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Was Abreu Overpriced?
2006-08-04 10:02
by Mike Carminati

Jayson Stark had a good piece on the Bobby Abreu trade yesterday on ESPN. He concluded, "To make this kind of trade, just for the joy of cashing out, simply tells the sport that either you think Abreu is outrageously overrated or your team is in major financial trouble -- or both."

That sums it up for me. For the Phils to have traded Abreu with one year left in his contract, they have to think that his potential contribution to the team in 2007 would not be worth the money. Either that or they are cutting whatever salary they can.

So was Abreu overpaid? Or maybe more to the point, since the Phils are longshots in this year's wild card hunt at best, will Abreu be wildly overpriced in 2007 making the salary dump justifiable? Also, was Abreu's contract overall a Mo Vaughn-ian bust that demanded the Phils trade the former the player?

Being extremely linear, I will address the first question first. I looked up the starting corner outfielders for every team since the 2000 season, the first of Abreu's current contract. For each, I listed the Win Shares, salary, and age. For the 301 player-years that I found, the average corner outfielder produced 18 Win Shares and was paid $4.8 M. This translates into $271K per Win Share. That's what the average team paid per starting corner outfielder Win Share.

The highest paid player was 32-year-old Bobby Higginson in his (and the Tigers') infamous 2003 season. Detroit paid him just under $2M per Win Share that year ($1.975M/WS from an $11.85M salary and 6 Win Shares produced). The cheapest was Lance Berkman in 2001 when the then 25-year-old produced 32 Win Shares for a then league minimum of $305K, which translates into $9,531 per Win Share.

As for Abreu, his 2005 campaign was his most costly ($467,857 per Win Shares), based on 28 Win Shares for $13.1M contract, which was the 63rd highest among the 301 qualifiers. His cheapest year from his current contract was 2000, in which he produced 23 Win Shares for a $2.93M salary, or $127.5K per Win Share, 196th among the 301 corner OF years.

But that's the past: what was Abreu doing this year? Abreu had 18 Win Shares for the Phils, which projects to 28 for the year. His salary is $13.6M this year. That translates into $485K per Win Share. That would land him a bit higher than last year, but just 60th on the list. So, yes, he's slightly overpriced, but not wildly. He had a big contract but produced big.

However, comparing Abreu's contract to the full field of corner outfielders is unfair. Abreu is now 33, and as is the practice in sports is getting paid in part for his past performance. It's not fair to compare his salary today to that of an unproven, typically underpaid 25-year-old.

So I reran the data based on players 30 or older. They produced about the same as the overall corner outfielders (18 Win Shares), but they cost much more ($6,830,195 on average). Their average cost per Win Share was $378,467. Abreu was about a $100K per Win Share cheaper than that in 2004, but was about $90K higher in 2005, and an estimated $100 higher this year. But again his 2006 season would come in just 48th overall among the 149 qualifying thirty-something players. He is in the top third. Again his slightly overpriced, but not much.

Now I'll be non-linear and answer the third question next. Has Abreu's contract been a bust?

Looking at the totals from 2000 to 2005 for all players who were starting corner outfielders during the period, Abreu comes in 42nd costliest among the 129 players. During the period, he amassed 172 Win Shares (averaging 29 per season) and a little over $49M (or $7.84 per season). He cost $273,545 per Win Share over the period.

But consider that the average corner outfielder over the span cost $270,292 per Win Share, Abreu has been paid basically the major-league average for the first six years of his contract. Given the way he has produced, the Phils really made out like bandits for the first six years. Now that the back-loaded deal is finally in Abreu's favor, the Phils felt compelled to dump him.

However, maybe that's being too tough on the team. Could the last two years of Abreu's deal actually make the deal a bust? We know pretty much what Abreu's 2006 totals will look like at season's end (he projects to 28 Win Shares). However, given that he will be 33 in 2007, could the aging process arrive with a vengeance next year and make the overall deal untenable?

To determine that, I looked up all 32-year-old corner outfielders with at least 25 Win Shares throughout baseball history (40 qualified). Abreu is 32 and currently projects to 28 Win Shares. For each player, I then looked at his performance in his next year. On average the players lost 5 Win Shares when they turned 33 years old.

The worst age-33 decline was Sammy Sosa at 15 Win Shares lost (42 in 2001 and 27 in 2002). However, there were seven players who either improved or stayed the same (based on Win Shares). The best improvement was by Luis Gonzalez who went from 27 Win Shares in 2000 to 37, a ten-point improvement, in 2001. The others who did not decline at age 33 were Mel Ott (+9), Hank Aaron (+7), Manny Ramirez (+7), Enos Slaughter (+3), Babe Ruth (no change), and Rickey Henderson (no change).

I don't think it's inconceivable that Abreu could have a better year in 2007 given that all of the trade talk all season seemed to wear on him. But let's assume that he declines by the 33-year-old average, 5 Win Shares. That would give him 23 Win Shares for 2007. Abreu would cost $696K per Win Share. That would be the 25th highest among the 301 corner outfielders from 2000-05.

