A 100 million dollar man?

added 11/25/2006 by Name of Author

It always comes back to Boras doesn't it. You would almost expect Hollywood to follow him around in a documentary after the rousing success of Borat. Every free agent seemingly wants the "Beltran contract", so no one should be too surprised that Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee got the Beltran treatment. Of course, everyone is still surprised the Astros are the ones that gave into Lee and his money demands.

When it comes to breaking down this deal we have to consider a couple of things. First, how much has the cost of business gone up in the proceeding two years? Obviously, matching 2005 dollars with 2007 dollars is a risky proposition. It is knee-jerk reaction to say, "Lee and Soriano got more than Beltran, so people are saying they are better than Beltran." That's the kind of leap-frog mentality that has gotten the market where it is today. So, let's do some crackerjack research to see where the Astros were in 2005 and where they could be in 2007.

2005 76.779
2006 92.551

Based on these numbers, we could expect the Astros payroll to increase by the same percentage (17 percent). Seventeen additional percent would put the payroll at 108 million. Given the increase in local and national television revenue (not to mention three banner years in attendance), that mark probably isn't that far out of the question. So, when we figure the Beltran and Lee comparisons we have to figure in this rate of inflation. Before we look at inflation, let's look at actual performance using Baseball Prospectus's wins above replacement player (WARP3).

        Beltran     Lee
2000      2.4       5.0
2001     10.0       4.0
2002      7.7       5.8
2003      8.7       5.8
2004     10.0       8.9
2005      5.6       5.2
2006     11.8       6.0

For the uninitiated, wins above replacement player is very similar to Bill James' win shares except each of James' shares equals one third of a win. In other words, Beltran has had three seasons with 30 or more win shares while Lee has had only two seasons with as many as 18. Yep, you read that right. Only one season with more than 18 and it wasn't last year. Now, we get the hard part of the analysis. We have to calculate how much each of these wins is costing the team and then try our hand at some projective accounting.

            AVG WARP3      AVG Salary      CPW
Beltran        8.0           15.75         1.97
Lee            5.8           16.67         2.87

            AVG WARP3      AVG Salary      CPW
Beltran        8.0           21.11         2.64
Lee            5.8           16.67         2.87

The second round adjusts Beltran's contract assuming a seventeen percent bump in each season. Of course, the market never increases by the same percentage every year and this is a look at only the Astros rate of increase. Drayton McLane increased the budget to bring back Roger Clemens. It could approach the 108 million level if he comes back, but otherwise we can expect something more conservative (between 95 and 100 million). In that case, Lee's numbers are way off even adjusting for inflation.

To be perfectly fair, Beltran's actual WARP3 average was 7.76 before he signed the contract with the Mets, but we're quiveling over details at this point. Essentially, the Mets have gotten the same player as the one that signed the contract. He has put up one MVP caliber season and one so so season. Look at his career path and you see the same trend. If the Astros get the same Lee, he will be consistent and durable, but not horribly brilliant. Yes, he will put up numbers, but baseball has seen plenty of players put up hollow numbers over the years. When you pay 16.667 million a season for a guy you hope for MVP production at least once or twice.

I would be sandbagging a bit if I didn't point out that Lee will provide Berkman with protection in the lineup. He has consistently produced 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in recent seasons. He doesn't wave at curveballs in the dirt as often as Preston Wilson or Alfonso Soriano. There is a lot to like about Lee as a hitter. However, you can clock him with a calendar and his body type heavily points towards 1B/DH in a few seasons. Still, to ultimately judge this signing we need to see what happens with the payroll.

If Drayton extends the payroll to the 110 million range (thus acquiring more plays via free agency or trade) then the Lee signing looks justified. If the Lee signing points to the end of major moves for the Astros then you have to say Purpura fell far short of what he was looking for. Sure, Pettitte and Clemens could come back. Couple them with Woody Williams and Roy Oswalt and you have yourself a very nice rotation. Still, the addition of Lee and only Lee merely elevates this offense to average. You still have holes at half of the positions on the diamond. The Lee signing did nothing to change that.

Ultimately, the signings of Carlos Lee and Woody Williams amount to nothing more than a good start. So, heap praise of Drayton McLane and Tim Purpura for pulling the trigger if you want. I will wait for the next deal before I do the same.