Market Shopping

added 11/23/2004 by Scott Barzilla

There are agents out there that have accused the big league owners of collusion after a couple of off-seasons where salaries have gone down around baseball. Some players received eerily similar offers from several teams and several players received eerily similar deals. Now, MLB has a fax form that teams can send into MLB to ask for advice. This form has teams enter in the number of years they want to give a player. MLB will study the market and give a high and low range, other comparable players, and statistics to back up their findings.

Allow me to save the Astros some time and money on the Carlos Beltran negotiations. Scott Boras is asking for ten years and 200 million dollars. Most sane GMs understand that these demands are completely outrageous. However, fifteen million per season over six or seven years doesn’t appear to be out of the question. Boras gives each club a book chronicling his client’s value in the marketplace. He claims that Beltran is among the best in the history of the game. Allow me to tests these findings and determine his value once and for all.

What we are going to do is compare Beltran to the best centerfielders in the game from 2004. Usually, we would go back three seasons to do this, but since teams are paying on the basis of the strong 2004 season I thought I would give Boras and his folks the benefit of the doubt. We will use several offensive numbers and fielding numbers to make our comparison. I will include the 2004 salaries for all of the players as a point of reference to study financial value. Well, enough pleasantries, let’s get down to business.

                   RC  RCAA    OW%   OBP   SLG    OPS    P/PA
Jim Edmonds       141    73  .790   .418  .643  1.061     4.2	
Carlos Beltran    133    46  .683   .367  .548   .915     4.0	 
Johnny Damon      116    25  .607   .380  .477   .857     4.1
Mark Kotsay       105    21  .600   .370  .459   .829     3.6
Juan Pierre       104    10  .547   .374  .407   .781     3.5
Steve Finley      100     3  .515   .333  .490   .823     3.6	
Aaron Rowand       97    25  .632   .361  .544   .905     3.6	
Randy Winn         92     7  .535   .346  .427   .772     3.6
Bernie Williams    85     4  .522   .360  .435   .795     4.0
Mike Cameron       78     2  .512   .319  .479   .798     4.1

So, before we even bring salary into this discussion we can place Beltran in this group based on all of these offensive numbers. Runs created incorporates speed statistics into its equation, so must of these numbers include Beltran’s advantage on the basepaths. Jim Edmonds has an advantage in every category on Carlos Beltran. Beltran ranks second in every category except on base percentage and pitches seen per plate appearance. Beltran stands in fifth in on base percentage and a tie for fourth in pitches seen per plate appearance. I think it is pretty clear that Jim Edmonds is the best offensive centerfielder in baseball right now.

               Range      ZR     PO     A    FPCT
Randy Winn      2.73    .888    416     5    .991
Mike Cameron    2.67    .862    354     7    .978
Carlos Beltran  2.64    .884    397    13    .981
Mark Kotsay     2.47    .892    347    11    .984
Johnny Damon    2.41    .879    351     5    .986 
Steve Finley    2.31    .852    359     5    .992
Aaron Rowand    2.29    .921    304    10    .975
Juan Pierre     2.27    .848    365     3    .995
Jim Edmonds     2.23    .862    314    11    .988
Bernie Williams 2.23    .822    214     2    .995

Beltran's place with the glove is not quite as clear. Many will notice that Torii Hunter is not on this list because he did not make the top ten in the offensive categories. His numbers fit him near the top in fielding (especially when you include the last three seasons). Defense is the main area where it does not pay to take only one season. In 2003, Mike Cameron led the world in putouts and range factor, but he saw a considerable dip when he moved to the Mets. If you look at Beltran’s numbers, you can see that his numbers took a severe hit when he moved to Houston. If he had stayed in Kansas City he likely would be number one on this list. As most of you know, Steve Finley and Jim Edmonds were the Gold Glove winners in the National League (as centerfielders). Finley stands in sixth and Edmonds stands in ninth in range factor (three AL centerfielders above Finley and four above Edmonds). As for Beltran, he stands in third in range, fourth in zone rating, second in putouts, first in assists, and eighth in fielding percentage. For those that are not familiar with range, it simply calculates the number of successful plays (putouts plus assists) that a player makes per game. Zone rating calculates the percentage of successful plays a player makes in balls that are hit in his zone. Zone rating is relatively new statistic, but it is valuable because it attempts to remove the biases that hamstring our look at defense. If we take only 2004 we can safely call Carlos Beltran the third best centerfielder in the game.

2003 Salaries (in millions)

Bernie Williams   12.4
Jim Edmonds        9.3
Carlos Beltran     9.0
Johnny Damon       8.0
Steve Finley       7.0
Mark Kotsay        6.5
Mike Cameron       4.3
Randy Winn         3.5
Juan Pierre        2.4
Aaron Rowand       0.3

When we look at the salaries we can immediately eliminate Rowand, Pierre, and Winn from consideration because they have not been eligible for free agency yet. Obviously, Edmonds was a superior hitter to Beltran and has a superior reputation as a fielder even if it isn’t really deserved. So, Beltran should not make top dollar in the centerfield market in a perfect world. However, Edmonds signed his deal a few seasons ago, so Beltran probably will leapfrog him.

It is not clear as to how Williams’ contract fits into this equation. It is clear he is overpaid now, but he put together seven consecutive 100 runs created seasons before his skills began to erode. If we expand our search beyond centerfielders we will see very few outfielders that are making more than Williams (Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez in left, Gary Sheffield in right, Ken Griffey Jr. in center). The only player that compares to Beltran in skills and performance is Ken Griffey Jr. Let’s compare the two over a three year period (Ken Griffey’s last three seasons before he went to Cincinnati will be included).

	        RC   RCAA    OW%    OBP    SLG     OPS	
Griffey        430    161   .698   .377   .611    .988
Beltran        363     90   .627   .366   .523    .889

Obviously, it’s easy to look at Griffey’s contract now and shake your head, but at the time it seemed relatively tame in comparison to the other deals that were doled out during that off-season before 2000 and it was particular tame in comparison to the deals Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez got in 2001. Even if we assume the same money crazy conditions, it is hard for anyone to argue that Beltran is at the same level as Griffey was before he received the contract. Now, let’s look at the defensive numbers. Unfortunately, we do not have zone rating data on Ken Griffey Jr. back then so we won’t include those numbers.

	        Range     PO  Assists	   FPCT	
Griffey        2.58     1182	   30	   .984	
Beltran        2.78     1166	   35	   .984

Griffey and Beltran are very similar defensive players. Beltran does have a superior range factor, but Griffey actually made more plays (he played in more games). Either way, this is a tough one to call, so we have to go back to Griffey’s enormous offensive advantage. So, Beltran shouldn’t get the same deal as Griffey. That begs the question, how much does Beltran deserve? If Williams is making a little more than twelve million a season then Beltran deserves around that same amount.

That means that twenty million and even fifteen million a season is excessive. Thirteen million a season is the right amount. Any amount of money Beltran gets more than that should be given directly to Boras. Of course, just like with the fax report from major league baseball, the Astros are free to use or not use this analysis. If they would like to use it and would like advice on other moves they know where to contact me.