Do $100 Million Dollar Players Guarantee Success?

As Mets fans who have had to deal with the angst of the past few years, it wasn’t enough that the clubs play during the season was sub .500 for five straight years, we also have had to deal with the last three offseasons of no money to go out and buy the big ticket free agent that might have helped us get closer to the promised land. In fact, the only $100M+ plus investment we made was in Captain David Wright. There has been a smattering of opinion that suggests we could have done better by trading him for prospects and starting over, but what cannot be denied is that he is easily one of the best third baggers in baseball (apologies to Miguel Cabrera). And lets not forget that the organization was put into shock with previous large contracts that blew up in the teams face. Throw in a good old fashion Ponzi scheme, and then you can start to hear shoes squeak over at Willets Point.

So, with all that as a backdrop, the question I wanted to pose and try to answer in this article is this; Could we have done any better spending big on free agents?

Theo Epstein, Carl Crawford

And by big, I am referring only to those contracts where the total value was over $100 million-plus and added during the Sandy Alderson era. Clearly, one player does not make a team, but when you sink that much dough, not to mention years, into some of the players that have received these deals over the past three years, teams like the Mets cannot afford to have duds, they need All-Star caliber players. As an aside, I follow the European soccer scene very closely and have watched as teams in small English towns spent heavily to try and compete with the powerhouses in London and Manchester, only to find themselves bankrupt, with no trophies to show for their efforts, and fans in despair (sound familiar?).

Since Sandy Alderson and Co. joined the Metropolitans in October 2010, there have been 14 players who have signed deals with a total value of over $100M in his first three years (I have not included anyone who signed this offseason as there is no data to evaluate their performance yet). These players have signed deals that total over $2.1 billion over an average length of seven years. The annual average value of these contracts is approximately $21 million. Now it bears noting that of these 14 deals, five have to be excluded as those deals were actually extensions (Troy Tulowitzki, Joe Mauer, Matt Kemp, Matt Cain, and Cole Hamels). They are included in the statistical analysis.

In order to determine the relative worth of these ballplayers and if they could have helped the Mets to a title, I used WAR values provided by Baseball Reference. One can debate the relative merits of WAR as a statistic but it is really the only way to look at position players and pitchers together and determine worth. Again, I am only focusing on those nine players who signed their deals since Sandy Alderson and his band took over the Mets front office.

Per Baseball Reference, an All-Star is defined as one with a WAR of 5.0 or better. A Major League class starter is one with a WAR of 2.0 or higher. Now, it can be expected that once a team drops over $100M on a player they should expect All-Star caliber play for the majority of that contact. Sadly, the figures do not bear this out. Of the three seasons analyzed (30 total “seasons” for the 14 players who signed mega-deals), only 20% of all those seasons produced a WAR of 5.0 or higher. Of these six seasons, two were in 2011 (Tulowitzki, Lee), one was in 2012 (Pujols), and three were in 2013 (Tulowitzki, Joe Mauer and Lee again!). Of these players, only Cliff Lee has helped his team to at least one playoff appearance.

It gets worse. From the 30 seasons produced by the 14 players signed to mega deals, a whopping 40% of those seasons produced a WAR of 2.0 or less. That means that players signed to play for over $20 million a season could not even produce a WAR capable of an average major league starter, never mind an All-Star. With a failure rate as high as this, teams with little or no flexibility in their budget simply cannot afford to be part of such a crapshoot. I’m surprised that the Angels aren’t taking more heat for their bad spending over the past two years, as Pujols and Hamilton have contributed very little to delivering a .500 season for their team, let alone a championship, for Los Angeles.

Previously I had discussed the high WAR value of players such as Cliff Lee and Troy Tulowitzki. I also found that Joe Mauer had also produced over a fairly high level since signing his mega extension. Lee, specifically, is a phenomenon, over the three years since he signed his 5 year, $120 million contract in the 2010 offseason, the man has produced over 20 WAR! That accounts for one fifth of the total WAR of all the mega free agents signed since 2010. It’s an incredible statistic. Add in the total WAR for just these three players, they accounted for 52% of the total WAR of all players signed to $100M+ deals.

While this may not be a complete apples to apples comparison, it is a fairly compelling piece of information when you consider that even when their average WAR per year is compiled, these three still rank at the top of the list of 14. Only Adrian Gonzalez comes close with 7.5 WAR over two years.

