How Often Do The Cardinals Pay Market Value For Players?
On yesterday’s post about Yadier Molina, I received a snide (and unsupported) comment from “Pitchers Hit Eighth” calling me a liar (nice!) when I stated that the Cardinals do not pay market value for their players. While I concede that they may have occasionally overpaid in hindsight based on performance (think the Lohse contract during his injury years), the Cardinals regularly and consistently underpay for talent when building a team.
I wanted to take an opportunity to look at what the Cardinals pay for talent based on what other teams pay for similar talent (i.e. the “market value”) and see how their contracts compare. With me? Let’s get started:
First of all, I’m not going to concern myself with the contracts for lesser players like Skip Schumaker or Gerald Laird. While their contracts are “fair” (or, in the case of Skip, underpaid based on performance), their market is so interchangeable that to worry about the fairness of their contracts against the market is pointless. I’m also not going to deal with younger players (like Jon Jay or Allen Craig), since we’re already paying them next-to-nothing to play. Instead, I want to deal with the star players and starters, the type of players whose market is often in flux and overvalued.
Matt Holliday is currently our most expensive player at $17 million a year. He had a “down” year in 2011, but he’s generally considered one of the best left fielders in baseball. Cardinal fans often complain about Holliday’s huge salary, despite Holliday putting up consistently -excellent numbers every year: 4.1 WAR, .296 avg, 22 home runs, and 75 RBI.
I wonder what Cardinal fans would say if we were paying Holliday like Boston is paying Carl Crawford ($19.5M in 2012) to play left field and hit 11 home runs while driving in 56 runs and batting .255. The Holliday contract also looks like quite a bargain when compared to the contract Carlos Lee received in 2007, which will pay him $19 million in 2012 for 18 home runs and a .275 batting average (while driving in an astonishing 94 runs on a terrible team).
It’s almost shocking to consider that the Cardinals are paying Holliday the same amount of money that Jason Bay makes with the Mets when Bay produced just 0.6 WAR in 2011. And let’s not forget Alfonso Soriano, who makes (not earns) $18 million a year from the Cubs for just 1.3 WAR and a .244 batting average.
It’s difficult to predict Beltran’s true market given his injuries over the last three years. The Cardinals valued his production at $13 million a year after a season in which Beltran put up very similar numbers to Holliday (4.4 WAR, .300 average, 22 homers, 84 RBI).
Compare that production to what the Dodgers received for the $10 million they invested in Andre Ethier‘s final arbitration year: 11 home runs and 62 RBI while producing 1.3 WAR. And Ethier’s market is going WAY above $13 million when he reaches free agency at the end of 2012.
Must I even mention Jayson Werth here? Werth is making $13 million in 2012; he put up 2.1 WAR in 2011 (less than half of Beltran) while batting .232 (ouch) and being generally catastrophic in right field (.974 fielding percentage). Even better: the Nationals will be paying Werth $16 million next year (the Cards will be paying $13M for Beltran).
There are two exceptions here, though: Corey Hart is making $10M a year for an exceptional 2011 (4.0 WAR, 26 homers, 63 RBI) which certainly alters the look of the Beltran deal. Also, Jose Bautista had a monster 2011 season in response to his $14M a year contract, putting up 8.5 WAR with 43 homers and 103 RBI.
VERDICT: VERY SLIGHTLY UNDERPAID
The big lug transitions to first base to replace the massively-underpaid Albert Pujols in 2012. After an incredible 2011 season in which Berkman (in right field) was vastly underpaid (just $8M for 5.2 WAR), Berkman received a deserved raise to $12M. How does that compare?
Of course, both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder received huge paydays over the past off season. Pujols will be making just $12M in 2012 for production very similar to Berkman’s last year. This is, of course, weighted; the average value of the contract is $26M a year, so clearly the Cardinals are underpaying for a first baseman who gave them similar production in 2011.
Fielder had a monster year in 2011, but still produced the same WAR that Berkman did. But Fielder is making $11 million more than Berkman in 2012.
Adrian Gonzalez will make $21M from Boston in 2012 (in other words, $9M more than Berk) even though their stats are close in many respects (although Gonzalez created 6.9 WAR, an amazing number considering his overall stats).
Mark Teixeira will make $21.5M in 2012. He was worth 2.4 WAR last year (less than half of Berkman) despite hitting just 8 more homers and driving in a handful of additional runs.
Ryan Howard produced just 2.4 WAR in 2011 with 33 homers and a .253 average (also 172 strikeouts). He made $20M last year, and will make that again. Tell me … who would YOU rather have at the plate, and how much are you paying him to be there?
Caveat: Joey Votto is making just $9.5M in the second-to-last year of his contract, which is Pujols-like in its team-favoring terms. Votto will be a $20M+ man in 2014.
