machado, but the average annual value is equivalent to Machado’s deal and higher than Harper’s. If we were to look at the present-day value of these contracts with an 8% discount annually, Rendon’s deal is the equivalent of about $233 million spread over 10 years while Harper’s is more like $305 million. To get Rendon equivalent money on a seven-year deal, he would need to receive $270 million distributed evenly over the next seven years. Rendon probably won’t get that, but his value might be pretty close.
It’s early in the offseason, but the Cubs look to be in pretty good shape for next year. Our Depth Charts currently have the team set to produce 41 WAR next season, which translates to around 85-90 wins. Even better for the Cubs, they are about six wins ahead of last year’s division-winning Cardinals and seven wins ahead of the Wild Card-winning Brewers. On paper, the Cubs have the best team in the division. That’s a pretty good spot to be in; the problem comes in trying to improve and win with the greatest core of players the franchise has produced in decades.
Over at The Athletic, Shahadev Sharma has a comprehensive look at the Cubs’ plans for the winter. The title gives a little away: “Cubs seem ready to make big moves, but don’t count on them spending big money.” Todd Ricketts’ comments on local radio station 670, The Score provides further insight:
But ultimately, now I think we can stop talking about windows. We should be consistent, and we should be looking toward building a division-winning team every year.
Theo Epstein sort of agrees. From Sharma’s piece:
“Next year is a priority,” Epstein said, before quickly looking ahead. “We have to balance it with the future. That’s probably more important now than it was even a year ago, because we’re now just two years away from a lot of our best players reaching their end of their period of club control with the Cubs. I think the goal is to do everything we can to win the World Series next year, but we also have to pay attention to the long term. Maximize this window while also putting in a lot of good work to open a new one as well.”
After a season that saw the Yankees win 103 games, an AL East title, and get within two victories of reaching the World Series, Aaron Judge called the season “a failure.” Brian Cashman was a little more diplomatic, saying “we failed in our ultimate goal but we did not have a failed season.” If winning the World Series is the only path to satisfaction for a team, failure is almost inevitable. That hasn’t always been true for the Yankees and their 27 titles — even after going a whole decade without a championship, the Yankees’ five World Series wins in 25 years is still the most in the sport. Only the Red Sox, Giants, Cardinals, and Marlins have multiple titles in that time span, with eight franchises boasting a single title and 17 franchises without a ring since the strike.
The Yankees are often known for operating in another financial stratosphere. Forbes put a $4.6 billion valuation on the club, roughly 40% higher than the Los Angeles Dodgers and essentially the same as the White Sox, Mariners, and Blue Jays combined. While the Yankees’ YES Network is valued at around $3.5 billion, 14 other teams’ networks combined recently sold for about one-fifth that cost on a per team basis. Forbes estimates that only two teams (Dodgers and Red Sox) have annual revenues within $200 million of the Yankees. Financially speaking in baseball, there’s the Yankees up top, then 50 feet of swimming pools full of gold, then there’s everyone else. But lately, when it comes to spending on the major league roster, the Yankees haven’t operated as a behemoth and have instead opted to swim in that gold. Such is their choice.
The Yankees don’t have to spend like they used to in order to be successful. They’ve been better with player development, better at holding on to top prospects, better with trades, and better at identifying diamonds in the rough. Getting there cost them several years of playoff baseball, but they are coming off consecutive 100-win seasons, and though those teams didn’t win the World Series, they put themselves in position to have a really good shot. Strengthening the organization overall has allowed them to spend on payroll like they are a run-of-the-mill rich team. They could do more to win even more games and provide a better chance at a title, but it is difficult to know how great the motivation is to do so when they are already winning a lot. It’s also hard to put into perspective just how much they could be spending when they have one of the top payrolls in the game. Read the rest of this entry »
When J.D. Martinez signed his five-year, $110 million contract with the Boston Red Sox two years ago, it included multiple opt-outs, the first of which came this offseason. Martinez could continue with his current deal, which will pay $62.5 million over the next three seasons, or take a $2.5 million buyout and become a free agent, likely with a qualifying offer attached. Martinez has elected to stay with the Red Sox under his current contract, as first reported by Jeff Passan and Jon Heyman.
Martinez has certainly lived up to his end of the bargain in its first two years. In 2018, he put up a six-win season thanks to 43 homers and a 170 wRC+ as the Red Sox won the World Series. While Martinez didn’t come close to matching those numbers in 2019, a 139 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR still made him one of the better hitters in the game. As he heads toward his age-32 season, Martinez seems to have found the comfort of a $62.5 million guarantee more inviting than what might have awaited him on the open market. The move is a bit surprising, but with the Red Sox unlikely to pursue him should he have opted out and the Yankees perhaps out of the mix with their focus on pitching, the number of suitors in the American League in need of a designated hitter, even one as good as Martinez, might not have been as great as needed to significantly improve his current contract.