Okay, maybe WAR shouldn’t be the measurement we use to measure success against a mega contract, maybe its just too sabermetric for you, and doesn’t beat what is really important to Mets and baseball fans everywhere, and that is winning the World Series. And to some extent I heartily agree, a player signed to a huge $100M contract should help his team into the playoffs and World Series. Surely, on this scale, we should see success, right?

Unfortunately, even by this measurement, these players do not provide proof that big spending buys championships. Over the past three years only one player has signed a $100M deal and won a World Series. Bad news again, is that this player signed an extension with his current team and wasn’t even allowed to hit the free agent market (Matt Cain of the 2012 Giants had a 3.9 WAR in the Giants run to the title in 2012, but slipped to an injury plagued 0.5 WAR in 2013). There is only one free agent who signed a mega deal that has at least made a World Series appearance (Prince Fielder with the Tigers in 2012). Seven of the 14 players have at least had the privilege of playing in the playoffs (thanks to three different Dodgers who made it in the last post-season: Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Zack Greinke. Matt Kemp was not counted as he was injured and did not play).

What conclusions can be drawn by this? Well, it seems that signing a player to such a humongous contract over an equally long period of time is a very, very, very risky proposition, as more of these contracts fail then succeed. Mets fans have been close to the bone on this with the Johan Santana and Jason Bay contracts (though the latter was only for $64M). A mixture of free agents on shorter term deals with home grown talent would seem to be the way to success, just ask the Cardinals, Rays, and Pirates. So, whether or not we believe that the plan as stated by our GM is working, he is working to a script that at least has had proven success with other teams.

mmo

  • Hodges14

    It’s very difficult to have too high a percentage of your payroll tied up in one player. This was the root cause of the issues with Santana and Bay. If the payroll had remained in the $140M+ range those 2 contracts would not have crippled the franchise. If you are going to run a small market/small payroll operation with a $90M payroll then it’s probably not advisable to be paying 1 guy $20M per season.

  • No single thing really guarantees success to be honest. Not $100MM deals to free agents, not trades, not signing international prospects, not player development, not MLB scouting, not managing, not having a good front office, and not even owners. No one single thing guarantees success – it has to be everything working together to give you depth and thus…as many option as possible.

  • Charley’s Twin

    No, they don’t. Does starting Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda guarantee failure? Yes it does.

  • Bill Buckner

    I hate the Wilpons, but it is not because they don’t sign enough $100 million players. The issue is that they continue to charge in the upper 1/3 of the league in tickets/concessions/parking prices yet they provide a bottom 1/3 product. I don’t need a $100 million player every offseason like the yankees, but it sure would have been a lot nicer over the last couple seasons if they had gone out and grabbed a mid-tier FA or two to improve the team each offseason rather than just slashing payroll and only signing guys off the scrap heap.

  • peter

    It would be better for you but not better for the overall benefit of the team in the long term. Which will ultimately affect you long term.

  • Charley’s Twin

    Which is why extending Wright for big $ never made any sense in the first place. Should have traded him.

  • One problem (of many) with what the owners/management are trying to sell is all of their comments that hint or say straight out that if people go to games and shell out money, they will be able to afford to spend more. The problem is that you need to spend in this market to bring people to the games, especially at today’s prices. This dance has been going on for several years and will continue until they finally are willing to do all that is needed, including dumping a guy like Tejada when there is a feasible major league replacement available. I’m all for waiting it other teams are not banging on Drew’s door but make sure you secure him in the end. They need to spend first and start winning and people will be interested and pour their money back into the team. That is one argument for potentially overpaying a few guys as they will bring fans back. People like familiar faces on the field. Prospects are great and and add fuel for the eternal optimists but they don’t fill the seats.

  • Hodges14

    Certainly didn’t make any sense to me to sign a 30 year old David Wright to an 8 year contract after letting Reyes walk and having no plan to surround Wright with enough talent to win. Also, not sure why Wright wanted to come back.

  • Wrights contract had to be done. He is going to take Seaver’s place in Mets land until he dies. The cost is minimal for his return on and off the field.

  • Hodges14

    Add in both Youngs and Ike.

  • Hodges14

    I thought Piazza was going to take Seaver’s place?

  • Biggle Boy

    Peter, saying that “teams like the Mets cannot afford to have duds, they need All-Star caliber players”, is the mandate that small market teams may need to follow. But that’s the mandate that the current owners of the Mets, a big market team, have embraced.

