Monday, August 19, 2013

How To Build A Baseball Team

This is the St. Louis Cardinal roster:

Age Yrs Acquired Contract Status 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Adam Wainwright 31 8 Traded 6 yrs/$59.4M (08-13),5 yrs/$97.5M (14-18) $12M $19.5M $19.5M $19.5M $19.5M $19.5M
Matt Holliday 33 10 Traded 7 yrs/$120M (10-16) & 17 team option $17M $17M $17M $17M $1M [FA-*] FA
Yadier Molina 30 10 Amateur Draft 10 yrs/$96.5M (08-17) & 18 team option $14M $15M $15M $14M $14M $2M [FA-*]
Allen Craig 28 4 Amateur Draft 5 yrs/$31M (13-17) & 18 team option $1.75M $2.75M $5.5M $9M $11M $1M [FA-*]
Jaime Garcia 26 5 Amateur Draft 4 yrs/$27M (12-15) & 16-17 team option $5.75M $7.75M $9.25M $500k [FA-*] $0 [FA-*] FA
Jake Westbrook 35 13 Traded 3 yrs/$26.25M (11-13) & 14 mutual option $8.75M $1M [FA-*] FA
Carlos Beltran 36 16 Free Agency 2 yrs/$26M (12-13) $13M FA
Chris Carpenter 38 15 Free Agency 2 yrs/$21M (12-13) $10.5M FA
Rafael Furcal 35 13 Traded 2 yrs/$14M (12-13) $7M FA
Jason Motte 31 5 Amateur Draft 2 yrs/$12M (13-14) $4.5M $7.5M FA
Randy Choate 37 13 Free Agency 3 yrs/$7.5M (13-15) $1.5M $3M $3M FA
Edward Mujica 29 8 Traded 1 yr/$3.2M (13) $3.2M FA
David Freese 30 5 Traded 1 yr/$3.15M (13) $3.15M Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
Jon Jay 28 4 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$524k (13) $524k Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
Lance Lynn 26 3 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$513k (13) $513k Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
Fernando Salas 28 4 Purchased 1 yr/$512k (13) $512k Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
Daniel Descalso 26 4 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$511k (13) $511k Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
Matt Carpenter 27 3 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$504k (13) $504k Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
Tony Cruz 26 3 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$503k (13) $503k Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
Shane Robinson 28 4 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$498k (13) $498k Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3 FA
Joe Kelly 25 2 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$493k (13) $493k Pre-Arb-2 Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3
Pete Kozma 25 3 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$490k (13) $490k Pre-Arb-2 Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3
Trevor Rosenthal 23 2 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$490k (13) $490k Pre-Arb-2 Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3
Ryan Jackson 25 2 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$490k (13) $490k Pre-Arb-2 Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3
Matt Adams 24 2 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$490k (13) $490k Pre-Arb-2 Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3
Shelby Miller 22 2 Amateur Draft 1 yr/$490k (13) $490k Pre-Arb-2 Pre-Arb-3 Arb-1 Arb-2 Arb-3
Rob Johnson 30 7 Free Agency Arb Arb FA
Victor Marte 32 4 Traded Arb Arb Arb FA
Adron Chambers 26 3 Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
Sam Freeman 26 2 Amateur Draft--no sign Arb Arb Arb
Michael Blazek 24 1st Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
Keith Butler 24 1st Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
Jermaine Curtis 25 1st Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
John Gast 24 1st Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
Tyler Lyons 25 1st Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
Seth Maness 24 1st Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
Carlos Martinez 21 1st Free Agency Arb Arb Arb
Brock Peterson 29 1st Free Agency Arb Arb Arb
Kevin Siegrist 23 1st Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
Michael Wacha 21 1st Amateur Draft Arb Arb Arb
Ty Wigginton Ty Wigginton $2.5M $2.5M
Ronny Cedeno Ronny Cedeno released $282.79k
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Signed Players With Guaranteed Contracts (does not include players with options) *26 7 6 4 3 1
Dollars Committed Value of Guaranteed Contracts (no options are exercised and includes buyouts) *$111.4M $76M $69.2M $60M $45.5M $22.5M
Contract Options Players with any type of option 1 1 2 2
Option Values Maximum value of options if all are exercised $9.5M $11.5M $29M $28M
Arb Eligible Number of arbitration eligible players (1st-2nd-3rd-4th, "Arb" players = 3rds) 3-1-0-0 4-3-3-0 6-4-16-0 0-6-17-0 0-0-18-0
Arb Costs Rough estimated value of all arbitration cases (uses 3-year averages for 1st yr, 2nd,..) $7.8M $26.6M $83.4M $82.5M $70.2M
Other Players Additional Players Needed to Fill 25-man (no options exercised) 14 9 -5 -1 6
Other Costs Estimate of Remaining Players Costs (based on 1-year avg of all pre-arb players) $7M $4.5M -$2.5M -$500k $3M
Payroll (no options) Est. Total Payroll w/o Options (Guaranteed + Arb + Other) $90.8M $100.3M $140.9M $127.5M $95.7M
Payroll (options) Est. Total Payroll w/ Options (Guaranteed + Options + Arb + Other) $99.8M $100.3M $151.9M $155.5M $122.7M
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/18/2013.
Observe three very critical issues: 
1. How the players were acquired
2. How much money is on the books for 2014 and beyond
3. The amount of stupid money for players no longer on the team

There are two free agents of note, Carlos Beltran and Chris Carpenter, and both are short-term contracts up after this year. The money going forward is essentially for Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday. Wainwright and Molina will receive substantial Cy Young/MVP votes and Holliday is productive. Their stupid money is essentially nothing.