Of next year’s potential contenders, consider that the Astros, Indians, Twins, A’s, and Angels already have designated hitters pretty much locked in. Which teams remain that might have made big bids on Martinez? The Rangers or the White Sox perhaps, though the former would have had to cut bait with Shin-Soo Choo while the latter’s decision to extend Jose Abreu a qualifying offer probably would have made Martinez a less good fit. The Royals and Tigers, as well as the non-Yankees and Red Sox teams in the AL East, are either ultra-frugal (the Rays) or unlikely to be competitive next season (the Orioles and Blue Jays). The Mariners didn’t seem like a great fit for the same reason as that AL East duo, and the National League was likely off limits given Martinez’s defensive issues. The risk of the market drying up was reasonably high, and with another opt-out after next season, a good 2020 would position Martinez to only have to beat two years and just under $40 million.
In our Top 50 Free Agents list, where Martinez ranked fifth assuming that he would opt out, Kiley McDaniel predicted the DH would garner three years and $77 million as a free agent, while the crowd predicted about $10 million more. Those are reasonable forecasts, but the upside seems to have ended up being worth less than the potential downside. This what Kiley had to say:
I prefer Grandal as a player since he’s younger and has a much greater margin for error, but am projecting Martinez for a bit more money since he would be opting out of three years and $62.5 million to hit free agency. With another opt out after 2020, he could also effectively opt in for a one year and $23.75 million before hitting the market again. He’ll only opt out if he had very good reason to believe that there was at least $70 million out there for him.
The decision shows Martinez’s confidence level. Meanwhile, Jay Jaffe, in his free agent blurb for Martinez, raised concerns about his level of play:
Not only did he not hit the ball quite as hard in 2019 — his exit velocity dipped from 93.0 to 91.3, while his xwOBA dropped from .421 to .401 — he did far less damage against four-seam fastballs 95 mph or higher; over the past three seasons, his xwOBA against such pitches has dropped from .505 to .473 to .351, while his xwOBA against all four-seamers has fallen from .535 to .476 to .419. Between the suggestion that his bat is slowing down as he moves into his mid-30s and his defensive liabilities (-15.1 UZR and -17 DRS over the past three seasons), he could find the market less hospitable than his last time around.
While rumors swirl about the future of Mookie Betts, Alex Speier notes that the Red Sox could try to see what the market holds for Martinez.
Worth noting: Amidst speculation that this could push the Sox to trade Mookie Betts, while they’ll surely at least examine the market for Betts, they’ll just as surely do the same with Martinez.
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) November 4, 2019
While Martinez is a good bet to over-perform the value of his contract, the downward trend noted by Jay, plus the potential dearth of suitors as noted above, could make finding a trading partner difficult. If the Red Sox are only interested in dumping the salary, they shouldn’t have to try too hard to find a taker, but if they are looking to add talent in the deal as well, it could prove difficult. (Why the Red Sox feel the need to cut salary and move talent when they have a contending team in a tough division is a reasonable question.)
With Martinez back in the fold, the Red Sox have a luxury tax payroll of roughly $236 million. Taxes will add another $15 million to Boston’s spend if they make no moves. Trading Martinez would save his $23 million salary, plus another $12 million in taxes. Meanwhile, trimming three wins from the roster without an increase elsewhere will reduce Boston’s chances of making the playoffs. The club will have to decide where its priorities lie.
J.D. Martinez is a good hitter who earned his $110 million contract and all the provisions that came with it. He’s elected not to exercise his opt-out this winter and, at least for now, will stay with the Red Sox under the terms of that deal. It’s proved beneficial to both parties, though so some self-imposed budgetary constraints might end up putting Boston in a difficult spot this offseason.
The list of baseball’s winningest teams is one that any franchise would want to be on, but if we take that list and remove the World Series champions, it becomes something of a bummer. Everyone remembers the 2001 Mariners more for what they didn’t do than what they did. It’s not clear how history will remember the 2019 Astros. It seems likely this club will simply get tossed in with the 2017 team that did win it all, taking some of the sting away from not being able to claim a second championship this season. Though perhaps difficult for Houston and its fans right now, we should remember just how great this team was. There’s a reason the Astros’ World Series odds were so high for so long, and it’s because they put together a roster that, over the course of the regular season and much of the postseason, was a lot better than everyone else.
The table below feels almost obligatory, but here’s a list of the teams to win least 105 games, with how their seasons finished:
|1906||Cubs||115||Lost World Series|
|1998||Yankees||114||Won World Series|
|1954||Indians||111||Lost World Series|
|1927||Yankees||110||Won World Series|
|1909||Pirates||110||Won World Series|
|1969||Orioles||109||Lost World Series|
|1961||Yankees||109||Won World Series|
|1970||Orioles||108||Won World Series|
|1975||Reds||108||Won World Series|
|1986||Mets||108||Won World Series|
|2018||Red Sox||108||Won World Series|
|2019||Astros||107||Lost World Series|
|1932||Yankees||107||Won World Series|
|1931||Athletics||107||Lost World Series|
|1907||Cubs||107||Won World Series|
|1939||Yankees||106||Won World Series|
|1904||Giants||106||No World Series|
|1942||Cardinals||106||Won World Series|
|1905||Giants||105||Won World Series|
|1944||Cardinals||105||Won World Series|
|1943||Cardinals||105||Lost World Series|
|1953||Dodgers||105||Lost World Series|
|1912||Red Sox||105||Won World Series|
|2004||Cardinals||105||Lost World Series|