Could a Team of Remaining Free Agents Compete in 2018?

Hey, do you want to play a game? One that involves assuming the role of Fake GM? And possibly ignoring or postponing whatever work you should be doing?

If so, then you’re in luck: FanGraphs dot com Community Research contributor Stephen Coelho has created such a game — one that you can access here, at your own peril.

This particular game allows one to build a roster out of major leaguers, with one notable constraint: only players who were free agents as of February 5th are available (meaning newest Met Todd Frazier is included).

Constructing fake teams based upon available free agents is a familiar pastime. In this case, however, it’s also a particularly relevant exercise, as we are currently in the midst of the slowest offseason on record. We have proof of if you harbor any doubts. Some 120 free agents remained unsigned. While not all of them are bound for a major-league roster spot, many quality players remained unemployed, including nine of FanGraphs’ top-20 free agents and four of the top five.

Coehlo himself attempted to build teams using different budgets, one more like small-market club, the other like a large-market one while staying under the tax threshold. This author also decided to play along in a slightly different manner. I ignored the tax threshold.

In this case, I assumed the role of a tech titan in search of a new toy. I pushed for early expansion, claimed Montreal as a home city for the new franchise. I wanted to compete right away and spend irrationally, blowing past the luxury-tax threshold in the process. Could I compete with what is remaining in free agency? I was curious to answer that question. (We’ll save the expansion draft for another day and another post.)

Coehlo employed FanGraphs’ Depth Chart projected WAR values, and I filled the roster by generally using the highest projected WAR totals amongst the listed free agents. I was also curious to see how expensive such a team would be based upon Coehlo’s salary estimates, which included media reports of rumored contract demands and MLB Trade Rumors’ own projected contract value. The dollar values he employs are now probably on the high end due to the New Year’s Effect. (See Frazier’s projected vs. actual contract value to get a sense of what I mean.) Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable thought exercise.

Without further delay, I present to you my fake club of free-agent talent.

The Montreal Expansion Franchise
Position Name 2017 WAR DC Proj. WAR Proj. AAV Years Total Value
Starting Lineup
C Jonathan Lucroy 1.2 2.4 $10.0 2 $20.0
1B Eric Hosmer 4.1 2.8 $20.0 7 $140.0
2B Neil Walker 2.1 2.6 $10.5 2 $21.0
3B Mike Moustakas 2.2 2.8 $16.5 5 $82.0
SS Eduardo Nunez 2.2 1.7 $8.5 2 $17.0
LF Carlos Gomez 2.3 1.2 $10.5 2 $21.0
CF Jarrod Dyson 2.1 1.7 $8.0 2 $16.0
RF J.D. Martinez 3.8 2.7 $25.0 6 $150.0
DH Todd Frazier 3.0 2.4 $11.0 4 $44.0
C Chris Stewart -0.6 0.0 $1.0 1 $1.0
INF Brandon Phillips 1.6 1.1 $6.0 1 $6.0
LF / CF / RF Jon Jay 1.6 0.5 $7.0 2 $14.0
UT Yunel Escobar 0.8 0.7 $4.5 1 $4.5
SP Yu Darvish 3.5 3.6 $26.0 6 $156.0
SP Jake Arrieta 2.4 2.7 $27.5 4 $110.0
SP Jaime Garcia 2.1 2.2 $9.0 2 $18.0
SP John Lackey 0.5 1.4 $7.0 1 $7.0
SP Ricky Nolasco 0.7 1.4 $6.5 1 $6.5
SP/RP Brett Anderson 0.8 1.7 $5.0 1 $5.0
RP Seung Hwan Oh 0.1 0.2 $5.0 1 $5.0
RP Sergio Romo 0.3 0.0 $4.0 1 $4.0
RP Peter Moylan 0.3 0.4 $3.5 1 $3.5
RP Koji Uehara 0.6 0.1 $5.5 1 $5.5
RP Trevor Cahill 0.3 0.6 $3.0 1 $3.0
SP/RP Francisco Liriano 0.8 0.2 $4.5 1 $4.5
TOTALS 38.8 37.1 $245.0 58 $864.5

So could this band of merry mercenary ballplayers compete in 2018?

I suspect so. FanGraphs projects this group to produce 37.1 WAR, which would place it — even before accounting for additional contributions from its fake 40-man roster — between the Giants and Blue Jays in terms of projected WAR. FanGraphs projects those two teams to win 84 games. This collection of ballplayers could be in the mix for a Wild Card spot.

Of course, it would be a pricey team, totaling $245 million alone for a 25-man roster — and $864.5 million in total guaranteed obligations. While that’s a nice stimulus for the MLBPA, it also demonstrates in part why the offseason has been so cold: free agency is just not that efficient from the club perspective. That’s hardly a secret. This club exceeded the luxury-tax threshold by $40 million with the 25-man roster alone and would hardly project as a postseason favorite.

