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 Baseball-Reference.com, 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 MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.