Most of us are guilty of harping on Sandy Alderson and the Mets for being the last team in the 2012-13 off-season to sign a free agent to a major league contract. It can be incredibly frustrating to see every other team in the league sign players for their roster, while the Mets sit idly by without an outfield, half a bullpen, and a fifth starter. In this post we’ll take a look at how bad teams managed their free agent acquisitions over the past three off-seasons (2009-2011) and how these decisions affected their teams the following seasons.
The Mets finished the 2012 season with a paltry 74 wins; from 2009-2011 36 teams finished their seasons with 74 wins or fewer. These teams signed anywhere from one to seven free agents in the following off-seasons, and 28 of them finished the following season with a better record. Now they say when you’re so far down there’s nowhere to go but up, and this may very well skew the results – if a team finished with <74 wins they’re probably more likely to win a couple more games rather than deteriorate further in the next season. Enough chit-chat, here are some interesting statistics from my small sample size study:
- 36 teams from 2009-2011 finished with 74 wins or fewer (Mets had 74 wins in 2012).
- 28 of those teams won more games in their following season.
- On average these teams signed close to four free agents to major league deals and won 5.7 more games the following season.
- The teams signed anywhere from 1-7 major league free agents, and here are their average win differentials in the following season (in ascending order): 10, 10, 0.4, 4.7, 1.7, 9.7, 12.8.
- Some big swings: The 2008 Rockies won 72 games, signed 1 free agent, and increased their win total by 20 games in 2009. The 2008 Mariners won 61 games, signed 2 free agents, and increased their win total by 24 games in 2009. The 2010 Diamondbacks won 65 games, signed 7 free agents, and increased their win total by 29 games in 2011. The 2011 Orioles won 69 games, signed 5 free agents, and increased their win total by 24 games in 2012. The 2011 Athletics won 74 games, signed 3 free agents, and increased their win total by 20 games in 2012.
But what does this all mean!? I see no correlation in the past three off-seasons (again, small sample size) of teams improving their record strictly by signing players to major league contracts. There are so many factors that go into how a team performs – trades, player development, injuries, their competition, etc – how can we make sense of free agent signings alone? And how do you compare a $500k acquisition of a 5th outfielder to signing Josh Hamilton?
Maybe we’re all making far too big a deal of the Mets laying low (myself very much included) this off-season. Heck, the odds probably favor the Mets winning a few more games if they kept the same team in tact. Yes, Dickey’s gone, but Wheeler will be called up soon, and with some key players under-performing in 2012 it’s hard to make heads or tails of exactly how Dickey’s absence might affect the team’s standing. I think at the very least, the “statistic” that the Mets are the last team to sign a free agent to a major league contracts means absolutely nothing. It’s the quality of those players that truly matter. The Mets could have bypassed this stigma by signing Torres to a deal, but instead they traded for Cowgill who may very well be more effective this season. I guess this could all be summed by the phrase “it’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean.”