As the M’s come up with their off-season plan of action, there’s one significant evaluation that has to take place, and be accurate, or the plan will not succeed. That most necessary step is an evaluation of what the team already has on hand and how competitive they could be with the currently assembled roster, so that they know what they’re building from. As mentioned below, you can’t just assume that the team is starting from an 85 win benchmark and is attempting to build off of that, as there are numerous variables from 2009 that won’t carry over into 2010 – most notably, players on the team that won’t be returning, both good and bad.
In order to know both the kinds of moves to make and the magnitude of the work necessary, the M’s have to know how much talent they already have. We did this a few months ago, but let’s revisit the issue now that we have a bit more information about the roster as assembled.
That’s essentially what the M’s have in house right now. Total WAR from that group? +27.25, which would make them team something like a 75-87 club. The offense would be painful to watch yet again, and the pitching would take a step back. Some expected regression from Gutierrez and Ichiro costs the team a couple of wins as well.
So, that’s where the M’s stand right now. They need to add somewhere between 15 and 20 wins to the roster this winter – that’s a pretty significant challenge. The group above would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million, give or take $5 million on either side due to uncertainty surrounding the salaries of the arbitration eligible guys (Felix, Gutierrez, Aardsma, Lowe).
That gives the M’s about $25 million to spend this winter. So, the team is looking at having to pay about $1.7 million per win. Wins cost between $4 and $5 million apiece in free agency, so obviously, just trying to buy players isn’t going to work. The M’s are going to have continue to get some a lot of bang for their buck if they’re going to get into the 90+ win arena for 2010.
That’s why the decisions about whether to try to bring back players like Jack Wilson and Adrian Beltre are a bit trickier than just looking at value produced divided by the cost of contract. In terms of market value, Beltre’s on field production is worth something like $10-$15 million for next year. Due to his poor season, he’ll almost certainly sign for less than that. However, if the M’s give Beltre, say, $8 million, they’ve bought an additional two wins, but at a price of $4 million apiece.
Realistically, the team can’t afford to spend 33% of its budget at a $4 million per win asset, when their target for the entire budget has to be $1.7 million per win. If you add those extra two wins and subtract $8 million from the budget, now the team would have to buy 13-18 wins with just $17 million. The rest of their moves would have to bring in wins at almost $1 million apiece, which is really, really hard to do.
So, the M’s have some tough decisions to make. Even if Adrian Beltre wants to return, they probably can’t afford to bring him back even at a discount unless they were willing to move the Hannahan/Hall platoon over to shortstop and say goodbye to Jack Wilson. There’s basically no way the team can have both Beltre and Wilson back next year. It’s an either/or proposition.
In lieu of more reliable veterans, the M’s are going to have to take some risks and have them pay off. Whether it’s going with a Hannahan/Hall platoon at third, trading Lopez for value and giving Tui a shot at second, or forgoing the big bat at 1B/DH and giving Carp a shot at regular playing time, they’re going to have to take a risk at one everyday position (maybe more) and hope someone develops faster than they might have expected. They just don’t have the cash to upgrade every single spot that’s currently held by a below average player.
15 to 20 wins for $25 million. That’s the bottom line of what this off-season needs to produce, and that likely means turning to the trade market, where a GM with a good eye for undervalued talent can get wins cheaper than through free agency. The M’s need to hit another home run in trade and get another high quality, low cost player on the team. If they don’t, it’s going to be tough to win next year.