It’s widely accepted that one win above replacement costs at least $5 million on the open market. But the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t make decisions based on actions of others.
Entering this season, the Pirates needed to replace a 4.9 WAR player in Russell Martin. On the open market, Martin was worth roughly $25 million.
Over two years the Pirates received 8.9 wins above replacement from Martin. They paid all of $17 million for that, a cost that landed the organization over $40 million in performance.
Pittsburgh was faced with the daunting challenge of replacing Martin’s production this year. Even though the Pirates made a qualifying offer, the team likely wouldn’t go to the lengths others did in offering extra years and dollars for Martin.
The phenomena isn’t an isolated one for the Pirates. The organization’s philosophy combined with its status as a mid-market team places a premium on acquiring cost-effective talent.
Last year, the Pirates payroll was at roughly $81.4 million. The Pirates roster churned out 37.3 WAR, paying roughly $2.2 million for each win above replacement.
Or, less than half of what the market would require the Pirates, at minimum, to pay.
Overall, the Pirates 2015 roster has accumulated a total of 17.3 WAR in 68 games through the season, while playing to the National League’s second-best record.
Pittsburgh has received 7.4 WAR from the hitters and another 9.9 contributed by the pitching staff. The Pirates pitching staff owns the National League’s third-highest WAR.
Pittsburgh’s 2015 payroll, sits at just over $91 million. Their roster expenses this season rank 27th in the league.
Already, the Pirates are paying market-rate for the WAR they’ve received not even halfway through the season. Each extra win has cost the Pirates $5.26 million this season.
The Pirates are one of only 10 teams in baseball with a payroll below $100 million.
Oddly enough, three of those teams would be playoff teams if the season ended today with the Houston Astros ($69 MM, 29th) and Tampa Bay Rays ($71.7 MM, 27th) each having won 40 games and leading their respective divisions. And, the New York Mets are at the top of the NL East ($99.6 MM, 20th).
On the pitching staff, Gerrit Cole unsurprisingly leads the staff with a 2.3 WAR as he continues to work on a Cy Young-caliber campaign. He’s making $531,000 this season,
And A.J. Burnett, who returned to Pittsburgh with a $8.5 million deal, has also posted 2.3 WAR.
Andrew McCutchen leads the a group of Pirates hitters with 1.0 WAR or more at 2.2.
McCutchen led the league with a 6.8 WAR last season, for which the Pirates paid $7.25 million.
Francisco Cervelli (1.8), Starling Marte (1.4), Jung Ho Kang (1.3) and Josh Harrison (1.0) round out the group at 1.0 WAR or more with McCutchen. The Pirates are on the hook for roughly $7.5 million to those four players who have contributed 5.5 WAR.
The Pirates highest-paid player is Francisco Liriano and even he’s already performed near the value of his contract. Liriano, making $11.66 million in the first year of the 3-year, $33 million contract extension signed last offseason, has posted a 1.9 WAR.
And back to the replacement of the catcher, Cervelli and Chris Stewart have combined to post a 2.4 WAR which accounts for roughly half of Martin’s 2014 total. Nearly halfway through the 2015 season, the plan to replace Martin’s production has worked out rather well as the two players are costing the Pirates about $2.1 million this season.
If it isn’t already evident, the Pirates’ roster this season has already proven itself to be one of the most cost-effective in baseball.