The equation between what teams should pay a free agent and what they end up paying him do not always match up. The free agent history of the past thirty years is littered with bad contracts. So, if you are a general manager and the prize free agent on the market is Zack Greinke, what should you pay him? Is he closer to Sabathia-type money at $23 million per year or he is closer to Weaver-type money at $16 million per season? Let's take a look.
To look at a value for Zack Greinke, the feeling here is that you have to throw out 2009. That season is looking more and more like an outlier for Greinke. In 2009, he doubled his high for WAR from any other of his most recent five seasons. To add that season in to the equation would be what Greinke's agent should do. But for a general manager, that season should not figure into calculations.
There are a couple of reasons to think this way. First, in 2009, Greinke peaked as far as his velocity is concerned. His fastball was a mile per hour slower this past season and his slider is down almost a full three miles per hour from 2009. The second reason is that his FIP has never come within a half a run of what he did in 2009 either before that season or since. 2009 was an outlier. And general managers should be wary of listening to negotiations that include that season.
Instead, the GM should base his decision on Greinke's last three seasons. Something could be said that perhaps 2010 was an outlier in the other direction. Whether he was bored in Kansas City or unhappy with his team and life situation, who knows. But number one, Greinke earned that season if he did not compete to his full capacity and number two, it really wasn't as bad a season as it appears. His FIP in 2010 of 3.32 is not that far off the mark from what he has done the past two seasons.
Viewing all of that, 2010 should be included in the valuation. So we are left with three seasons to determine what Greinke should be paid.
Looking at the last three seasons on the Fangraphs.com leaderboard, Greinke has been the seventh best starting pitcher in baseball the last three seasons. Ahead of him are (in order): Verlander, Lee, King Felix, Halladay, Sabathia and Kershaw. Right behind Greinke is Weaver. During those three seasons, Greinke is eighth in FIP and fifth in xFIP (pick your poison there).
Of the three main valuation sites, Fangraphs, Baseball-reference.com and BaseballProspectus.com, Fangraphs gives him the highest WAR total at 14.2 fWAR. B-R is much lower and comes in at 8.4 and BP comes in at 9.5. If you average those together, you get an average on the three sites of 10.7 WAR(P). A single win above replacement was valued in 2012 at $4.32 million. If you do the math, then based on his average WAR from the three sites, he should be valued at $15.4 million per season.
But that is not going to get Greinke. Not at that price. Some experts believe that the value statement is a bit different when free agency is involved. They estimate that each win above replacement for free agents is $4.8 million. This makes sense because teams are bidding against each other and inflation has to be factored in as well.
If we go by the $4.8 million figure, then Greinke should be worth $17.2 million per season. By comparison, Weaver will make $16 million this season and the two are so close in performance for the past three seasons that this dollar figure makes sense. Actually, if you average all the years of Weaver's contract, he will average $17 million per season.
From this observation desk, Weaver was slightly underpaid which makes sense since his was a contract extension and not a free agent situation. There is no hometown discount involved for Greinke.
Looking at Greinke and Weaver, there is a comfort level at paying Greinke $17.5 million per season. One argument that may be presented here is that over the past three seasons, Greinke has a better xFIP than Sabathia. So shouldn't Greinke then be paid closer to Sabathia money?
No. First of all, the two pitchers have started the exact same number of games the past three seasons. But Sabathia has pitched seventy more innings. He goes deeper into games. Weaver has one more start in the last three years than Greinke and has forty more innings. So again, all other things being close, Greinke should get paid more at the Weaver level than at the Sabathia level.
So now that we have established that $17.5 per year is a comfortable number, how long should the offer be? Weaver's contract is for five years and takes him to his Age 33 season. Weaver and Greinke are the same age. Sabathia's deal takes him to his Age 35 season with an option for his Age 36 season.
Taking Greinke to his Age 35 season should be comfortable for general managers. Sure, there is risk involved for any lengthy deal. But Greinke is a pitcher and not a fireballer. He has five pitches in his arsenal. And he has good control of all of them. As long as his arm stays attached with good health, he should be good to go. He has pitched over 200 innings in four of his last five seasons and the only reason it didn't happen in 2011 was because he was playing basketball or something.
Bottom line? Six years at $17.5 seems about right, making the total deal worth $105 million. An option year with a buyout for a seventh year could be thrown in. It seems hard to imagine that Greinke would settle for anything less. Another option would be to offer slightly more per season for only five years with an option. But any team that offers him $20 million or more per season would be overpaying him.
But then again. You know somebody will, right?