You can’t build a team around free agents, say the people who don’t think you can build a team around free agents. To them, the only way to build a team is through the draft, waiver claims and occasional trades. To paraphrase the great movie Waterboy (which is such a great movie that you can watch it for free on YouTube), “Free agents are the devil!” Well, maybe so if you’re living in the real world, but this is Baseball Prospectus where we can do anything we want provided it fits on a spreadsheet and won’t wake our parents upstairs.
Another thing some people like to say is that baseball teams aren’t just names on paper. They’re real people. Well, not here they aren’t, mister! Here players are one-dimensional entities devoid of emotion and everything else that won’t show up on our computer machines. In that spirit, I’m not only going to build a baseball team exclusively out of free agents, but I’m going to do it only on (virtual) paper. Eat that, straw men I just created!
Can it be done? Not according to some people I spoke with, who said, “Sure,” “I guess so,” and “Probably, but why?” I’ll show them!
Before we construct this hypothetical all-free agent team, we first have to lay some ground rules.
- I tried to construct a roster that could compete for the playoffs next year.
- I selected a DH because I like actual baseball and asking pitchers to hit is a crime against humanity on par with wet socks and not using a coaster.
- I tried to only give out realistic contracts, so no signing Josh Hamilton for 2 years, $20 million.
- I tried to maintain a $200 million payroll, because that’s on the outskirts of semi-reasonable. Therefore, signing all the best free agents to realistic contracts would be too expensive.
- I kept players at the positions they will realistically play, so no signing Josh Hamilton and playing him partially at second base.
Here’s what I came up with.
1. Zack Greinke (7 years, $164.5 million)
2. Shaun Marcum (2 years, $17 million)
3. Edwin Jackson (3 years, $30 million)
4. Ryan Dempster (3 years, $30 million)
5. Scott Baker (1 year, $6 million)
Like Ruben Amaro, Jr., I identified my target and immediately overpaid him. Greinke’s contract numbers are silly, but as one of the better starting pitchers in baseball and still under the age of 30, he is going to, as the kids say, get piz-ayed. Under that contract, I’m buying Greinke’s age-29 through age-35 seasons. There should be decline but, barring injury, he should hold some value. “Barring injury” is something said by people who want to make something dangerous sound safe. Barring injury, hitting myself in the forehead with a mallet is a great idea!
The rest of the rotation is light on star power but should be average to above. Jackson and Dempster are above-average innings eaters while Baker and Marcum are upside plays. The Marcum and Baker contracts could give back very little if injuries reappear, but I’m banking on their upside. The years are long, but since this is an expansion team* and I don’t have minor leaguers who can step in and provide even average innings (probably) I don’t necessarily mind giving more years to players. Someone has to throw those innings and it won’t be me.
*Did I not mention that? This is an expansion team. There. Now I did.
First Base: Adam LaRoche (4 years, $48 million)
There is a strong argument to be made for signing Lance Berkman and letting someone else overpay for LaRoche’s career year, but age, injury history, and defense push me back toward LaRoche. The money is bad but the added reliability is paramount.
Second Base: Marco Scutaro (3 years, $24 million)
As much as I wanted to sign Jeff Baker solely because he was born in Bad Kissingen, Germany, I do want to get someone decent, so Scutaro it is! A three-year deal for a 37-year old middle infielder is insane, but if I want to buy him away from the Giants I have to pay up. This is one of those instances where it would be nice to make a trade or bring someone up from Triple-A but doing that would be heretical! Exclamation point!
Shortstop: Stephen Drew (1 year, $12 million)
Like Scutaro, Drew is the best of a mediocre bunch*. This is the much ballyhooed rebuild-your-value contract that Drew is rumored to want. So here. Play for my team. If that doesn’t work I’ll tell him the new stadium will have movable walls and an even bigger and more ridiculous** home run sculpture. That should do the trick.
*Worst 70s sitcom ever.