I also toyed around on a spreadsheet with a team that would have a middle-of-the-road payroll, around $150 million, but it projected to produce just 24 WAR. Coehlo’s small- and large-market teams — which remained under the tax threshold — also did not appear to be competitive 2018 clubs. It’s difficult to spend your way into contention.

On the one hand, the wealth of talent available this winter continues be remarkable. On the other, the structure of free agency — which typically involves giving money to players entering the decline phase of their careers — is largely inefficient, which is why clubs argue somewhat correctly that they are acting rationally. For free agency to create more robust markets, baseball needs a younger class of free agents. A couple of expansion teams wouldn’t hurt either.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mike Dmember
6 years ago

Maybe this is a sign it’s time for expansion.

Big Daddy V
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike D

Maybe this is a sign that players in arbitration and minor leaguers should be paid fairly.

6 years ago
Reply to  Big Daddy V

All value is subjective, even the value of a baseball player. No matter how much data we produce, there will always be a subjective element to the analysis. That’s a fact of life, a fact of the world we live in that is beyond dispute by any rational person.

So also is the idea of “fair pay”. It’s a purely subjective term that means different things to different people. There is nothing righteous, interesting, or moral about championing “fair pay.” It’s like saying you want people to be treated nicely. Well… duh

But in the context of an analysis of unemployed baseball players, begging for people to be treated nicely isn’t exactly an example of breakthrough commentary.

6 years ago

I don’t mind being down voted. I realize “fair pay” is a wildly popular idea. What I hope people will question, particularly in fields that heavily use analytics, is whether or not there can actually be an objective measure of value. I hope you guys will toss that around in your heads a bit. Good luck.

6 years ago

It’s too bad there’s not a website that’s unhealthily obsessed with that very topic somewhere.

Travis Lmember
6 years ago

There are many ways to define objective measures of value. Fangraphs does exactly that for many of the articles, using the FA $/Win value.

As a society, we legislate the hourly wage floor. That seems to indicate that we collectively feel it’s not fair to pay people below that amount, but due to negotiating power imbalances people will accept lower. So we limit that, although minor leaguers have an exemption.

It feels like you’re using “objective measure of value” when you really mean “precise measure of value”.

Regardless of exactly where the “fair” line is, I think it’s reasonable to say that “so far below minimum wage there is a specific exemption” is probably bordering on exploitation.

6 years ago
Reply to  Travis L

“There are many ways to define objective measures of value. Fangraphs does exactly that for many of the articles, using the FA $/Win value.”

You are confusing metrics related to past performance with value. Value is the benefit we believe something will provide us in the future. Metrics tell us what those things have done in the past.

We use metrics related to past performance to guide us, but those calculations are not devoid of subjectivity.

Let me ask you, are there differences in the way WAR is calculated? If so, why?


6 years ago


I’m also not arguing that minor league players can’t be “exploited”, and I’m sure some probably are. I would however question the wisdom of forcibly incentivizing the continuation of careers of long-shot baseball players, when they have plenty of other career paths they can choose for which they may be more suitable than Shortstop for the New York Yankees, for example. And careers for which they might provide greater value to society.

There is no such reasoned discussion coming from an argument that the illogical notion of “fair pay” trumps all considerations.


6 years ago

It’s pretty easy. Fair pay is the pay an unregulated market would provide to secure the services of a specific individual.

If you can’t find a job that pays $100,000, then you’re probably not worth that. But if you can find multiple jobs offering you $50,000, you’re also probably worth more than that.

6 years ago
Reply to  tb.25

…and your fair pay is the amount tbat would result in exactly one long term job?

Or would it be three, to allow for the Mike Illitch/Arte Morenos of the world, since We’re talking Baseball?

6 years ago
Reply to  tb.25

You do realize that there has never been, and will never be, an “unregulated” market, right? And given that, this definition of “fair” has not, and will not ever exist, right?

Furthermore, let’s not conflate market price with fairness. The first is an empirical fact, and the second one is a subjective statement. Market prices are distorted all the time, sometimes in ways that promote “fairness” and in other ways that make it worse (in the form of “rents”).

6 years ago

To me, “fair pay” in this context simply means that the players producing the most value (WAR functions as a good representation of value IMO) get paid in a manner that corresponds to their value.

This is currently NOT the way the system functions. But the MLBPA did agree to the current system — it’s just that the teams have begun to act rationally!

Thus, paying arbitration-eligible players and other younger, very talented players more is one way of getting more of the MLB revenue into the hands of the best players.