Andrew Friedman and Co. are neck deep in their sixth hot stove season. We know the Rays are great at making trades. And we have a sense that they are pretty good at drafting. But how good are they at free agency?

The Rays are well-known for picking up hidden gems like Carlos Pena and Joaquin Benoit. But they have also missed terribly with guys like Pat Burrell and Troy Percival.

So let’s see if we can quantify how World B. Friedman has fared with his free agent picks.

We already saw last week, that in 2010, the Rays only received $7.1 million in production from their free agents, despite paying those players $23.8 million in salary. This was the second-straight year the Rays overpaid their free agents.

After the jump, let’s look at the totals for 2006-2010 by breaking it by every free agent signed by Friedman that spent time on the Rays active roster (plus Shinji Mori). The “Value” for each player is measured as the difference between how well they played and how much the Rays paid that player.

Notes on how the table was constructed can be found below…

Notes on the table…

  • Production and salary values include every player with a major league contract that was signed as a free agent (or claimed off waivers) since October, 2005.
  • Despite poor showings the past two seasons, the Rays have still shown a positive net value from their free agent signings. Since Friedman and Co. took over, the Rays have paid approximately $93.7M in salaries to free agents. Those players have been worth $109.0M in WAR value on the field. In some cases, we had to estimate prorated salaries.
  • Salaries for Akinori Iwamura and Shinji Mori include the posting fees ($4.6M and $1.0M respectively) the Rays paid to each player’s Japanese club for the exclusive rights to negotiate with each player.
  • The two most valuable signings have been Carlos Pena and Aki Iwamura. The two least valuable signings have been Pat Burrell and Troy Percival.
  • 20 of the 45 free agents (44%) gave the Rays a positive contribution (WAR) on the field. 18 of the 45 free agents (40%) have given the Rays a net positive value.
  • While we certainly cannot discount the value of Carlos Pena, it is worth noting that if you remove Pena’s $35.5M value, the remaining free agent signings have a net negative value by approximately $20.2 million.
  • Ty Wigginton was traded for Dan Wheeler in 2007. Since the trade, the Rays have paid Wheeler $10.2M in salary. His production for the Rays has been worth $2.9M, giving Wheeler a Value of -$7.3M. If this is included in Wigginton’s value, his signing was actually worth -$1.5M for the Rays and brings the total net value of all free agents down to $8.0M.

On the surface it looks like the Rays reputation in the free agency market is built largely on the signings of Pena and Benoit. But is that enough? One could argue that the Rays need only occasionally hit the bullseye in order to be successful. But as we can see, the cost of finding those one or two players each season is much more than the occasional minor league free agent contract.

1 Wins Above Replacement is way to compare all players regardless of position, by measuring how many Wins that player was worth above a Replacement-level player. Data from Fangraphs.com
2 Production is a look at how much each player was worth to the Rays and gives a dollar value to each Win (WAR). In recent years, each Win has been worth ~$4M
3 Value is the difference between production and salary
4 Player was traded from the organization
5 Player has or may net the Rays a compensation draft pick

 
 

15 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    This is quite interesting! It would be even more interesting if we had comparable data for other clubs — to see whether Friedman, with his tight budget, is more successful at this than other GMs. What is the average return on free agency signings, and are the Rays over or under?

    • Cork Gaines says:

      I agree, that this would be very interesting in the context of the entire league. But besides the shear amount of work that would require, there is also the problem that different teams are willing to accept different risks in free agency. For example, the Yankees without a doubt have a huge net negative value, but that is by design. They dont mind overpaying to get the right guy. And they dont mind throwing a lot of money at a bunch of free agents as long as some of it sticks.

      Without that context thought, I put this out there to dispell two myths. There is the one group of fans that think the Rays deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to signing lesser free agents because they have done so well in the past. That group only sees Pena and Benoit and a few other great pick-ups.

      The other group only sees Burrell and Percival as evidence that the Rays are horrible in free agency.

