Update: Carl Crawford was just signed by the Boston Red Sox for 7 years and $142 million. It looks like I nailed this one with Tango's framework. Check out what I wrote a few days ago (below).
Tom Tango recently did some work to determine how a player will age over a contract, and according to him, it looks as though a regression of 0.5 wins above replacement per season is a good place to start for an elite player hitting free agency. That framework seems to work best for player age 28-33, and perhaps, a more robust drop of 0.7 should be applied to players that are 34 and older. That makes sense intuitively, because we know that in the post-steroid era, a players skills erode precipitously at advanced ages (as they should), and you can almost see it before your very eyes.
I used this very framework most recently to try and come to some conclusion on what Miguel Tejada might be worth next season. Admittedly, it wasn’t the best instance to use this methodology because even over several years you’re not going to get perfect linear regression for a single player, and thus over a single year you’re really drawing at straws.
Joey over at BBTIA (Baseball Time in Arlington) applied this very same framework to Cliff Lee. He came to the conclusion that Lee might be worth around $143 million over a six year deal paying him $23.3 million per season (straight line) and ending in 2016 when he’s 37. That’s if he was 1) worth 6 wins in 2011 2) regressed at just .5 wins per season and 3) starting with $4.5 million in 2011, the cost per win in baseball increased at a rate of 5% per season. His other (less peachy) scenario had him declining at .7 wins per season, which ultimately leaves his value at $127 million on a six year deal, a non-disaster of $13 million in overpayment; otherwise known as: who gives a crap if you win a World Series because of it?
It only seemed fitting despite the fact that I’m a Giants blogger and there seems a slightly greater chance that Sabean brings back Willie Mays than Carl Craword, that someone try this on Mr. Crawford as well. Here goes.
My assumptions are that Crawford is worth 5.45 wins above replacement in 2011. Why not? I got this by splitting the Fangraphs – a site that loves Crawford – WAR from 2009 as well as the Basebalal-Reference – who very much likes Carl Crawford – WAR for 2009, and splitting them 50/50. That method renders Crawford worth 5.05 wins in 2009. I did the same for 2010 which yielded a value of 5.85 wins. Finally, I averaged the two years to surmise his worth is 5.45 wins in 2011. This seemed a reasonable place to start, at least to me.
Next, I assumed Crawford would get a deal of $140 million – the same deal Lee got in Joey’s scenario – except over 7 years instead of 6. I did this because Crawford is 3 years younger and it’s assumed he will age well. I think there’s a strong likelihood he gets a 6-8 year deal, he’s asking for 8, so I went with 7 or in between the two. Also, I went with just a $20 million annual salary because he’s a corner outfielder, and somehow I feel that may prevent him from getting truly elite annual salary dollars.
In terms of dollar per win increases, I also went with a 5% increase per year, making a free agent win cost around $6 million in 2017. That seems reasonable enough to me, right now, but I realize this could swing significantly.
My last assumption was that Crawford would regress by 0.5 wins for the first 3 seasons (30-33) and then by .7 wins in his final two seasons (34-35). This was a blending of sorts with what Joey did; he opted to create two scenarios where in one he regressed by .5 and the other by .7. I, however, wanted to present a single scenario to justify a hypothetical contract for Crawford, as well as to regress him more rapidly only in the latter years of his contract.
All said and done, Crawford – again, using these assumptions – would be worth more than the $20 million per over the first four seasons ($90.57 million value versus $80 million salary), and then be worth less than his annual check in his final three seasons ($47.03 value versus $60 million salary). It looks to me like Crawford is a good bet to be worth around $140 million over seven years, and having said that, I won’t be the least bit surprised if he gets a similar deal to that of Cliff Lee. Feel free to plug in your own assumptions; I'll throw my spreadsheet onto my Box.net gadget on the right-hand side to make it easier for you.
And finally, no Giants fans, Crawford will not be roaming left field at AT&T in 2010.