I believe that many posters here feel that the Reds are at the crossroads between short term contention and not, and believe that there should be pressure on the Reds to make just about any move to effect the bottom line, with less consideration of the value of the prospects that the Reds currently boast.
I have been thinking about ways of quantifying the value of particular players from the Reds point of view. Recent hot topics on Redszone have revolved around the constant disagreements over the value of guys like Heisey to the Reds as well as trade targets of star players such as James Shields and Ubaldo Jiminez.
Forgetting for a moment about analyzing these players to the millionth degree, as both sides of the argument have been displayed and both sides I think I have some reasonably fair points.
So what I have gone about doing is to determine the amount of money that the Reds can spend on 1 unit of WAR in order to contend. I have prepared my analysis under the assumption that the Reds goal should be to aim for a 90 win club, as aiming for anything more than that is going to cost the Reds in subsequent years in order to facilitate a year of success. Further, I wanted to find the answer to questions such as, if the Reds fielded a team of Chris Heisey calibre players for every position, how many wins would they project to in a season?
The results that I came up with, is that in 2010, a team of replacement level players net about 42.5 wins, which means that in order to win 90 games, a team needs about 47.5 WAR to have an “on paper” 90 win team.
Next, using Fangraphs team data from 2010, the average team (ie. An 81 win team) gets the following distribution of WAR from their different segments (fielders, bench players, starting pitchers are relievers):
• Fielders – 19.72 WAR
• Bench Players – 2.92 WAR (this was difficult to quantify quickly, so I assumed that the average bench is about as important as a bullpen)
• Starting pitchers – 12.84 WAR
• Relievers – 2.92 WAR
Then using basic cross multiplying, I bumped these figures up to determine how much WAR is required from these segments for a 90 WAR team. The results were as follows:
• Fielders – 24.34 WAR
• Bench Players – 3.61 WAR (this was difficult to quantify quickly, so I assumed that the average bench is about as important as a bullpen)
• Starting pitchers – 15.85 WAR
• Relievers – 3.61 WAR
Then, I allocated this WAR on a per player basis for each of the segments. The results were:
• Fielders – 3.04 WAR
• Bench Players – 0.72 WAR (this was difficult to quantify quickly, so I assumed that the average bench is about as important as a bullpen)
• Starting pitchers – 3.17 WAR
• Relievers – 0.52 WAR
On this basis, I find it easier to look at Chris Heisey’s career WAR of 2.6, which over about 450 plate appearances, which is getting close to a full season’s worth of at-bats for a starting fielder, means that a team of Chris Heisey calibre players, forgetting about salary restrictions, would produce about 82-83 wins. Not bad.
The Cincinnati twist in all of this is quantifying the amount of salary appropriate to pay for 1 unit of WAR. In trade talks, I find a lot of people want to say that 1 WAR is worth 5M because that is what the cost of a WAR costs on the open free agent market. But we know that the Reds can’t survive spending 5M on a WAR without having enough young talent to complement that. So sure, Heisey’s production isn’t enough to win 90 games, but he is good enough that while he is cheap, the value surplus that he presents allows the Reds flexibility to add a better player at another position to overall improve the team.
Again, just looking at basic math, the Reds have a payroll of about $76M in 2011, considering a team needs 47.5 WAR to win 90 games, that means the Reds can only afford to spend about 1.6M on each unit of WAR. It’s easy to say the Reds need more good players, but even paying a fair market wage of 5M for each WAR puts the Reds quite a bit behind the eight ball from what other teams are capable of.
So what are the main takeaways here? Well, I think primarily when I see other posters lamenting the fact that the Reds are letting prospects get in the way of getting a helpful trade piece such as Ubaldo Jiminez. But to me, it makes great sense. Looking at him specifically, yes, he’s clearly the type of guy that improves the team on a cheap contract as he averages a salary of $3.5M for the next 2 years and provides real value, lets say for sake of the argument at 5 WAR per season. That in essence would give the Reds 3 additional WAR in surplus over what they need to be paying in order to be a successful team. But at the same time, likely in having to give up Mesoraco, the Reds give up a very strong candidate that could easily be able to be a 2 WAR player annually for peanuts. From the Reds point of view, in terms of annual contention, that is almost as valuable just in being able to produce 2 WAR for nothing than it is to pay the 3.5M for 5 WAR. Obviously teams with a larger payroll don’t have to be as thrifty.
