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August 23, 2011

Contractual Matters

BP's Compensation Pages

by Jeff Euston

When Cot’s Baseball Contracts first went on-line in October of 2005, Tim Lincecum was a sophomore pitching for the University of Washington, and Albert Pujols was still a month away from collecting his first National League Most Valuable Player award.

A lot has changed in just six years. Lincecum is a bona fide ace, Pujols has taken his place among the game’s greats, and both will sign lucrative new contracts this winter. But if you have paid a visit to Cot’s recently, you’ve seen the same basic low-tech layout used when the site debuted. The team-by-team format—with years, contract values, and other details—served its purpose in a no-frills, replacement-level sort of way, but the site lacked the advantages of a database and a means to sort, search for, and compare financial information, and it’s long past time for the archaic 2004 feel to go.

Finally, after much preparation, much of the information you’ve found at Cot’s is now available here in BP’s Compensation section. Many financial details from Cot’s already have been incorporated into our player cards—a process that began with BP staffers painstakingly removing thousands of semicolons from the old database at Cot’s.  The result is what we hope is a big upgrade over Cot’s and a useful tool in measuring one of the constant challenges facing front offices in every market: spending money efficiently.

The first thing you’ll probably notice at the Compensation home page is the color. A multi-color bar graph, extending horizontally across the page, provides a graphic representation of how much each team is spending this season. With the click of the mouse, you can compare 2011’s totals to 2010 (or any season back to the year 2000). Scroll to the bottom of the page, and you can see a league-wide breakdown of spending by position, complete with a helpful pie chart. (Spoiler alert: Spending big on relief pitching usually is not the most efficient use of resources—though if you’re reading this, chances are that isn’t news to you.)  You can also move forward in time to see what teams are on the hook for in the future.  Did you know that the Red Sox are on the hook for $44 million in 2017?  That's probably $44 million more than your favorite team owes! Payroll figures are as of Opening Day, with slight adjustments to include dead money or cash in trades.

If your curiosity gets the best of you and you want to investigate exactly how the Cubs got to $130 million-plus with their current roster, you can click their logo, see a breakdown of spending on the North Side—through a handy pie chart or in line-item-style—then laugh or cry, depending on where your allegiances lie. How much does Carlos Zambrano still have coming? Mouse over his name and you'll see, or click on it and you’re taken to his player card—which houses a compensation section summarizing his past, present, and future contracts—as well as the details you’re used to seeing at Cot’s, like agents and service-time figures. (Zambrano’s magic number is about $22 million, by the way.)


Mousing over a player name displays service time and contract details in a tooltip.

For my money, the most useful new feature is the incorporation of Wins Above Replacement Player figures into the salary information, providing a yardstick to evaluate efficiency by team, player, or position.

Checking out the 2001 Giants, for example, we see that Barry Bonds earned about 16 percent of team payroll ($10.3 million) while posting an other-worldly WARP mark of 12.2. The Giants paid Bonds $844,152 per win, a bargain at twice the price for a player in the free-agent years of his career. By comparison, San Francisco closer Robb Nen was about 10 percent of San Francisco’s payroll that year with a salary of $6.6 million. He posted a WARP mark of 1.66, a cost of nearly $4 million per win.

We get another measure of Bonds’ production by dividing his WARP (12.2) by his cost in millions ($10.3), showing he delivered 1.18 wins for every million the Giants paid him in 2001. Nen, by contrast, delivered just 0.25 wins for every million he earned. With salaries now integrated with WARP figures, you can compare Bonds with his Giants teammates, his peers in left field around the league, or every other player in baseball. Plus, you can evaluate how efficiently the Giants spent money in constructing their roster or compare their efficiency to their NL West rivals or any of the other 29 teams.  All tables are sortable, as well-click a column header to sort by that column.


Click a column header to sort by that column.

One other benefit: the player cards provide a virtual archive for the contract details of former players. Although Cot’s included a “Notables” page with details for a select group of Hall of Fame-caliber players like Randy Johnson, space was an issue because team pages were limited to the current roster and top prospects. When a player like Andy Pettitte retired, his listing at Cot’s was simply removed from the Yankees page. Now his contract information will remain accessible on his BP player card, not lost to history.

Poke around BP’s new compensation section, and please don’t hesitate to let us know if you catch any errors or omissions (I’m confident they’re out there). Fans visiting Cot’s have never been shy about pointing out everything from typos to million-dollar mistakes, and we’re counting on those of you using the information here at BP to help us smooth the transition and improve the product. Also, if you have reliable information or a tip that might help add to our big collection of contract knowledge, we want to hear from you. To help make life easy, we’re establishing a “Tip Line” where you can click and pass the information along to us—there's a link at the bottom of every Compensation page.  Please be sure to include the source for your update.

Finally, for those of you with an attachment to the old-style pages from Cot’s Contracts, don’t despair. We'll be moving the new Compensation pages in place of Cot's at some point, but Cot’s Version 1.0 will remain available as a sub-page forevermore.

Happy surfing. Peace, love, and lots of zeros.

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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