The strength of the Cardinals is in their use of the draft with picks like Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay and Allen Craig. This isn't easy--while it's the preferred pattern EVERY team wishes to follow, it requires the ability to not just evaluate talent but develop it as well. If this were easy to accomplish more teams would do it, but for now about the only teams that have pulled off the trick of building a team through the draft are the Cardinals, Rays and Pirates and to a lesser extent Cincinnati. Teams that are currently trying are Houston, Kansas City and the Cubs, with the Royals the closest to making the leap to success.

The Cardinals were one of the best teams in baseball in the 1960s, had a rough 1970s, rebounded nicely in the 1980s and appeared in three World Series, had a lull in the early 1990s and have had one of the best records in baseball from around 1996 on, making the playoffs in 10 of the 17 seasons between 1996-2012 and winning the World Series in 2006 and 2011. They did this by drafting well and adding timely (and relatively cheap) free agents to augment needs. This has the dual advantage of being affordable and generating sustained success by jettisoning players like Albert Pujols and Kyle Lohse when they become too expensive and reloading with cheaper players under team control for some years to come. The typical boom-bust-rebuild cycle can potentially be circumvented and teams can stay competitive even when they might still be a year or two away from dominance.

But it isn't easy and doesn't happen by accident. This tweet from Joe Sheehan on Saturday night caught my eye:
Leave aside the notion that Bonilla is owed money through 2015--granted, it's only $500,000 a year, but still. The Astros 2013 payroll shows two things very clearly:
1. The reason why they're VERY BAD this year
2. They have a plan
The Astros have ZERO DOLLARS committed for 2014--not one freaking cent. They owe $5.5 million to Wandy Rodriguez and a number of their young talent are entering or in their arbitration years, so it's not like they'll be able to get away with a payroll of $20 million next year, but it's their decision to make. Their young talent isn't guaranteed to develop into a successful team, but players like Jose Altuve and Jason Castro give them a chance, but they'll need pitching. They didn't draft their talent as much as trade for it, but still left themselves in control and for not a large amount of money. If this talent develops and key pieces can be added, they have a chance, but no matter what, they haven't hamstrung themselves with long, expensive and bad contracts.

Contrast them with their rivals for the worst team in baseball, the Marlins. To their credit, they aren't burdened with bad contracts--that was in 2012, but they dumped Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and others and in 2014 will only be left with $4 million for Heath Bell. Still, a look at their 2013 roster shows a confused team, full of old and bad players accomplishing nothing. Even Giancarlo Stanton isn't what he was in the past but he's young enough to bounce back. The Marlins are an organization in between plans--they were going to free agent their way to success but instead the perfect storm of a new stadium, Ozzie Guillen and no success blew up that plan in the space of a year. Their farm system doesn't appear to be well-stocked, leaving them in a terrible place of trying to figure out their next move. The Astros might be years away from success--the Marlins appear to be YEARS away, which will turn what is already a tough stadium to fill into a ghost town.

If the Golden Age of free agency ever existed, it's on its way out--even the Yankees only have around $90 million in commitments for 2014, and that doesn't include Vernon Wells (being paid by the Angels) and Alfonso Soriano (being paid by the Cubs). No, the way NOT to build a team has been clearly shown by the Angels, who purchased a one-way ticket to Screwed City with their signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, among others, along with unfortunate trades that let players like Jean Segura get away. They could be competitive in 2014--none of their aging veterans has truly reached the point of no return, but much beyond that, they're going to have a period of big money for non-productive players that will prevent them from being competitive. It's a 2000 way to build a team--spend now to win and live with the regret. Teams like the Cardinals are paving a new way.

It remains to be seen if good talent evaluation, drafting and development by itself can succeed or whether teams will need to be in the wilderness for a length of time to amass top picks AND draft well--the Cardinals are in the midst of proving that good picks can be found throughout the draft. Someday (probably over the winter) I'll do a comparison of the success rates of football, basketball and baseball drafts to see if stars are concentrated not just in the first round, but in the first HALF of the first round like they seem to be in football and basketball. For many reasons I don't think that will be the case, but I'll let the data speak for itself when I accumulate it. The Cardinals way appears to be THE way, as most successful teams have a solid core of homegrown (and relatively inexpensive) talent as their nucleus. It's a new day in baseball, one in which targeted spending is valued much more than profligate, and the sooner teams reach this understanding and build both their teams and front offices around the concept of internal development vs. external acquisition, the sooner teams will be on the path to sustained success.


  1. I think what you say is true, but dont forget that the Cardinals did try to sign Pujols for just slightly less than Angels.

  2. I did NOT know that, so thanks for sharing that. I was always under the impression they were prepared to enter their post-Pujols era if the price was too steep, but I happily stand corrected.