Using these projections, Bobby Abreu would amass 223 Win Shares over the eight years of his contract (2000-07) and would cost $76.65M. That translates into $343,661 per Win Share. That would make him 31st among all starting corner outfielders using the 2000-05 numbers I quoted earlier. It's about $70K more per Win Share, but is nowhere near the highest paid players.

I see no reason why the Phils can justify dumping Abreu based on his production. The only rationalization is as a salary dump, pure and simple.

By the way, here is some of the data in tabular form that I referred to earlier. First, the most overpaid corner outfielder years:

NameYrTmWin Shares Salary Age$/WS
Bobby Higginson2003DET6 $ 11,850,000 32 $1,975,000
Juan Gonzalez2002TEX6 $ 11,000,000 32 $1,833,333
Brian Jordan2003LAN7 $ 9,600,000 36 $1,371,429
Juan Gonzalez2003TEX10 $ 13,000,000 33 $1,300,000
Sammy Sosa2004CHN14 $ 16,000,000 35 $1,142,857
Jeromy Burnitz2002NYN7 $ 7,166,667 33 $1,023,810
Chuck Knoblauch2002KCA2 $ 2,000,000 33 $1,000,000
Richard Hidalgo2005TEX5 $ 5,000,000 30 $1,000,000
Jermaine Dye2004OAK12 $ 11,666,667 30 $ 972,222
Raul Mondesi2000TOR11 $ 10,000,000 29 $ 909,091
Larry Walker2005SLN14 $ 12,666,667 38 $ 904,762
Brady Anderson2001BAL8 $ 7,200,000 37 $ 900,000

Here are the most underpaid:

NameYrTmWin Shares Salary Age$/WS
Lance Berkman2001HOU32 $ 305,000 25 $ 9,531
Jason Bay2005PIT34 $ 355,000 26 $ 10,441
Adam Dunn2002CIN21 $ 250,000 22 $ 11,905
Brad Wilkerson2002MON17 $ 206,000 25 $ 12,118
Jacque Jones2002MIN25 $ 312,500 27 $ 12,500
Miguel Cabrera2005FLO29 $ 370,000 22 $ 12,759
Adam Dunn2004CIN32 $ 445,000 24 $ 13,906
Geoff Jenkins2000MIL20 $ 282,000 25 $ 14,100
Miguel Cabrera2004FLO22 $ 320,000 21 $ 14,545
Carl Crawford2004TBA21 $ 320,000 22 $ 15,238
Aubrey Huff2003TBA21 $ 325,000 26 $ 15,476
Benny Agbayani2000NYN14 $ 220,000 28 $ 15,714
Mark Quinn2000KCA13 $ 205,000 26 $ 15,769

Here are the most overpaid for the entire period 2000-05 (starting corner OF totals only):

NameWin Shares Salary $/WS# Yrs
Brady Anderson8 $ 7,200,000 $900,000 1
Juan Gonzalez48 $ 41,500,000 $864,583 4
Albert Belle15 $ 12,868,670 $857,911 1
Raul Mondesi26 $ 21,500,000 $826,923 2
David Justice11 $ 7,000,000 $636,364 1
Al Martin8 $ 5,000,000 $625,000 1
Chuck Knoblauch13 $ 8,000,000 $615,385 2
Larry Walker83 $ 50,166,668 $604,418 4
Richard Hidalgo32 $ 19,000,000 $593,750 3
Ray Lankford14 $ 8,250,000 $589,286 2
Manny Ramirez170 $ 97,262,727 $572,134 6
Brian Jordan59 $ 32,900,000 $557,627 4

Now, the cheapest 2000-05:

NameWin Shares Salary $/WS# Yrs
Jason Bay52 $ 660,000 $ 12,692 2
Miguel Cabrera51 $ 690,000 $ 13,529 2
Brad Wilkerson35 $ 521,000 $ 14,886 2
Mark Quinn13 $ 205,000 $ 15,769 1
Eric Byrnes19 $ 328,000 $ 17,263 1
Carl Crawford57 $ 990,000 $ 17,368 3
Coco Crisp21 $ 364,900 $ 17,376 1
Emil Brown20 $ 355,000 $ 17,750 1
Rob Mackowiak12 $ 227,000 $ 18,917 1
Matt Holliday19 $ 366,000 $ 19,263 1
Chris Richard12 $ 232,500 $ 19,375 1
Terrmel Sledge15 $ 300,000 $ 20,000 1
Albert Pujols73 $ 1,500,000 $ 20,548 2

Finally, here are the annual and overall numbers for Abreu:

