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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.

  1. I tried to construct a roster that could compete for the playoffs next year.
  2. 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.
  3. I tried to only give out realistic contracts, so no signing Josh Hamilton for 2 years, $20 million.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Starting Rotation
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.

Lineup
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)

Some might prefer Shane Victorino or B.J. Upton, but the irony of the name Angel Pagan is just too much for me to pass up.

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.

Bench
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.

Bullpen
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:

Conclusion
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:

  1. Building a team entirely out of free agency is expensive.
  2. When calling Bud Selig’s office late at night it’s best to have already sent along a fruitcake.
  3. Stephen Drew can be wooed by obnoxious home run sculptures.
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buddaley
11/13
"Beyond that, I’ve got Oliver for lefties" You mean Choate, I think.
lyricalkiller
11/13
Oliver is what we in the BP offices call Randy Choate. It's a long story. (fixed)
uno1234
11/13
whats the projected wins?
Mooser
11/13
At say, $4.5M a win, your $205.5M is going to buy you around 46 projected WAR. Assuming a replacement team gets you 47 wins (.290), than that's 93 wins. Welcome to the playoffs.
Behemoth
11/13
I think the request was for how the team that was put together would project.
Behemoth
11/13
Also, by eye, that team looks a long way from the playoffs to me. It would be fun trying to rebuild it in 2015 or so.
Oleoay
11/13
In 2015, the payroll would still be in the 130 million range.
mattymatty2000
11/13
I tried to answer that below.
Schere
11/13
Has a franchise ever peaked in its first year?
benharris
11/13
The Rockies arguably peaked in their third season.
mattymatty2000
11/13
This one would.
Oleoay
11/13
This one would have to, since it's all downhill after the first year... (if that). Heck it makes the Yankees look young...
mattymatty2000
11/13
If the Yankees tried to build a team exclusively from free agents, they'd look this old too. Anyone would. Because free agents are old.
Oleoay
11/14
Yes, but not quite as old as this bunch. Teixeira was signed at 29, Sabathia at 28. If you count trades, even Alex Rodriguez was first acquired at 28 and Granderson was first acquired at 29. Only Greinke on this team is signed up for a multiyear contract at that young.
mandamin
11/13
I think this gets to the 2013 playoffs with no real problem. The price in 2014-15 will be hell to pay, though.
mattymatty2000
11/13
Are you saying you don't think a 40-year-old Marco Scutaro is a bargain at $8 million? Sir, I am shocked. SHOCKED.
operatic
11/13
Whee, look at all the former Braves. ;)
timber
11/13
You're going to have to get Bud to step in one more time, Matthew: Scott Baker has signed with the Cubs.
mattymatty2000
11/13
I posted this before the Cubs signed him!
mattymatty2000
11/13
Also, worth noting the Cubs signed him for 1 year, $5.5 million. I offered 1 year, $6 million. Not a bad guess!
timber
11/13
I read it before they signed him, too! :)
Peter7899
11/13
What does PECOTA project you for wins in 2013 with that roster?
mattymatty2000
11/13
The PECOTAs aren't available yet so I can't say for sure. I think that I accomplished my goal of putting a competitive team on the field for 2013. Depth wouldn't be especially strong but I think this team could win in the neighborhood of 90 games, give or take 5-7 depending on injuries, under/over-performance, etc. As Sam Miller noted to me when I submitted this piece though, and as usual he's totally right, is that while this team would be good in 2013, things would probably go downhill from there. The financial outlay is extreme and in two years (2015) I'll still have a $120 million committed to 11 guys, all of whom will be in their 30s, and some in their very late 30s. It's not a recipe for long-term success. As long as I can keep spending to add talent I can probably keep things from getting putrid (and at some point you'd hope there would be an infusion of minor league talent), but this is a crazy expensive and risky way to build a team.
Nater1177
11/13
Quick question Matt, what changed in the last couple weeks that's changed your thinking on Grienke's projected contract going from 5/115 to 7/164.5?
mattymatty2000
11/13
Good question. Two things. First, I read more articles about how much he's expecting to get and how many teams are interested in him. Second, as with all the other players I "signed" I assumed they wouldn't want to come play for me unless I paid more than anyone else.
DetroitDale
11/13
A very intersting thought exercise. How would signing all those free agents affect your draft picks? How many would you lose in compensation? I ask because you'd have a very short time to build a farm system to replace the aging free agents. On the other hand, a long playoff run the first year might buy a couple years goodwill to build a farm system. So where does this team play? What's the nickname? Who's the manager? Dont say ozzie guillen
mattymatty2000
11/13
Ozzie Guillen
mattymatty2000
11/16
To legitimately answer your questions, Draft picks: I'd guess that for an expansion team I'd probably wouldn't lose any picks. If I did, I'd only lose my first and second rounders, which since I just signed 25 free agents, isn't that big a price to pay. Where does the team play: No idea. The biggest city without a major league team is probably Portland, Oregon, but they have no plans to woo a team anytime soon. Manager: If it were up to me, I'd hire Terry Francona. As to Team name: I'll hire Jason Parks to come up with something.
Oleoay
11/16
Francona over Maddon?
mattymatty2000
11/17
Maddon wasn't a free agent this winter.
WaldoInSC
11/14
Isn't hitting your head with a mallet how you ended up in your parents' basement in the first place? Also, you forgot to mention the veteran presence on this team. They would know how to win.
mattymatty2000
11/14
The totally know how to win.
mattymatty2000
11/16
THEY totally know how to win. Only took me two days to notice that misspelling!
rawagman
11/16
Matt - that's not a misspelling - that's the team name. The Portland/Brooklyn/Montreal Totally Know how to Win.