    Look there’s only 2 things in life that are certain. And neither is a “guarantee” that a $100M signing becomes an All Star. The best strategy is to develop a productive farm system, so you can have a solid core of good home grown players, and then invest the significant $ needed to fill any gap(s).

    If a big market team owner “can’t afford” to follow that strategy, then they shouldn’t be owners of a big market team.

  • While the cost is very high compared to other parks, they can bring the cost down significantly and it would have little affect on attendance. The area can afford the cost, and cheap tickets are all over stub-hub and people still don’t get them. So why lower their revenue when the cost is not affecting demand.

  • Not for the long term. Piazza will always be a central figure but just look at the Wright narrative. Homegrown Met who grew up as a Mets fan and becomes an all star 3rd baseman for the team and retires for them. He has a great smile and says all the right things to the media. It’s all set up on a silver platter for him.

  • Hodges14

    It doesn’t work though unless he leads the Mets to a championship. I understand what you are saying… they want him to be their version of Derek Jeter but the thing that made Jeter what he is was the championships.

  • Joey D.

    Hi Peter,

    That is really a topic of discussion more for those on the baseball 101 level than those on MMO. And as you suggest, using WAR as an efficiency rating is fun for lovers of statistics but does not add tangible information to help in the decision making policies behind those closed executive doors.

    As we all know, talent level and the intangibles one brings to a club is different than market value and the business investment a club must make. Since baseball is both a competitive sport and a profit making business the two, though different, go hand in hand with each other.

    Let’s use Seattle as a prime example. Did the Mariners really need to sign Robby Cano to that ten year deal to improve the team? Obviously not. It was for marketing purposes to set a foundation for long-term fan interest that will be sustained as other players come aboard in future years as Cano’s performance begins to regress for as far as production, there is only a few years left.

    And would Robby be a fit with the Mariners as the team stands now – not really. They are still a few seasons for though Robby adds a big bat and so could possibly Hart, Logan Morrison does not and thus they could add more to their 188 home runs (second in the league) and only show gradual improvement in their overall run scoring which was 12th in the league (averaging 3.83 per game) for they were still last in team batting average.
    One could say that has to do with playing in Safeco Field. Despite the Mariners home run power, It is one of the pitching friendliest parks in baseball. However, their pitching is awful – allowing the fourth highest runs per game in the league and when on the road they gave up a half an earned run per game above the league average. Even at home their ERA was above the league average – so that has to tell one something because though Fernando Rodney will help as closer, what about all the pitchers leading up to the ninth inning? Acquiring Scott Baker and re-signing Charlie Furbush is all they did to resolve that issue.

    So when one enters into a long-term contract, there are so many factors for as with the example of Cano, improving the team is indeed the number one motivation for Seattle while they understand that the investment they made in Cano won’t be the factor that improves it on the field but would help establish creditability with the fan base as they move forward. Just like it was with us and Pedro Martinez and why Omar had to agree to that fourth year.

    And at the same time, as I’ve suggested, there were many fine outfielders and first basemen available on the free agent market that could have very well resolved our outfield and first base problems (not guaranteed, said could have very well) at the cost of two or three year contracts from under ten million to perhaps up to 14 million per year. Those are not $100 million contracts and the Angels might have taken a hint from that, however, because baseball is indeed a business, that ten year contract to Puljos might have already paid itself back in the immediate profits and to which later on he will serve as a very expensive designated hitter.

  • MDonaldWilpon

    Bottom line is that the team is broke and the owners don’t have a way to pump any more cash into the operation. If they only had a stash of money that just gained 18 percent a year for no particular reason that they could go to for signing players and deferring current obligations. Sounds like a fantasy to me….

  • Bill Buckner

    I disagree – call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that the team will not automatically put every dollar of profit back into the team given their excessive debt. Therefore it would not affect the overall benefit of the team in the long run…

  • Bill Buckner

    That’s just tickets – 1/3 of the equation. Who cares that you can get decent tix for $10 each on Stubhub when you have to pay $20 to park and $9 for a beer? It’s still an exorbitantly expensive endeavor to go to the game

  • Taskmaster4450

    It depends upon the player and when it is given. Did Jeter’s extension at 25 or 26 for 10 years make sense? Absolutely. So does Kershaw at 26 and Cain at 27. CC getting signing at 27 was also a good deal. The Freeman contract is a no brainer in my opinion. These guys did or most likely will fulfill a large part of their contracts although injuries are always an issue especially with pitchers. The problem is that we are not seeing players like that hitting free agency.

