It’s time for a reboot of last year’s Club-Friendly Contracts series. Have you ever wondered who the true “Most Valuable Player” is in the MLB? Sure, we give an award each year to a player from each league that we define as the MVP for that year. However, that’s using the world “valuable” as a noun, an object, person, or idea that is of great worth. What if we examine the MVP with the adjective definition of the word “valuable”? That is, something worth a great deal of money. Despite some players being extremely valuable to a team, maybe even their “most valuable player”, some of these athletes are earning insignificant amounts of money.
This is an article series about a GM’s dream. This is an article series about an agent’s poor extension advice. This is an article series about a player’s costly security insurance. This is an article series about club friendly contracts.
Club friendly contracts are hard to define. Some clubs may define club friendly contracts differently than others because of the way they value money versus talent. For example, the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and Dodgers- all big money teams- will look at a medium to hefty sized contract without blinking. Teams such as the Athletics, Indians, Padres, Rays- small money teams- will have to think much more carefully about blockbuster, record-setting deals.
I’m going to explore who the true Most Valuable Player is in the MLB by comparing WAR (Wins Above Replacement*) and that player’s annual average salary for their contract**. This will result in a number, millions of dollars per Win Above Replacement, which I will abbreviate using M/WAR. Using this number, at the end of the series, I will try to define what a club friendly contract looks like and who are the best teams at taking advantage of them along with any other insightful information I learned as I was making this series.
However, because this is an article about club friendly contracts, this means that players who are pre-arbitration or arbitration eligible are not going to qualify in this article. Sorry to Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Andrew Benintendi, Kris Bryant, and many more ultra-talented young players. We want to look at who’s had the option of signing, has signed, and still isn’t making their money’s worth. A couple changes from last year’s version: one, I will be using what a player made during the 2018 season, not the average of their contract. Two, I will be using whatever team a player ended the season with. If a player was traded midseason, he will be considered for the team he finished the season with.
It would take way too much time to read an article comparing every MLB player, their contract, and their WAR. Instead, what I’ve done for you is take a look at the top three club friendly contracts for each team and develop a team MVP based on those finalists.
Today, we’re looking at the American League East. Here it goes:
American League East
Boston Red Sox
Red Sox Finalists
Chris Sale: $12.5 million, 6.5 WAR= 1.923 M/WAR
Rick Porcello: $21.12 million, 2.7 WAR= 7.822 M/WAR
J.D. Martinez: $23.75 million, 5.9 WAR= 4.025 M/WAR
Red Sox 2018 MVP: Chris Sale- 1.923 M/WAR
Our first winner is a repeat from last year. Until Sale gets paid by another team, he’s going to keep winning this. $12.5 million for a 6.5 WAR starter? Ridiculous. The Sox take advantage of another amazing season from Sale, even while he was injured.
New York Yankees
CC Sabathia: $10 million, 2.5 WAR= 4.000 M/WAR
Brett Gardner: $11 million, 2.5 WAR= 4.400 M/WAR
J.A. Happ: $8.4 million, 3.2 WAR= 2.625 M/WAR
Yankees 2018 MVP: J.A. Happ- 2.625 M/WAR
Well, the Yankees made a midseason trade for J.A. Happ that paid off down the stretch. Not only did he perform to the tune of a 3.65 ERA, 3.88 xFIP, 9.78 K/9, and 177 IP on the season, but he also wins their true Most Valuable Player award. It was surprising, for me, to learn that Happ was only being paid $8.4 million. No wonder he was such a hot trading commodity at the deadline.
Adam Jones: $17 million, 0.5 WAR= 34.000 M/WAR
Alex Cobb: $14 million, 1.3 WAR= 10.769 M/WAR
Andrew Cashner: $8 million, 0.5 WAR= 16.000 M/WAR
Orioles 2018 MVP: Alex Cobb- 10.769 M/WAR
Let us just take a moment to recognize that the Orioles’ highest-paid player had a season compiling in over -3 WAR. That’s impressive. Read more in our Gallardo Awards here. The best the Orioles could offer for a club-friendly contract is Alex Cobb. Let’s be honest, that’s just terrible. He’s getting paid $14 million a year to be slightly above average and eat up innings while the Orioles suck for the foreseeable future.
Toronto Blue Jays
Blue Jays Finalists:
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., $1.5 million, 0.4 WAR= 3.750 M/WAR
Marco Estrada, $13 million, 0.5 WAR= 26.000 M/WAR
Justin Smoak, $4.125 millon, 1.7 WAR= 5.000 M/WAR
Blue Jays 2017 MVP: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.- 3.750 M/WAR
A .281/.309/.446 slash led Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to be the Blue Jays MVP. As you can tell with the Orioles and Blue Jays, there weren’t a lot of bright spots on either team. Gurriel was one of those few bright spots. He made $1.5 million last year and hardly put up positive WAR, but because he is hardly getting paid anything by today’s standards, he comes in as the Blue Jays true Most Valuable Player.
Tampa Bay Rays
Sergio Romo, $2.5 million, 0.5 WAR= 5.000 M/WAR
Adam Moore, $0.545 million, 0.0 WAR= Zilch
Kevin Kiermaier, $5.5 million, 1.6 WAR= 3.438 M/WAR
Rays 2017 MVP: Kevin Kiermaier- 3.438 M/WAR
Kiermaier was a finalist in last year’s edition of this article series. His teammate, Chris Archer, beat him out. But with the trade to Pittsburgh this year, Kiermaier takes home the hardware. Leading the Rays from center field, Kiermaier locked up MVP with 1.6 WAR, but surprisingly, a 78 wRC+ which is 22 percentage points below the major league average. He had a pretty poor offensive year which means most his WAR is based in his defensive prowess. This is what makes up the stark contrast between his wRC+ and WAR.
The clear winner here was Chris Sale of the World Champion Boston Red Sox. Sale actually had a down year from the perspective of IP as he was injured for a significant part of the season and totaled 158 innings. Despite that shortage of innings, he had a 13.5 K/9, a miniscule 0.63 HR/9, 2.11 ERA and a 1.98 FIP for a total of 6.5 WAR. When a pitcher has a 6-WAR season and it’s considered below average, you know you have a special talent on your hands. In the real Cy Young voting, Sale will surely finish top-5 and possibly top-3 only behind Blake Snell and Justin Verlander—both of whom had historically good seasons of their own.
Sale has been consistently excellent for the White Sox and the Red Sox and soon he won’t be even close to consideration because he will get a massive contract from someone soon. It may come in the form of an extension from the Red Sox but that would lock their payroll in Price and Sale for a long time. It may otherwise come in free agency from another team—but either way, expect Sale to get paid soon—in a big way.
Early prediction for next year’s AL East MVP: Chris Sale—on the last year of his first extension.
If you want to check out last year’s version, here they are:
And unfortunately, the NL West remains unpublished due to extenuating circumstances. That’s all for today—look for the 2018 CFC Series Part II on the AL Central coming soon!
*All player statistics from Fangraphs.
**All contract data from Baseball Reference.