Let’s say Jacque Pernod (not a real dude), the poutine king of Quebec, put up a billion dollars in order to get a new Montreal Expos franchise on the docket for the 2018 MLB season. Well, that’s too much money to turn down, so baseball makes room for a 31st team. However, it’s too late for an expansion draft, so commissioner Rob Manfred says, “Well, Jacque, you’re going to have to make do with the guys currently not under contract.”
That would leave Pernod to construct his first roster for the new Expos in a fashion very different from the way the old Expos teams were built: through expensive free-agent contracts. But we know one thing about about baseball’s newest spendthrift owner: He has bottomless pockets. So he says, “Oui! Vive les Expos!”
With budgetary concerns out the window, Pernod can outbid every team in the marketplace for baseball’s remaining free agents. But how would that team look?
Over at FanGraphs, they keep a running tab on the WAR projections across baseball and adjust them every time a move is made. One thing that jumps out at you right now is that there is more projected WAR left in this winter’s free-agent glacier than there is on the teams holding baseball’s top 2018 projections:
2018 projected WAR:
Free agents: 67.6
Could Pernod really construct baseball’s best team just by buying up the best remaining free agents on the marketplace? Frankly, it seems unlikely. On the face of it, you’d think that composite projected WAR total would in reality simply be a product of the quantity of remaining free agents, not the quality, with the list lacking the kind of real difference-makers you need on a championship squad.
Let’s test that notion by constructing the best possible team from the pool of remaining free agents. We’ll build a full 25-man roster because, as we know, the Expos’ new patron spares no expense. By the way, we’ll be putting the nouveau Expos in the National League, where they belong.
The projected WAR figures noted below are from the Steamer projections at FanGraphs, though some have been tweaked so as to not overshoot realistic team-level benchmarks for plate appearances or innings pitched. Also, Pernod firmly believes in a roster of 13 position players and 12 pitchers, so that’s what we’re going with here. A couple of bullpen spots are reserved for swing guys.
(* means bats/throws left; # means bats both)
C: Jonathan Lucroy, 2.3 projected WAR
1B: Eric Hosmer*, 2.6
2B: Neil Walker#, 2.6
SS: Jose Reyes#, 0.9
3B: Mike Moustakas*, 2.7
LF: Jay Bruce*, 1.0
CF: Lorenzo Cain, 3.3
RF: J.D. Martinez, 2.5
C: Alex Avila*, 1.3
1B/3B: Todd Frazier, 2.1
UTY: Eduardo Nunez, 1.6
OF: Jarrod Dyson*, 1.4
OF: Carlos Gomez, 1.1
(Total hitter WAR: 25.4, tied for seventh in MLB)
Yu Darvish, 3.6
Jake Arrieta, 2.7
Jaime Garcia*, 2.2
Alex Cobb, 1.7
Lance Lynn, 1.3
Jason Vargas*, 1.2
Greg Holland, 0.6
Addison Reed, 0.3
Tony Watson*, 0.2
Matt Albers, 0.4
Francisco Liriano*, 0.6
Trevor Cahill, 0.4
(Total pitcher WAR: 15.2, 13th in baseball)
Total projected WAR: 40.6, 10th in baseball
Not bad! An instant playoff contender for the long-suffering fans of Montreal, all for the outrageous price of a team built entirely on one winter’s free-agent market.
Of course … it’s never so simple. Teams need many more players than this to get through a season, and to get an aggregate replacement-level performance from those unseen roster-fillers is a big ask. Also, these are free agents: This is a roster laden with downside, injury risk, minimal athleticism and a questionable defensive profile.
Nevertheless, this much is true: As the calendar flips to 2018, there are a lot of potential wins out there, stuck in free-agent limbo. More than enough wins to — at least marginally — shake up the 2018 pecking order of teams. Pernod’s hopes for instant-contender status for his Expos may have ended in dissatisfaction. But for some teams, there will be excitement ahead generated by some of these productive veterans who are patiently waiting out the tedious winter market.