    The truth is the free agent market is getting weaker. Cano, the only blue chip FA in this years class, signed a deal through the age of 42. How does that make sense? Sure you can state from a marketing standpoint it was smart and he is the best 2B in baseball so the Mariners are adding a stud to their lineup. But one player does not make a team especially in baseball. There needs to be a lot more pieces around him.

    Someone on here did a write up about a year ago covering the success of 7+ year deals. I believe, if memory serves me correct, he concluded that these contacts work out about 1/3 the time. That is a terrible percentage when we compare that to the success rate of 1st round draft picks which is 25%. The problem with the long term deals is they tie up capital and resources for so long. Let us be honest, few teams can or are willing to eat $60M or $70M remaining on a contract. As we witnessed with Johan and Bay, that is a lot of dead money sitting on the sidelines or not performing (although I feel the contract Santana was given was reasonable and smart at the time of signing).

    So do $100M dollar contract guarantee winning? The answer is no. In fact, I will go one step further and say that relying upon these is not smart business. Look at the Red Sox. They gave Pedroia a $100M extension but their FA signings last year were of the mid tier type. The only way I see these contracts making sense, or a lot of them I should say, is if a team is loaded with young talent and it starts extending the players. I would think after extending R. Zimmerman, that ultimately giving Strasburg and Harper $100M contracts makes more sense for the Nats than entering the FA arena (Werth’s contract isnt working out so great).

  • RyanF55

    The Mets are thinking long term here, whether they’ll ever admit it or not. Lets actually assume the young pitchers/d’Arnaud/Lagares pan out. You are looking at potentially 3-4 ace-like pitchers in your staff. If even just Harvey, Wheeler and Syndergaard are as good as advertised, the Mets will realistically be facing shelling out monster 150+ million dollar deals to each if they plan on keeping them around, or, if they actually get the players to agree, smaller deals years-wise but very high salary-wise. If you’re an ace in this league, that’s what you’re going to command.

    If the Mets tie up a lot of money now, in any way, they will be screwed trying to lock up their most important talent moving forward. I believe Sandy, knowing this reality, is reluctant to spend on players like Drew or huge contract free agents because he believes the internal talent on this team is going to push payroll to its absolute limit in the coming years. Does this justify not spending now to win? I’m not sure, but I believe our prospects have the POTENTIAL to command incredible amounts of money, and the Mets want to make sure they have the ability to retain them. Consider also a productive d’Arnaud, Murphy possibly Lagares…I know it’s assuming a tremendous amount, but imagine the Mets not being able to retain these players if they do turn out to be great. Because of the Wilpons well-documented financial crises, you can’t assume they’ll have the money to lock these guys up. Is giving Drew a 3 year, 36 million dollar deal worth compromising signing one of those pitchers down the road? I’m afraid the Wilpons situation forces this question.

  • Hodges14

    Giving Drew 3/36 now isn’t going to impact a kid that’s not in the majors yet. Nothing the Mets are doing right now has anything to do with the long term. It’s all about the Wilpons being able to desperately hold on in the short term. How much POTENTIAL revenue is being lost by fielding a team year after year after year that has NO chance to win?

  • It is, but those costs are not out of line compared to other teams. NY is also just more expensive to most areas in tems of costs anyway. I’ve recently been to Petco, Turner, and Citizens and beer costs that much. Parking varies more and it’s only cheaper at Turner because they don’t own or control it. Going to a game is expensive and demand has zero to do with cost. Get a winning team on the field and New Yorkers will be happy to pay. Lowering the cost only reduces the amount of money the Wilpon’s receive.

  • RyanF55

    The state of the Wilpons finances is the root of everything, obviously. But spending 36 million on Drew does impact the signings of other players. That’s 36 million that can go to extend a Mejia, possibly a Montero, any young player that is worthy. Niese got 5 years, 25 million. I can see one or two young players on this team on similar deals. Because of the Mets horrible financial situation, a Drew contract CAN get in the way of that. I totally agree with what your saying, and it a small 3 yr 36 million dollar deal shouldn’t be a big deal, but on this small market team, it is. We need every penny for these young kids coming up or to extend a deserving player like Murphy, and bringing in a marginal player like Drew so that the Mets can win 79 games instead of 76 in 2014 doesn’t make sense to me. It would if the Wilpons had spending power, but they dont.