      I think they are somewhere in between. And if i had to guess, i would say most teams are at least in the same neighborhood as the Rays. That is, somewhere close to break even. Obviously the Pena signing puts the Rays in the plus column and maybe that one pick up is good enough to put the Rays ahead of most teams.

  2. Billy says:

    I agree with Beth. This is interesting information, but it is in a vacuum. It would be better to compare it to other teams’ free-agent signings. My gut feel is free-agent signings are an overall negative value–BIG TIME. Why? Because the positive values are mostly generated by players their first few years, when they are playing for a fraction of what they are worth (Can you say Ev-an Lon-gor-i-a?).

    The free-agency system is a supply-demand phenomenon that the Yankees/Bosox/Angels etc. have turned into a bidding frenzy. By nature, players are paid more than their “value.” But, it is the system in place, and you cannot blame the teams that have the big bucks for spending them.

    I would be very surprised if more than a handful of teams have a positive value in their free-agent signings. Said another way, I think Mr. Friedman has done very well.

    • Sarah says:

      Billy, all good points. Interestingly, Scott Boras, the agent we all love to hate, makes this point as well as justification (in part) for pushing the envelope on signing bonuses for top draft prospects — he notes that baseball players are, by the standards of the market, badly underpaid in their first 5 years, which also happen to be, for many, their most productive. Of course, he doesn’t so much emphasize the flip side, which is that many are overpaid for their last five years! But the “suppressed” salaries in the years under team control, plus the lack of a salary cap, all lead to high salaries for players who are often past their prime.

  3. Cork Gaines says:

    My apologies. there should not be a note next to Carlos Pena’s name in the table. The Rays did not offer Pena arbitration, so no draft pick compensation.

  4. Tom says:

    It also depends on if you use WAR calculated by fangraphs or Baseball-Ref. Percival is only a -.4 on Baseball-Ref. I think you could eliminate all players between Velandia and Witt and the chart would be just as useful.
    BTW, Thank for the info

  5. stunna says:

    Jorge Velandia’s 16 hits were worth $3.8 million? That’s a head scratcher…

  6. John says:

    Dan Johnson with a .2 WAR? Name another scrub with as many GINORMOUS hits as the Great Pumpkin? His WAR should be infinity.

  7. a.j. says:

    J.P. Howell was re-signed a little while ago!!!

  8. Ben says:

    I don’t personally believe Percival was a terrible signing.

    Hinske and Floyd were very helpful in turning the club around and showing how the young players should behave.

    As far as I’m concerned, the Pat Burrell experiment never happened.

    • Sarah says:

      Good point on Percival. Because of how he imploded at the end we forget that for a time, at least, he got the job done — it was sometimes ugly, but he generally got the save. That may not be impressive by MFIKY standards, but he was the closest thing the Rays had had to a closer since Danys Baez.

  9. Tone says:

    This is very cool. It makes me sick seeing all the homers on different blogs that make it like the Rays front office does no wrong. It is cool to see it put into this context. Andrew is good, but not the genius some loft on him. He himself mentions how luck has played a large role in how things have turned out(Pena pick up). This season will be a true test for him. I do feel like expectations need to be lowered though; he is good, but with the budget Stu has going, this team needs a lot of luck. Many things have to swing the Rays way in order to be competitive(hence the Vegas odds). We need Leslie Anderson to be like a new Pena, along with a 2009 Zobrist and a 2007 Upton. Longo just needs to be Longo.

  10. John says:

    My reply isn’t working, but I’m with Ben. You can’t say ‘if you ignore the Carlos signing, we’re not that good.’ Well, if you ignore the Burrell signing, we’re REALLY good.

    And while the last year and a half of Percy were dreadful, the one good half-season we got from him might have been the most important three months in Rays history as far as redefining our losing culture. So even with the negative numbers value, I don’t think it was a bad signing.

  11. Stephanie says:

    The Burrell signing doesn’t qualify as under the radar. It was the exact opposite. Rather than waiting and finding the hidden gems, the Rays moved too quickly and overpaid for Burrell before the market for all-bat, no-glove players was set.

    The Burrell contract was obviously a terrible mistake. But it is hardly an example of how the team normally operates.

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