Who Has Been the Cubs’ Most Valuable Player Thus Far in 2015?

I often draw inspiration from conversations I have with others or that I observe from the safe distance afforded by Twitter. Given the incendiary nature of some this ping-pong-style discourse, I’m often thankful for the buffer. In any case, Jon Lester’s 7th-inning implosion on Saturday night brought to the surface the long-running soliloquy of the nature of his contract and whether or not he’s worth it.

First, let me say that no athlete is truly “worth” this kind of money if we’re having this conversation absent context. We do, however, have quite a well-established frame of reference for professional athletes’ values. And in a sport like baseball, where everything is quantified to the nth degree, it’s perhaps more possible to assign worth than in any other athletic enterprise.

I had actually looked at this very topic after the 2014 season, breaking down the most valuable Cub in terms of a made-up stat I referred to as RCC (relative cash created). You can dig into that post a little more if you like, but the basic concept is that WAR is worth money and a player’s relative value is derived by subtracting his actual salary from his theoretical worth. Pretty simple, huh?

I understand that many will still prefer to judge players with their eyes, and that’s fine. This is really just a fun little exercise I dove back into rather than wallow in the current four-game losing streak. That said, I’d like to review it again at the end of the season to see whether and how these numbers have changed.

For the purposes of my previous figures, I had used a calculation of $6 million for each win above replacement, but this time I’m going with FanGraphs’ estimate of $8.02 M per win. I suppose we could cuss and discuss the merit of such a figure and what all goes into it, but since the people who came up with it are much smarter than me, I chose to run with their numbers.

As a small note, I went with an even $500,000 for the rookie minimum despite the fact that it’s actually $507,500. I also factored in some signing-bonus figures to round out figures for a couple guys. In the end, I don’t think it made much impact. All values below are in millions of dollars.

Player WAR Value Salary RCC
Bryant 4.7  $37.7  $0.5  $37.2
Arrieta 4.9  $39.3  $3.6  $35.7
Rizzo 4.7  $37.7  $5.0  $32.7
Coghlan 2.9  $23.3  $2.5  $20.8
Hendricks 2.4  $19.3  $0.5  $18.8
Russell 1.9  $15.2  $0.5  $14.7
Lester 3.6  $28.9  $15  $13.9
Fowler 2.9  $23.3  $9.5  $13.8
Rondon 1.6  $12.8  $0.5  $12.3
Schwarber 1.4  $11.2  $0.5  $10.7
Grimm 1  $8.0  $0.5  $7.5
Hammel 2  $16.0  $10  $6.0
Montero 1.6  $12.8  $12  $0.8
Ross 0.3  $2.4  $2.5  $(0.1)
Castro -0.8  $(6.4)  $6.0  $(12.4)

As you can see, I sorted the players based on my RCC calculation, thus showing Kris Bryant as the Cubs’ most valuable player. If the season trends hold up though, I could see Jake Arrieta reclaiming his crown. You can see that I also bolded Lester’s total, which is pretty robust in spite of being the team’s highest-paid player. Weird, he really is worth that big contract. Miguel Montero, on the other hand, is barely making up for the big paycheck he draws.

Somewhat off-topic, but if you were watching Saturday’s Cubs/Dodgers game, you saw exactly why David Ross is behind the dish when Jon Lester starts. The combination of Lester’s inability to hold runners with Montero’s erratic throws allowed the Dodgers to steal bases with relative impunity.

It’s kinda sad to see Starlin Castro languishing down there at the bottom with that $12.4 million deficit, but I didn’t feel right just leaving him off the hook either. This is the kind of thing I look at when I think “club-friendly.” That contract might not be an albatross on the surface, but when you look at what he’s really doing for the team, Castro is a bigger anchor than Lester. David Ross, meanwhile, has been just about a break-even.

And for those who would question the wisdom of offering Dexter Fowler $15M/season, just check out the value he’s providing. Even with a $5M raise, he’d be providing the Cubs with a surplus. These numbers will shift pretty dramatically as these guys, particularly Jake Arrieta, start looking at extensions. You can’t really expect your ace to be the 3rd or 4th highest salary in the rotation for long, and Arrieta’s going to command big bucks at some point. Offsetting much of that for now is the series of league-minimum pacts under which several regulars are playing. That provides a great deal of flexibility for the front office.

So is this is a fair way to look at things? Maybe not from an on-the-field production point of view, but in terms of how the front office looks at where the payroll is going. What do you think? Was this a futile use of Excel and 20 minutes of looking up figures?

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