In Dejan’s Q&A today, someone questioned why the Pirates do not take advantage of the current market, in which prospects are arguably overvalued while free agents are undervalued. In the subsequent discussion, Dejan endorsed the idea that the Pirates should have held onto Jason Bay and tried to build a competitive team in 2009. I am not going to go into why that would have been a bad idea, as Charlie has already done an excellent job of doing so. Be sure to read his breakdown.
I want to look at what the Pirates would have needed to do in free agency to give the team a shot at the postseason in 2009. Let’s assume that the Pirates made the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade, but decided to hold on to Bay. Below is the team’s hypothetical starting lineup to finish 2008, along with each player’s age and total value in runs. I am using Justin Inaz’s player values, which include defensive value.
If we add it all together, we have a total of 124.4 runs. Now let’s assume the Pirates had an unlimited budget and could sign any free agent they wanted. Here’s a hypothetical 2009 lineup, with each player’s 2008 value.
This lineup totals 277.2 runs, an improvement of 152.8 runs over our first lineup. Now let’s do the same thing for the starting rotation. First, a 2008 rotation. Second, a hypothetical 2009 rotation.
I took a few liberties with the pitchers. Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Ian Snell were the only pitchers to hang in the rotation for most of the season. Since I am assuming the superior 2009 rotation will have five healthy pitchers for the entire season, I think it is fair to assume that some combination of full seasons from Jeff Karstens, Phil Dumatrait, Ross Ohlendorf, Tom Gorzelanny, et al could combine for 15 runs while filling those final two spots. This obviously is not the most precise method, but I think it works for this purpose. The 2008 rotation is worth 76.8 runs, while the theoretical 2009 rotation is worth 230.5 runs. That is an improvement of 153.7 runs.
The Pirates finished the 2008 season with 61.8 third-order wins. If we nullified the Bay trade, we can adjust that to about 63 wins. If we were to assume that each player’s value would remain the same from 2008 to 2009, we can add 306.5 runs due to our improvements to the lineup and rotation. With 10 runs roughly equaling one win, that’s about 30 additional wins. That leaves us with 93 wins. The division winning Cubs had 94.5 third-order wins in 2008.
So there you have it. The Pirates could have competed for the postseason in 2009 if they held onto Bay. They simply would have needed to sign Mark Teixeira, Orlando Hudson, Joe Crede, Rafael Furcal, Manny Ramirez, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe. And avoid any major injuries for the entire season. That’s all.