Last Year’s Free Agent Bargain

Yesterday, we looked at Mark Ellis‘ new contract and how it makes it likely that he’ll end up being the best bargain of the 2009 free agent crop. Well, let’s take a look back a year later and see who (so far) has been the best signing from last winter. Here are the contenders:

Mike Cameron: 1 year at $7 million with $10 million team option for 2009

Signed to provide some outfield defense at a bit of power, Cameron exceeded expectations for the Brewers, having a terrific season at age 35 and helping push Milwaukee into the playoffs. Injuries and a suspension limited him to just 120 games, but that makes his 1.42 WPA/LI all the more impressive when you consider he racked it up in just 508 plate appearances. When you combine average to above average center field defense with a bat that’s worth 1.5 wins over an average hitter, you have a +4 win player. Based on Cameron’s 2008 performance, he was worth between $15 and $20 million on the free market, or more than twice what he actually made. Toss in the team option that now looks like a no-brainer, and Cameron was truly one of the best signings of the winter.

Milton Bradley: 1 year at $5.5 million

Like Cameron, Bradley missed about a quarter of his team’s games, but his excellence when he did play makes up for the lack of quantity. He racked up 3.33 WPA/LI in 510 plate appearances as one of the American League’s best hitters. Because he DH’d, he didn’t offer much defensive value, but he still comes out as a +4 win player compared to a replacement level designated hitter. Like Cameron, teams should have paid about $15 to $20 million for Bradley’s 2008 season, when he made a fraction of that. Even if Texas doesn’t re-sign him for 2009, they’ll pick up a couple of draft picks as compensation for him leaving, and get the benefit of an excellent season and some long term help for the franchise.

Kyle Lohse: 1 year at $4.25 million

Lohse was the clear bargain of the pitching crop, being one of the last to sign and putting up 200 innings with a 3.78 ERA. Considering how expensive pitching is on the free market, the Cardinals saved a ton of money by forgoing the long term contract types and dumpster diving with Lohse. If we assume that a replacement level starting pitcher would allow approximately 6.0 runs per game, that’s about 133 runs allowed over a 200 inning season. Lohse allowed 88 runs in his 200 innings, a 45 run advantage, which works out to about 4.5 wins. We have to adjust that down a bit, however, because replacement level starters don’t throw 200 innings per year (they get replaced by higher quality relievers), so we factor about half a win out. That puts Lohse right at +4 wins.

Interestingly enough, Cameron, Bradley, and Lohse all offered up very similar win totals for their respective clubs. Cameron was the most expensive, but also offers a 2009 team option which has quite a bit of value. Bradley will either re-sign with Texas or net them compensation for leaving, while Lohse’s performance fooled the Cardinals into giving him a brutal 4 year, $41 million extension. You could make an argument for any of the three, but I’m going to go with Mike Cameron as the 2008 free agent bargain of the year, since he will continue to provide value in 2009 for the Brewers.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tim Dierkes
14 years ago

A few runners up at less than a million bucks: Chad Durbin, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Odalis Perez.