YrTmWin Shares Salary Age$/WS
2000PHI23 $ 2,933,333 26 $ 127,536
2001PHI27 $ 4,983,000 27 $ 184,556
2002PHI29 $ 6,333,333 28 $ 218,391
2003PHI28 $ 9,100,000 29 $ 325,000
2004PHI37 $ 10,600,000 30 $ 286,486
2005PHI28 $ 13,100,000 31 $ 467,857
2006PHI-NYY28$13,600,000 32 $ 485,048
2007NYY23 $ 16,000,000 33 $ 695,652
Total223 $ 76,649,666 $ 343,661
2006-08-04 10:27:52
1.   Suffering Bruin
Unless I misread Mike (and believe me, that's a strong possibility), Abreu was not overpaid, was producing and this trade amounts to a salary dump. Which means if the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made as much money as the Yankees and the Yankees had the revenue of the Devil Rays, Abreu would be in Tampa along with A-Rod et. al. And that, ladies and gents, is why people hate the Yankees. They traded jack squat for Abreu because they could afford to do it and no one else could.
2006-08-04 11:51:03
2.   tom yf
Perhaps most teams couldn't afford the trade, but the Yankees weren't the only ones who could. The White Sox, Angels, Red Sox, etc., could have pulled it off if they wanted too. The reason people hate the Yankees in this context is not for their ability, but their willingness to fork over the cash.
2006-08-04 15:59:53
3.   das411
Ah but Mike, what to do if Dave Delucci is still underpaid?
2006-08-04 22:59:28
4.   mikeplugh
1 Suffering Bruin....The Red Sox have the second highest payroll in the sport, and it would be easy for every single person in baseball outside the Bronx to say that they bought the 2004 championship, and that they're one of the rich teams trying to do it again.

The same can be said for about 7 teams with payrolls at or above $100 million. The Yankees get the bullseye because they are #1, they win a championship every 4 years or so for the last 100, and pull the trigger at every deadline on trades and free agents.

The White Sox won it last year and they're 4th in payroll. Bought it. The Angels won a few years ago and they're 3rd. Bought the title. The Mets may win this year and they're 5th. Buying a championship.

It's just not fair to target the Yankees as the Big Bad Empire. It's unrealistic. Yes, the team's payroll is 25% higher than the #2 Red Sox, but that didn't stop the Sox from humiliating them in 2004. You still have to go out and win it on the field, something the Yankees haven't done in going on 6 years. They lose money on the books every year, but the side businesses are booming. That's entrepreneurial genius.

If every team was so smart, they'd have plenty of money to stay profitable and put money back into the ballclub too. The Yankees, and other high payroll clubs, give money away to the pool of MLB clubs everytime they sign a new player.

Last thing. Free agents want to play in the Bronx, Boston, Flushing, and a couple of other places because there is #1 plenty of money, and #2 a chance to win. Winning culture attracts players as much as the dollars. Who wouldn't want to play at Fenway? Who wouldn't want to stand on the same grass as Babe Ruth?

The poor Royals and Rays spend money stupidly, refuse to spend any of the money that the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, White Sox, etc...dole out in penalty taxes and they suck. Would you want to go there?

Look at the Twins and tell me that it can't be done. They were almost extinct 2 years ago, but they develop talent and make unreal trades (Liriano, Nathan and company for A.J. Pierzinski).

2006-08-05 06:51:10
5.   monkeypants
1 That's horseshit. First, at least half a dozen teams had the money to pick up Abreu. Second, most other teams had better talent to trade--and frankly the Phils could have asked for more from the Yankees. Don't blame the Yankees because the Phils got little in return or because some other team couldn't put together a package better than the slop the Yankees gave up. Third, Abreau had a no-trade clause, so he possibly shaped who could trade for him. If anything, people should hate Abreu for (maybe) limiting the Phils' options.
2006-08-05 23:03:53
6.   Sub4Era
4 - If you can replace a 13 million dollar guy with another 13 million dollar guy, I find it hard to believe the idea of a 200m payroll isnt a clear advantage. To your point, the twins did indeed make great moves to pick up their talent, but for the yankees to pick up their talent they only need to open their checkbook not only through FA but also by picking up salary in lopsided deals such as the one we just saw with Abreu. Not to say I think its completely effective seeing the Yanks anemia in the playoffs lately, its still a distinct advantage that teams like the twins cannot afford to utilize.
2006-08-07 08:59:53
7.   Boneman42
Great web-site!! A related issue about Mike Schmidt. As a Phils fan since 1949, I agree he was the greatest Phillie. How great was he? Can you determine whether the Phils' all-time winning percentage with Schmidt playing exceeded the all-time non-Schmidt Phils' winning percentage by more than any comparative differential on any other team (e.g., Yanks' all-time winning percentage with and without Babe Ruth)? Players with 1,000 or more games only. Thanx--Ed Bonekemper
2006-08-10 13:28:11
8.   Tangotiger
Mike, you said this:

Abreu has been paid basically the major-league average for the first six years of his contract. Given the way he has produced, the Phils really made out like bandits for the first six years

You meant to say that he was paid MLB average, PER WIN SHARE...

That is, Phils did not pay a premium for an Abreu win. A win is a win is a win is how he's been paid.

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