**How is such a thing possible? I have a team of scientists working on this very problem right now. So far the consensus is more smoke-emitting fish.
Third Base: Kevin Youkilis (2 years, $24 million)
I thought hard about going after Eric Chavez, who had a nice season for the Yankees, but in the end I settled on Youk. He’s another upside play, though at $12 million per year he’s also an upside pay. (Ha! Get it?) Still, his patience and power should hopefully keep him contributing when his batting average plummets.
Also, the final prize: Youkilis has his own wine.
Left Field: Melky Cabrera (1 year, $8 million)
Since my team has no fans I don’t have to worry about backlash for signing the most recent steroid villain.
Center Field: Angel Pagan (4 years, $40 million)
Right Field: Torii Hunter (3 years, $30 million)
Everybody wants Torii so I better do what everyone else is doing! He’s coming off a fantastic season, he’s still a plus defender in an outfield corner, he can play center in a pinch, and he spells his name with two consecutive ‘i’s. If you can say all those things about yourself you can write your own damn check.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz (3 years, $40.5 million)
Ortiz already inked a deal with Boston but this is fantasyland so why not go all the way, right? Still, I have to do better than Boston’s deal, and likely significantly so, to get him to give up on his Boston legacy. That explains the third year. Three years for a 37-year old DH might be a bit nuts but Ortiz was just a year younger last year and was one of the five best hitters in baseball before getting hurt. That’s irrefutable reasoning.
Catcher: Mike Napoli (4 years, $48 million)
Napoli reportedly wants to catch, so here, catch. Clearly I’m sacrificing defense at catcher for the lure of Ortiz and Napoli hitting back-to-back.
Catcher: David Ross (3 years, $12 million)
The Red Sox just foiled my plans and signed Ross to a two-year deal, so we’re going to call Uncle Bud and get him to void the deal in the best interests of me. I’ll give Ross a three-year deal to be polite and send the Red Sox a nice fruitcake with my condolences. Ross’s defense is going to be vital with Napoli behind the plate.
Infield: Maicer Izturis (3 years, $12 million)
Izturis just signed with the Blue Jays so, once again, we’re going to have to get Uncle Bud on the horn and void that deal. There. Add extra few million to contract, fruitcake in the mail, done. I’m going through all this because Izturis is probably my best bet to play second, short, and maybe occasionally third when Youkilis gets hurt. With the guys I have in front of him, I need that versatility.
Outfield: Andruw Jones (1 year, $1 million)
Jones has a defined skill (hitting lefties) and last year he didn’t even do that particularly well. Having him as a back-up outfielder is a weakness, but I’m figuring I get him on the cheap which, given the exorbitant contracts I’ve given out already, is sadly necessary.
Rafael Soriano (4 years, $40 million)
Mike Gonzalez (2 years, $6 million)
Ryan Madson (1 year, $10 million)
Joakim Soria (1 year, $6 million)
Randy Choate (1 year, $4 million)
Derek Lowe (1 year, $2 million)
Pat Neshek (1 year, $2 million)
Vicente Padilla (1 year, $2 million)
Soriano has been remarkably consistent, so as insane as giving a four-year deal to a reliever is, it’s marginally less insane to give one to Soriano. Beyond that, I’ve got Choate for lefties, Lowe for long relief and occasional starts if someone gets hurt, and Madson and Soria because if they’re healthy this could be a dominating pen and I love dominating pens. Left over is Pat Neshek. I signed him because of this picture:
I got all this for the low low price of $205.5 million next year. That would be one of the highest payrolls in baseball next season (the Dodgers are already at $198 million). The overall commitment was 60 player seasons and $635 million. And I've already spent $126 million in 2015, on a whole bunch of guys who will be (doing the math) two years older than they will be in 2013. The conclusions are three:
- Building a team entirely out of free agency is expensive.
- When calling Bud Selig’s office late at night it’s best to have already sent along a fruitcake.
- Stephen Drew can be wooed by obnoxious home run sculptures.