I have been wanting to do this since the beginning of last year. This off-season, I will updating a all free agent “fantasy” team. Basically I am going to try to build a team entirely through free agency with a limited payroll. Mostly, this is just for fun, but it also should give us a look at how hard it is to build a team through free agency.
The Chicago Cubs represented about the median in 2012 with a payroll of about 87 million but financial obligations that totalled about 105 million thanks to money owed to Marlon Bryd, Carlos Silva, and Carlos Zambrano. They have 128.5 million dollars in guaranteed contracts from 2013-2020 according to Baseball Reference. So 105 million will be my limit for 2013, with a max of 128.5 million of future commitments. This would have put me out of the running for free agents like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder last year (and most likely Zach Greinke and Josh Hamilton this year). I am going to have to spread my money out (because I won’t have many cheap pre-abitration players on my team). All salaries will be guaranteed like in the real MLB, so if I pick up a contract only to release the player later, I am still on the hook for the contract. I will give myself a two week grace period to decide whether to sign a player or not (it just makes it easier for updates).
So I will start with a roster up to 60 players until the end of spring training (allowing myself to gather a bunch of minor league free agents, but I can’t release any until the end of the regular season or they are released by the team themselves to prevent shenanigans). Then, I will have to reduce it (by either cutting guys myself or players I have being cut by teams) to a 40 man roster during the season, with a max of 25 players on the big league team, minimum of 20. The other 15 (max, with no minimum) are my “inactives”. These players cannot be on a MLB team and have to be either on the DL (in which they still count against my payroll) or in the minors. I have to have at least 1 of every position (not going to require myself to have a DH since it is usually a fluid situation for most teams and 3 outfielders of any kind is the minimum since that is also fluid) and at least 4 starting pitchers. If at any time in the season I can’t meet a requirement, I have to bring up a player from my inactives, pay him the pro-rated minimum, and have him just sit on my roster at a replacement level (0 WAR).
Players claimed on waivers don’t count and obviously players that are traded are not eligible as well (If a player I have is traded, it doesn’t affect his status on my team). Neither do extensions, since the player was already under contact and was not available to sign by other teams. Hisashi Iwakuma seems to be a borderline case, but since the Mariners had exclusive negotiating rights at the time, it seems that I shouldn’t be able to pick up the contract. Players from the NPB or KBO that are “posted” (like Yu Darvish last year) are eligible, and because I don’t know how to do it, I will divide the posting fee in half, meaning that half of it will count towards this year’s payroll and the other half will count against my “future commitments”. Then I add the contract like a normal contract. I don’t have to make a decision on a posted then signed player until within 2 weeks of the official signing (like a normal contract).
It will make it easier to just say that players in the minors or in minor league contracts in spring training are “free”, not counting against my payroll at all (unless/until they make the big league roster). If a player is brought up from the minors to a big league team, I have to either add him to my big league club or release him (the latter won’t affect my payroll). As far as options counting against future commitment payroll, we will just use the Baseball Reference policy of just counting the buyout.
We will represent wins in fWAR just because that seems to be the easiest way (though not without its flaws. I like fWAR better than bWAR, so that is why I am using it). As the season goes on, I will compare my team’s WAR to other teams and see how they stack up. The general thought is that anywhere between 3-9 million dollars per win is expected, depending on which philosophy you use. From what I can tell, the Orioles were the worst team to make the playoffs according to WAR, with a 31.9 WAR. This means that, very conservatively, I need to get 1 WAR per every 3.29 million dollars I spend. That will be pretty tough. The key seems to be finding the right minor league free agents, guys like Kevin Millwood and Gregor Blanco that really helped their teams in 2012.
So as free agency has already started, here are the first members of my team:
Bartolo Colon 1 year 3 million (there are performance bonuses in his contract, but just out of ease, we are only going to use the guaranteed figure for all of these contracts.
Oliver Perez 1 year 1.5 million
Michael Olmsted MiLB contract
Hopefully I will update this every 2 weeks this off-season and once a week during the season. Hopefully by my next update I will have a cool team name and a logo (and hopefully more players!)