  • Hodges14

    But it’s going to be at least 2 or 3 years before you need to worry about Montero or Mejia. There’s a very good chance that one or both of them don’t even make the team out of spring training this year. In addition Chris Young and Colon are both short term deals that will come off the books before you need to worry about those guys. Honestly if giving Drew $12M per year is an issue you really have to wonder why they would commit $10M between CYoung and Ike this season. They were both among the worst offensive players in MLB last year.

  • astoriacub

    comparing apples to oranges. Not at all the same thing. Wright took a discount to stay, Reyes left for the most lucrative contract.

  • I have to disagree here, signing Drew for $12M a year for 3 years is in my opinion another Luis Castillo contract, perhaps he gives you one half season of decent baseball, but then he reverts to his injury prone self. And it does impact what you can do to help the team later because you have that albatross on your backs. You leave yourself out of all the available talent in 2015 because you sunk so much in the short term. Tejada and Drew have similar WAR over the past 2 years…Its a gamble, but I’d stick with Tejada one more year than sink myself with Drew.

  • Bill Buckner

    Well I’m all for limiting how much money they receive because it doesn’t find a way back into the team anyway. I understand the “this is NY” argument, but that cuts both ways – “this is NY” so we shouldn’t be in the bottom 1/3 of payroll…

  • Hodges14

    it cost more to keep Wright at age 30 than Reyes got at age 29 from the Marlins. The point was you had 2 relatively young players entering their prime years. That is a great place to start a rebuilding program.

  • Task, you made an important point that I didn’t highlight enough in my piece, extensions seemed to do a lot better than straight FA deals, with the possible exception of Cliff Lee

  • Hodges14

    No one knows what talent will be available in 2015. What we do know is the roster right now will not contend in 2014 so they are blowing another year of David Wright’s ever shrinking prime.

  • Hodges14

    What about Ryan Howard?

  • RyanF55

    Bringing in Drew doesn’t make them contend in 2014 either. So what’s the point? The money’s better saved and spent elsewhere.

  • astoriacub

    But Wright is likely to provide more value over the length of the contract than Reyes will. Reyes has a history of leg injuries over his entire career and his game is dependent on his legs. Again, comparing apples to oranges.

  • Hodges14

    We can’t keep waiting to make a move until that move alone will make us a contender. They need to upgrade multiple positions. Drew is a definite upgrade. If not Drew then that’s fine… get another SS. Shouldn’t be hard to find an upgrade from Tejada.

  • Look I do not like the Wilpon’s one bit but at this point you need to be resigned to the fact they are not going anywhere. They should have went bankrupt in 2010 but they were thrown a safty net. the banks don;t want them to go bankrupt so they restructured a huge chunk of their debt again.

    When they had money they spent it, they just don’t have money now. Boycotts don’t work so if you want to see the Mets you will have to pay. If you can’t deal with that reality then stop watching or watch another team. We are powerless to stop the Wilpon’s from screwing up the team we love and lowering costs of parking and beer only makes their bottom line a little tighter and guarantees the team will be financially strained. Keeping the prices does not guarantee they pay off their debt but history has shown us that they spend money when they think they have it. There is no evidence of them skimming profits for their own financial gain like other teams.

  • Hodges14

    Wright’s had his share of injuries over the last few years also. It’s certainly looking like the Mets won’t contend until he’s past his most productive years. Makes you wonder why they wouldn’t have traded him for multiple near major league ready studs when the opportunity was there. Based on everything we’ve heard over the last few weeks it seems pretty obvious that they knew they weren’t going to compete for the last few years.

  • metstastic

    I’d rather upgrade 1B than get Drew. Yes, we don’t know what will be available 2015, but they will be better than Drew.

  • metstastic

    Most extensions are given at discounts. Most FA deals, you overpay.

  • Hodges14

    We don’t know that and we don’t know that the Mets would be able to afford them anyway. This is the same front office that misread the market on Peralta and thought they were getting him for 2 years and $20M.

  • metstastic

    If you invested in the S&P last year, you would have had a 30% return. So 18% wasn’t too far fetched at the height of the market.

  • metstastic

    In order to get people to the games, you need to win first.. and as we all know.. spending is not synonymous with winning.

  • metstastic

    Isn’t that the strategy the Mets are following? I think we just disagree on how far along that strategy is.

  • metstastic

    Colon and Granderson are not mid-tier signings?