The numbers behind free-agent salaries

The numbers behind free-agent salaries

There's something of a pattern when it comes to the salaries players receive as free agents, and it can be pinpointed by looking at past signings and performances.

Sean Forman, the creator of, has come up with projected salaries for this year's free-agent class and detailed the methodology behind them in a piece for The New York Times.

Forman writes that Cliff Lee will likely receive the top figure, about $24 million annually, while Jayson Werth is looking at $19 million and Carl Crawford $18 million. It's well known that those three are perhaps the biggest names on this year's market; what is not well known is how to put an exact dollar figure on their worth.

Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is a comprehensive statistic that looks at a player's hitting, pitching, fielding and baserunning ability and turns those factors into a number of wins a player can contribute to a team.

The theory goes that if a team were made up of all minimum salary, replacement-level players -- players that are readily available to all organizations in, say, Triple-A -- it would still win about 50 to 55 games. What WAR tells you is how many more wins a player is expected to contribute than that replacement-level player.

Top 10 Projected Salaries
Player Projected Salary
Cliff Lee $14 mil.
Jayson Werth $14 mil.
Carl Crawford $14 mil.
Adrian Beltre $14 mil.
Derek Jeter $14 mil.
Mariano Rivera $14 mil.
Lance Berkman $14 mil.
Johnny Damon $14 mil.
Manny Ramirez $14 mil.
Lyle Overbay $14 mil.

Last year's free-agent class received about $4.5 million per 1 WAR. Forman uses that $4.5 million figure to determine this year's marketplace: Lee's projected WAR next season is 5.4. Multiplied by 4.5 million, that brings you to a $24.3 million salary.

Derek Jeter's projected salary for 2011 is $15 million, based on a 3.4 WAR. Even though Jeter's WAR last season was just 1.3, the projected WAR is higher because it's based on the past three season's numbers, and Jeter had a stellar 2009.

Forman writes that the projections don't include factors that some clubs will of course consider: injury history, age. The projections, though, do reinforce one well-known fact: there's nothing like homegrown talent when it comes to taking it easy on the pocketbook.

Evan Drellich is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.