Reading a couple of posts over at STLCardinalBaseball this weekend led me into a bit of a debate with Ray over whether the Cardinals routinely pay market value for their players or not. Spurred on by the ongoing discussions about what market value may look like for one Yadier Molina, Ray took a look at some Cardinal player performances versus their salaries and asserted that the Cardinals do not pay their players market value by determining that most, if not all, of them are underpaid, and therefore not being paid “market value”.
My beef is not so much with Ray’s evaluations of whether the players are underpaid or not, everyone’s entitled to their own terms of measurement when it comes to such things. Where I disagreed, and continue to disagree, is in the definition of market value used. It became clear after we went back and forth in the comments a bit that Ray was comparing versus TODAY’S market and/or performance, while I was talking about the market the players were signed in.
Thus, it bears noting that Ray may well be right that the Cardinals are underpaying their players relative to TODAY’S market and even their performance – but the Cardinals absolutely pay market value for their players, otherwise they wouldn’t sign any, right? While Ray thinks that’s “ridiculous” – I think we’re still talking about two different versions of value. Here’s mine:
: a price at which both buyers and sellers are willing to do business : the market or current price
So in other words, the Cardinals offer a price, no other team is willing to match or beat it, so the player signs it. That is market value. No more, no less. So Matt Holliday‘s market value when he signed was seven years, $120 million. His market price if he were a free agent today would likely be much higher, but Holliday traded potential for more money on a richer market for security in dollars and contract length. That’s how it works. If the Cardinals didn’t pay market value, they wouldn’t sign many free agents on the open market, period.
With that out of the way, and looking at the numbers myself, I started to get curious about just how often the Cardinals wind up overpaying for players.
The results for the John Mozeliak years are both positive and reassuring (at least in my opinion). I compared contract prices to FanGraphs WAR dollar value over the course of the contracts and found the “hits” (WAR dollars > salary) and “misses” (WAR dollars < salary) for both open market contracts signed and for big extensions:
Misses: Matt Clement (blech)
- STOP GIVING MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR EXTENSIONS TO MIDDLING RELIEVERS.
- LaRue and Laird not outperforming their salaries in WAR doesn’t surprise me – just confirms that the Cards will pay for defense in their backup catcher, something we already knew.
- Nick Punto was a great value sign to be the middle-infield utility guy. Likely benefitted from limited exposure, but productive nonetheless.
- Matt Holliday is one of only three $100m players out of eight that has been “worth his deal” thus far. The other two: C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Jury is still obviously out on Albert Pujols.
- Holliday is the only player who signed a contract with a total value of more than $30m in the 2009 off-season that has met that deal with his performance. And there are some real stinkers in that bunch.
- Remember when everyone said the Holliday deal was crazy? See those nutjobs on the message boards still saying he’s overpaid and not worth the deal? Introduce them to Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford. And Adam Dunn. And Jason Bay. Holliday will just keep on hitting, thank you.
- Thank goodness Mozeliak didn’t come up with some crazy Jason Bay fall-back plan in 2009/2010.
- It’s important to note that injury is at least partially to blame in a couple of the failures like Lohse and Penny. Not an excuse, because performance is never guaranteed, but worth noting.
So obviously I haven’t covered each and every player that Mo has signed on his watch, but this represents a pretty good cross-section of the larger deals.
Do the Cardinals pay market value? By the definition provided above, absolutely. Are they getting great return on that value compared to TODAY’S market value? In most cases, yes. Again, the players choose to sign these deals. It’s not like they’re leaving money on the table. For their part, the Cardinals appear to have been very particular in the players they extend offers to, and with a little bit of luck, have seen good return. To me, that’s a quality to be cheered and appreciated. Now let’s see how Carlos Beltran turns out…