Carlos Correa will make over $35M per year. He earned 5.8 WAR in 2021. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
PLAYER CONTRACTS STATS & ANALYSIS

What Was 1 WAR Worth on the 2022 MLB Free Agent Market?

A strong season prior to free agency usually means a big payday, but every market is different. How much did starters, relievers, and position players make per win above replacement?

Inevitably, as each offseason approaches, we try to gauge what the biggest upcoming free agents could command from potential suitors. This baseball season, it’s even started in April as players like Aaron Judge and Rafael Devers failed to reach extensions with their current teams.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula that determines how much a player should earn in free agency, particularly in baseball and particularly in 2022. There is a range of factors at play, including:

  • On-field performance
  • The player’s marketability
  • Depth of the free-agent pool at a given position
  • Precedent from similar players in prior classes
  • Owner collusion

But it’s still fun to consider the “what-ifs?” What we rarely do, however, is look back and try to analyze what the actual signings from the previous offseason taught us about the market for various positions. This season presents an especially fascinating year to do this after the 99-day lockout brought transactions to a halt right when the hot stove is normally heating up.

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Did a player’s value (for argument’s sake, fWAR) line up with how much money they signed for? Let’s take a look at starters, position players, and relievers.

Starting Pitchers

These were the 10 starting pitchers who signed the biggest contracts in 2021-22 offseason by average salary, courtesy of Spotrac. By looking at how much they earned, compared to their 2021 performance, we can see how much, approximately, one win above replacement (WAR) was worth for starting pitchers.

Max Scherzer: $43,333,333

  • fWAR: 5.4
  • Money per WAR: $8,024,691.30

Justin Verlander: $25,000,000

  • fWAR: 6.4*
  • $/WAR: $3,906,250

* From 2019, his last full season in the majors.

Marcus Stroman: $23,666,667

  • fWAR: 3.4
  • $/WAR: $6,960,784.41

Robbie Ray: $23,000,000

  • fWAR: 3.9
  • $/WAR: $5,897,435.90

Kevin Gausman: $22,000,000

  • fWAR: 4.8
  • $/WAR: $4,583,333.33

Carlos Rodon: $22,000,000

  • fWAR: 4.9
  • $/WAR: $4,489.795.92

Noah Syndergaard: $21,000,000

  • fWAR: 4.3
  • $/WAR: $4,883,720.93

*fWAR from 2019, as Syndergaard recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2020 and 2021

Clayton Kershaw: $17,000,000

  • fWAR: 3.4
  • $/WAR: $5,000,000

Eduardo Rodriguez: $15,400,000

  • fWAR: 3.8
  • $/WAR: $4,052,631.58

Jon Gray: $14,000,000

  • fWAR: 2.3
  • $/WAR: $6,086,956.52

Let’s take Verlander out of the equation for a second — it’s more than understandable why the Astros wouldn’t pay top-dollar for a 39-year-old who hasn’t pitched in two years. That leaves us with nine pitchers that were all paid between $4 and 8 million per win above replacement. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, but with the exception of Gray, pitchers generally earned more per WAR, the more WAR they accrued. In other words, yes those first couple wins above replacement were valuable, but when you start talking about that fourth or fifth extra win, teams began to salivate.

If you want to find a meaningful average for last year’s market, only examining the best-of-the-best isn’t too useful. So, let’s expand the last to every free agent starting pitcher that signed a major league deal this offseason and earned at least 1.0 WAR last year. According to Spotrac, that list is 23 players long.

Run the numbers and you determine that, for a starting pitcher, one win above replacement was worth $5,430,383.41.

Position Players

Do position players follow a similar trend? See for yourself. These are the top 10 position player signees from this offseason:

Carlos Correa: $35,100,000

  • fWAR: 5.8
  • $/WAR: $6,051,724

Corey Seager: $32,500,000

  • fWAR: 3.7
  • $/WAR: $8,783,783.78

*95 games played

Freddie Freeman: $27,000,000

  • fWAR: 4.5
  • $/WAR: $6,000,000

Kris Bryant: $26,000,000

  • fWAR: 3.6
  • $/WAR: $7,222,222.22

Marcus Semien: $25,000,000

  • fWAR: 6.6
  • $/WAR: $3,787,878.79

Trevor Story: $23,333,3333

  • fWAR: 3.5
  • $/WAR: $6,666,666.57

Javier Baez: $23,333,333

  • fWAR: 3.6
  • $/WAR: $6,481,481.39

Nick Castellanos: $20,000,000

  • fWAR: 4.2
  • $/WAR: $4,761,904.76

Kyle Schwarber: $19,750,000

  • fWAR: 3.1*
  • $/WAR: $6,370,967.74

*113 games played

Starling Marte: $19,500,000

  • fWAR: 5.5
  • $/WAR: $3,545,454.55

Take Schwarber and Seager out of the equation — they did not play full seasons and probably would have accrued more WAR if they had played 140-plus games. Those higher-WAR players are generally earning more money per WAR as well.

The per-WAR average of the top 25 position players is also similar to what pitchers earned, coming in at $5,380,791.93.

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Relievers

It makes sense that starters and position players would be valued similarly — those are the two groups that have the biggest impact on the game. But what about relievers?

That’s a little more complicated. Relievers pitch far fewer innings than starters, and so they have less opportunity to accrue WAR. This inherently makes them less valuable, and as a result, only two relievers signed for more than $8,500,000 per year in 2022.

Here were the top five relief pitcher signees this offseason:

Kenley Jansen: $16,000,000

  • fWAR: 1.8
  • $/WAR: $8,888,888.89

Raisel Iglesias: $14,500,000

  • fWAR: 2.0
  • $/WAR: $7,250,000

Aaron Loup: $10,000,000

  • fWAR: 1.6
  • $/WAR: $5,312,500

Kendall Graveman: $8,500,000

  • fWAR: 1.1
  • $/WAR: $7,272,727

Ryan Tepera: $8,500,000

  • fWAR: 1.6
  • $/WAR: $4,375,000

There’s not much to go on here, even when you go beyond the top five, other than noting how Jensen was the best reliever out there and has been paid as such. But once you take a look at the eight total relievers with at least 1.0 WAR last year who signed new contracts in the offseason, you’ll see they’re paid a little better than everyone else, earning an average of $5,916,335.98 per WAR.

Ultimately, the value per position is nearly identical, with the relievers coming out ever so slightly on top. Given the expectations of the position – which is to quite literally secure a W – this may not be surprising.

In a year of historic signings, we will continue to keep an eye on the value of the WAR.

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