Most arguments for the White Sox attempting to contend in the near-term are predicated on the strength of the team's core. After all, the White Sox have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, and Nate Jones locked up for at least the next three seasons at prices below their worth. Nonetheless, some bad investments and the front office's poor track record for adding value via free agency and trades have some hoping for a sell-off, thinking that either the next core that can be built will be stronger, that building will be easier after some expensive contracts expire, that the organization's major league scouting will improve down the road, or some combination of the three.
The question is: just how special is this core? Is this situation rare enough that attempting to build a winner right now is an opportunity that can't be passed up? Or do we overrate the value of this current group?
I've been beginning to question this more and more in recent weeks. Cost-controlled talent isn't a thing that's unique to the White Sox. Most teams have at least a few inexpensive players producing significant surplus value. How does this White Sox core stack up?
I undertook a research project to answer this question. First, I extracted the 2016 WARP (from Baseball Prospectus) and salary for every player in baseball. Using a rough estimate of $7 million as the market price of a win in free agency, I calculated the "surplus value" of every player in baseball as follows:
- Surplus value = 2016 WARP minus (2016 salary divided by $7 million)
- For example, Chris Sale was worth 6.94 WARP and was paid $9.15 million. So his surplus value is 6.94 - ($9.15M / $7M) = 5.64 wins
I then separated the players into the 30 teams and sorted them from top-to-bottom by surplus value. Finally, I calculated the surplus value generated by each team's top "X" players. I say "X", because I ran the calculations for every possible number for "X". Thanks to the Atlanta Braves using 59 players this year, I had to stretch "X" all the way to 59 because often the bottom-ranked player is an expensive guy who sucks, so the last guy on each team's list has a significant negative effect rather than a minimal one.
To get a feel for how this exercise shook out, here's the "Top Ten" 2016 surplus wins list for the White Sox.
- 1) Adam Eaton: 6.00
- 2) Chris Sale: 5.64
- 3) Jose Quintana: 3.72
- 4) Carlos Rodon: 3.56
- 5) Nate Jones: 1.80
- 6) Tyler Saladino: 1.33
- 7) Todd Frazier: 1.29
- 8) Jose Abreu: 1.28
- 9) Tim Anderson: 1.19
- 10) Brett Lawrie: 0.76