Building the 2015-16 All Free Agent Team by Matthew Kory November 9, 2015 It’s free-agent time again. Our yearly intrigue is upon us! It’s the time of year when, after hearing for a full baseball season about how teams shouldn’t be built through free agency, teams are built through free agency. So let’s play a game. Let’s forget all about trading, drafting, and developing players. Instead, let’s build a team entirely out of free agents. Before we construct this hypothetical all free agent team, we must lay some ground rules. First, this is an expansion team, so there are no current payroll obligations on the books nor are there any minor leaguers coming up through the ranks yet. Our owner is Mr. Fatpockets and he’s authorized a payroll of $200 million, and because we like our job pretending to sign free agents more than cleaning out Mr. Fatpockets’ cats’ litter box, we’re going to stay at that figure. The team will be a National League team, so no need to sign a DH. (This will save us some money!) And perhaps most importantly, Mr. Fatpockets wants to win this year, so our job is to put the best team on the field this season while not harming the franchise too badly going forward. Beyond that, a couple of other quick constraints: I tried to only give out realistic contracts, so no signing Alex Gordon for two years, $20 million. I used Dave Cameron’s free agent predictions (you can read that here) for both dollars and years, and for players without predictions, I guessed. I kept players at the positions they will realistically play, so no signing Alex Gordon and playing him at second base. So enough yapping. Here’s the team. Starting Pitchers 1. Johnny Cueto (7 years, $144 million) 2. John Lackey (2 years, $26 million) 3. Brett Anderson (2 years, $28 million) 4. J.A. Happ (3 years, $24 million) 5. Mat Latos (1 year, $10 million) To start, I wanted an ace to front the rotation. Initially I had David Price, but at an average annual value (AAV) of $31 million, that proved too large a figure to work around. Cueto has the talent and the track record to be a four-plus win pitcher, which isn’t Price but is still more than workable. The downside with Cueto is injuries and his most recent half-season with Kansas City wherein he was, put politely, bad. Still, that doesn’t negate years of good pitching, so while you don’t like uncertainty when spending $144 million, that’s the way the market works. But just in case, I signed John Lackey as well. He’s about as steady as the market offers. Certainty doesn’t exist when signing starting pitchers, which is a good introduction to the lower half of my rotation. Happ, Latos, and Anderson all had strange years: Happ because he was good, Latos because he wasn’t, and Anderson because he was pitching for a full season. There are reasons to like (and not like) each. I like the upside this rotation offers, but it isn’t difficult to imagine a scenario where things go badly. On the plus side, though, I managed to avoid multiple big money deals. By 2018, this rotation will be Cueto and Happ on the last year of his contract. Total AAV: $66 million Lineup Catcher: Matt Wieters (4 years, $64 million) Like many, I remain intrigued by Wieters’ upside, a strange thing to say about a guy about to turn 30 years old. Still, there appears to be something more in Wieters’ bat than what he’s showed us over a full season, and if so, that and plus defense is a package I couldn’t afford at a higher price. If he’s not that guy, then I’ve overpaid for a serviceable catcher, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. First Base: Mike Napoli (1 year, $10 million) I don’t know what was wrong with Napoli in Boston. His swing was messed up, but a few weeks before the deadline he started to put things together. Then, traded to Texas, he got himself going, hitting .295/.396/.513 in 35 games for the Rangers. That’s probably the ceiling of what he can offer, but there’s still some oomph left in his beard yet, and if not, I’ll just trade him back to Texas at the deadline Second Base: Ben Zobrist (4 years, $76 million) This is a long deal to give a 35-year-old, but if any team needs Zobrist’s versatility it’s this one. Over the past two seasons he’s played every position except pitcher, catcher, and first base, which he could presumably play if needed. That should come in handy considering what you’re about to read. This signing is more about winning in 2016 than anything. One of the advantages to not having dead money on the books is you can take more chances. Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez (1 year, $6 million) This year’s market doesn’t offer a lot in the way of shortstops, so betting on a bounce back year from Ramirez seemed as logical as any. Ramirez suffered from a small BABIP last season which could mean he was unlucky or that he wasn’t hitting the ball very hard (or both). His batted ball numbers don’t seem to indicate a substantial drop-off in batted ball quality, so here’s hoping he can get us that one win we’re paying him for! Third Base: David Freese (3 years, $33 million) I’m not a huge Freese fan and you might not be either, but take a look at the third baseman available on the free agent market this year and, like me, you’ll find you were a bigger Freese fan than you thought. He was worth a bit over two wins in 2015, so if he can pull off that trick again, we’ll be quite happy. Steamer thinks he’s more a one-win player but even that is better than signing Casey McGehee or Maicer Izturis to be the starting third baseman. Left Field: Steve Pearce (1 year, $8 million) Let’s pretend 2015 never happened! Steve Pearce for one year and just $8 million? It’s a bargain!! Center Field: Denard Span (3 years, $30 million) If Span is healthy, he’s an on-base machine and maybe even one with some doubles power. What’s more, going cheaper here allows me to sign… Right Field: Jason Heyward (9 years, $195 million) Here’s my big signing, the future of my franchise. Heyward is the rare free agent who might actually improve. Currently he’s a defensive monster with good on-base ability and some pop, but he’s shown more than just some pop in the past. If he can rediscover his power stroke he stands a chance of being that rarer big money free agent who is worth his contract. Total Lineup AAV: $102 million Bench Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1 year, $1 million) Infield: Mike Aviles (1 year, $1 million), Kelly Johnson (1 year, $1 million) Outfield: Will Venable (1 year, $5 million), Jonny Gomes (1 year, $1 million) Saltalamacchia is probably a terrible backup catcher because he’s a pretty bad defensive player, but he’s got power, and that’s something to which I want access off the bench. So I’ll take the minimal defensive hit. Between them, Aviles and Venable can play every position on the diamond besides pitcher and catcher. That’s called flexibility and it’s wonderful. Now just don’t ask if anyone here can actually hit. Total Bench AAV: $9 million Bullpen Ryan Madson (3 years, $15 million) Darren O’Day (4 years, $32 million) Tony Sipp (2 years, $10 million) Fernando Rodney (1 year, $1 million) Burke Badenhop (1 year, $1 million) Matt Thornton (1 year, $1 million) Craig Breslow (1 years, $1 million) Total Bullpen AAV: $22 million Madson, O’Day, and Sipp is a decent one-two-three punch out of the pen, and then I’m depending on some averageness and ground balls from Badenhop and some averageness and fly balls from Breslow. Thornton can still get lefties out, and Rodney still has an imaginary bow and quiver of arrows so it’ll be interesting to see if he becomes any more likable when he’s shooting them for my team. * * * All that puts my payroll for the 2016 season at $199 million. That’s a decent lineup, a flexible bench, and maybe a good pen. The health of the rotation is what concerns me most, but given that we’re buying free agents and free agents are older and pitchers who are older are almost always concerning, there’s not much we can do about it. In the end, I bought 60 player seasons for a total guaranteed cost of $726 million. Below, you can see what Steamer thinks our team would do next season. The 2015-16 All Free Agent Team Name PA WAR Jason Heyward 603 4.7 Ben Zobrist 621 3.1 Matt Wieters 411 2.2 Denard Span 564 2.2 Mike Napoli 479 1.2 David Freese 505 1.2 Steve Pearce 377 1.2 Jarrod Saltalamacchia 336 1.0 Alexei Ramirez 620 0.9 Will Venable 412 0.4 Kelly Johnson 299 0.2 Mike Aviles 297 -0.2 Jonny Gomes 270 -0.2 Hitter Total — 17.9 Name IP WAR Johnny Cueto 201 3.0 John Lackey 190 2.6 Brett Anderson 139 2.0 J.A. Happ 146 1.9 Mat Latos 159 1.8 Darren O’Day 65 0.7 Ryan Madson 40 0.4 Tony Sipp 35 0.2 Fernando Rodney 20 0.1 Burke Badenhop 10 0.0 Craig Breslow 10 0.0 Matt Thornton 10 0.0 Pitcher Total — 12.7 Grand Total — 30.6 Web Lackey and Editor Extraordinaire Carson Cistulli did some maths and learned that, had this team existed last season, they would have finished 19th in batter WAR (which includes fielding) and 16th in pitching WAR, right behind Kansas City. So, what we’re saying is this team would have won the World Series. Clearly. We probably didn’t need to do this to know that building a team out of free agents is expensive! Very expensive! Too expensive! But it serves to drive home the point in a nail-through-the-skull kind of way. Think you can do better? You’re probably right! What would you do?