Back to Heisey, as he is able to provide 2.5 WAR for nothing, it means that the Reds then are able to throw an additional 1.2M (the 1.6M required per WAR minus the minimum) to acquire the price of obtaining a WAR for a 90 win team, in essence, they can now spend 2.8M rather than 1.6M to acquire that amount. So I find it difficult to fathom why the Reds should be trading him for Ludwick, knowing that even if Ludwick produces at the most optimistic of projections (say 3.5 WAR), the Reds are paying over 6.5M for the additional WAR. So not only do the Reds hurt themselves in the future, but they are actually a worse team presently since they have spent about 4 times as much on obtaining an additional WAR as they can to be a 90 win team. Obtaining the additional win is only sensible if the Reds have the WAR in place to succeed and can obtain additional wins within their payroll constraints.
An additional point, is that from this line of thinking, it paints a very clear picture of how much a contract like Arroyo hurts the Reds. His present day average hit over his contract is about 10M annually. Considering he’s on pace to actually cost us 1 WAR this season, that from this perspective, it means that for the Reds can only pay about $1.35M per WAR, or basically gives the Reds $0.25M less to play with to accumulate one WAR, which further puts the Reds at a competitive disadvantage.
A few other thoughts:
- the average reliever doesn't mean a heck of a lot to a team. A proper bullpen should probably be spent on 2 to 3 guys thast accumulae the bulk of the bullpen's WAR, with the rest going to young players or replacement level stuff. I'm sure other team's pens must be just as frustrating as the Reds', because the overall value that peers' pens are bringing to the table is fairly minimal and not contributing to the bottom line by a lot.
- the Reds likely need 2 new faces in the rotation next year. Our best guys, Cueto and Leake are barely scraping what a 90 win team gets out of their starters.
- the Reds are better off gambling on signing young contributing players such as they did with Bruce/Cueto to reasonable contracts through their free agent years as the ability to get surplus value is essential for them to compete. There is almost no way to contend by the Reds going year to year with their better players
I don't think any of this is by any means groundbreaking, it took no more work than exporting a few tables from Fangraphs into Excel..... but I think it does serve a purpose for quantifying the value of players, either internally, or externally, including prospects, and the related contracts, in terms of their ability to contribute to a contention calibre team.
To make an overall conclusion, I really do think the Reds are right to hold on to their prospects stringently until the timing is right. Jiminez is a clear great target for what he offers. Yes he helps, but considering the amount of money within the current budget that is available to spend, the prospects are the lifeline of the team’s ability to seriously contend. Jiminez is great, but without the ability to have talent contributing to the team within their first 4-5 years of services time, then the team still stinks. Simply put, you make the move of prospects for a Jiminez when the other pieces are already in place, otherwise it is a considerable waste of resources when they could be better spent on a team that is within grasp of a division title, rather than one that has been off the pace for the last few months (I do think a strong argument could be made that the most recent off season would fit the timeline for when the right time would have been). Regardless, from the perspective of general trades, it shows that within the Reds budgets how fundamentally wrong it is to trade players that can produce some level of WAR within their cheap seasons for players that are getting paid high amounts of dollars. For the Reds to contend, it simply cannot happen.
Please, for the sake of contention, the Reds better not trade a Stubbs for a Bourne, it hurts the overall ability to contend now and later. Don’t trade for Ludwick. Stop signing older players to long term contracts. Don’t pay 10M+ to a reliever again. Appreciate any young player who is rosterable. And please, don’t trade our top prospects for anyone, until there is reasonable evidence that it’s the missing piece of the puzzle.