Turning The O’s Into Instant Contenders

Some people would like to see the O’s really jump into the free agent market this off-season and make some big moves to get the team into contention as soon as next year. Can the team spend their way into the playoffs in 2010? Let’s take a really silly theoretical look.

First we need to know how many wins we need. If we assume a replacement level team would win about 44 games in the AL, and that it will take about 94 wins to make the playoffs, then the O’s need to assemble a roster worth about 50 Wins Above Replacement*.

* I’m assuming they sign people for only one year. That means they’ll need to pay extra, but loading up on big contract when raises for Markakis, Jones, Wieters, the pitchers, etc. will be coming in a few years would explode the payroll.

Being pretty generous, let’s break down the roster for next year thusly (with 2009 WAR in parentheses):

C: Matt Wieters: 3.5 (1.9) – A full season plus some improvement.
1B: Luke Scott: 2.0 (1.5) – If he can play first OK then that boost his value.
2B: Brian Roberts: 3.25 (3.4) – Have to assume at least a little aging.
3B: Ty Wigginton: 1.0 (-0.3) – Can’t be that bad again, right?
SS: Cesar Izturis: 1.25 (1.3) – Very small step down defensively?
LF: Felix Pie: 2.5 (1.4) – More playing time and no huge slump.
CF: Adam Jones: 3.5 (1.9) – Offense and Defense together.
RF: Nick Markakis: 4.0 (1.9) – Bounces back, both the walks and defensively.
DH: Nolan Reimold: 1.5 (1.0) – Full season.
Bench: 0 (somewhere around 0) – Seems fair.
SP: Jeremy Guthrie: 2.5 (1.1) – More ’07-’08 than ’09.
SP: Brian Matusz: 3.0 (0.8) – Keeps pitching well, but in more innings.
SP: Brad Bergesen: 2.5 (2.3) – Pitches a little worse, but more often.
SP: Chris Tillman: 1.0 (-0.1) – Takes a small step forward.
SP: David Hernandez: 0.5 (-0.8) – Takes a small step forward.
Other starters: 0 (somewhere around 0) – Seems fair.
Bullpen: 5.0 (less than 5) – No relief Ace, but some good pitchers.

Total: 37 WAR

That gets the O’s (being generous, mind you) to 81 wins. So that means they need about 13 more WAR.

If they sign Chone Figgins (5.9 WAR this year) to play third-base, tack on maybe 4.0 WAR and subtract about 1.0 since he would be taking Wigginton’s place*. That’s 40, so we need 10 more. Sign John Lackey (3.9 WAR in ’09) to add another 4.0 WAR and bump David Hernandez from the rotation. That’s 43.5, leaving 6.5 left. Sign Jason Bay (3.4 WAR in ’09) to DH – you can trade Reimold for prospects or something – adds 3.5 WAR for an upgrade of 2 WAR. That’s 45.5 – we’re still 4.5 short and are running out of places to improve. Take a chance on Rich Harden (1.8 WAR in ’09) and assume his HR/FB rate comes down and he stays at least a little healthy for 3.5 WAR. That bumps Tillman, so we’re up to 48. Marco Scutaro (4.4 WAR in ’09) over Izzy at short adds maybe 3.25 WAR to get to to the finish line.

* I realize that Wiggy would up the bench total then, but I’m trying to keep it simple.

So there you go. Assuming the O’s have to pay each guy 35% more than they’re “worth” in 2010 to get them to forgo multiple-year deals and actually come to Baltimore, and it would cost the team (value based on the WAR I assigned to them in parentheses):

Figgins: $24.3 M ($18.5 M)
Lackey: $24.3 M ($18.5 M)
Bay: $21.3 M ($15.8 M)
Harden: $21.3 M ($15.8 M)
Scutaro: $19.7 M ($14.6 M)

Total: $110.9 M*

* It might be fair to think that Lackey and maybe Figgins and Bay would be more expensive, though Harden and Scutaro would likely be cheaper. Still, it’s pretty crazy that it would cost $100+ M to upgrade from an already unlikely 81 wins to 94.

The O’s base payroll for next year should start out at around $45 M. So if the team more than triples its payroll to about $155 M – making it fairly likely the second highest in all of baseball – and everything goes pretty well (not absolute best-case scenario, but better than expected), then the team would have a good chance of making the playoffs. They would give up a bunch of draft-picks to sign these guys, but should recoup many of them after the 2010 season.

I have to say that there’s absolutely no way this happens, but it would be pretty amazing (and hilarious). I imagine that with the low payroll this past year and a potentially low-ish payroll in 2011 once all these expensive guys leave – plus a potential boost for having a good team – such a plan is actually feasible*. One of the problems is, if you don’t get all of your guys you’re going to be spending a ton of money without actually getting all the way to your goal. It’s a super high risk, medium-to-high reward strategy, which sounds exactly like Andy MacPhail to me.

* I mean, if I understand quantum mechanics properly, then it’s certainly possible that I could walk right through a brick wall. So compared to that, yeah, the O’s could pull this plan off.