This is easy. Yadier Molina makes $7M this year on the final year of his contract. His salary is the fourth-highest in baseball despite being the best in the biz.
Rafael Furcal is a troubling and difficult example. The Cardinals impulsively agreed to pay Furcal $14M for two years (or, of course, $7M a year) to play shortstop two days after Pujols bolted. A relatively-healthy Furcal produced 1.4 WAR in just 217 plate appearances for the Cardinals, which would be equivalent to approximately 4 WAR in a full season.
Last year Jimmy Rollins earned $8.5M on the final year of his long contract. He produced 3.7 WAR with 16 homers and 63 RBI. For that, Rollins received a contract that earns him over $10M in 2012. Rollins is certainly the better shortstop, though.
Yunel Escobar will be making $5M in 2012 for production similar to Furcal (11 homers, 48 RBI), although Escobar (much younger at 29 years old) produced 4.3 WAR with an excellent .290 batting average.
J.J. Hardy will make the same amount as Furcal in 2012. In 2011, Hardy produced 4.1 WAR with 30 homers and 80 RBI (also an excellent .990 fielding percentage).
While I personally feel that the Furcal contract is an overpay, in comparison to what is being paid to other shortstops, this might be close to market value.
VERDICT: PROBABLY MARKET VALUE OR CLOSE
How much do you pay a man who pitched the most innings in baseball in 2011 at the age of 36 and almost-singlehandedly won the World Series for your team? The Cardinals are paying him $10.5M, which is a steal for a pitcher who is essentially a co-ace.
What are other ace right-handers receiving? Roy Halladay – the man Carpenter destroyed in order to propel the Cardinals into the NLCS – is making $20 million in 2012 at virtually the same age. Felix Hernandez will make $18.5M despite having a record of 11-11 and ZERO shutouts (Carpenter had two). Tim Lincecum will make $20M in 2012 after posting a record of 13-14 and fewer innings than Carp!
Waino may or may not be the same pitcher he was when he received a contract that will pay him $9M in 2012 (and $12M in 2013). Still, if Wainwright is anything like he was (and pitchers are often stronger after Tommy John surgey), then Waino’s $9M salary will look incredible given that he’s contested for the Cy Young in his last two healthy years.
VERDICT: MOST LIKELY WAY UNDERPAID
The talented-but-enigmatic lefty will make just $3.5 million in 2012. Yeah, this one is pretty obvious.
VERDICT: VASTLY UNDERPAID
This is the tricky one. My gut reaction is that the Cardinals are overpaying when Lohse cashes in that $11.875M check in 2012 (he made $12M in 2011). Most of that comes from the two miserable years (2009 and 2010) when Lohse struggled with a mysterious injury to his pitching arm.
But how much should you pay a guy who went 14-8 last year with the lowest ERA of his career (3.39)? Lohse bested Hernandez in both areas for $6M less! Lohse had a better WHIP (1.168) than Lincecum (1.207) in 2011 and made almost $10M less than the Giants righthander!
On the staff last year, Lohse gave up the fewest earned runs and walks while leading the starters in WHIP and ERA. It’s almost shocking how sneakily-effective Lohse was, particularly down the stretch. How much is that worth in this market? If Lohse had enjoyed healthy years in 2009 and 2010, this contract would look much, much better.
VERDICT: RESPECTFULLY BUT SLIGHTLY UNDERPAID
It’s difficult to find equivalent starters for Jake Westbrook in order to compare values; Westbrook has never been an ace throughout his eleven year career, and his numbers are serviceable but mediocre.
But here’s one comparison: A.J. Burnett of the New York Yankees. Burnett has pitched for 13 seasons. Like Westbrook, Burnett has a near-.500 career record. They also have similar numbers for ERA (4.34 for Westbrook, 4.10 for Burnett) and WHIP (1.395 for Westbrook, 1.332 for Burnett). Shockingly, Westbrook has a better home runs allowed average for his career.
Burnett will be making $16.5M in 2012. Westbrook will be making $8.5M.
I’m not exactly sure what a starter who has averaged 200 innings a season should make in this market, but it seems like it should be at least a little higher than $8.5M.
VERDICT: SLIGHTLY UNDERPAID
That largely takes care of the higher salaries on the team. The rest of the club is comprised of young players all making under $2 million a year, and most of them are making far less than what they deserve after last year’s miracle run.
Ultimately, this little exercise shows that the 2012 Cardinals aren’t exactly cheap, but they are getting exquisite talent at a fair-to-cheap price. Their fiscal responsibility has won the approval of a conservative fan base, and will continue to pay terrific dividends if they spend their money wisely.
Speaking of wisdom – perhaps it might be better if some bloggers would bring some evidence of their argument to a discussion they start (but neglect to finish) on someone else’s site. I certainly do not go to Pitchers Hit Eighth and call the authors there liars without at least providing proof of my argument. It’s called decency, if not professionalism.