Estimating the Cost of Undoing the Sandoval/Hanley Mistakes

This week we will be following up on our previous piece regarding Least Valuable Players. There we identified Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval as the two worst performers of the 2015 season. We are not fans of beating the proverbial dead horse, but given that this was just the first year of their respective contracts we were interested in figuring out just how bad these deals are shaping up for the Red Sox.  The short answer? It is bad. Like, Lucas Duda throwing to home in high-pressure situations bad.

As you might recall, during the 2015 season Sandoval accumulated a -2 WAR whilst Hanley finished up with a -1.8 WAR.  Even after that woeful start, the Red Sox are still on the hook for 5 more years and $89.4 million for Sandoval, and 4 years and a total $90.25 million for Hanley. Just let that sink in for a minute: 9 seasons of potentially below-replacement-level performance for $180 million. That makes the Barry Zito deal sound like a real steal.

For the sake of argument, they do not have to be that bad for the rest of the contract, do they? I mean, these guys were 3-win players just two seasons ago; maybe this was just a hiccup. Well, Steamer seems to partially agree with this logic and projects them to improve substantially. More precisely, it projects Sandoval to have 1.8 WAR and Hanley 2.2 WAR during 2016. Returning to these levels of performance is something, but is it enough to salvage these deals?

We replicate the player assessment analyses we used in our piece comparing offseason splurges in pitchers, just to figure out the net value of these deals.  We use Steamer’s 2016 projections as a starting point for WAR and then apply a player aging curve that goes as follows:  WAR increases annually by +0.25 for ages 18-27, stays flat for ages 28-30, decreases annually by -0.5 for ages 31-37 and lastly decreases annually by -0.75 for ages 38 and above. With regards to the market value of wins we start off at $8 million per win and we apply a 5% yearly inflation rate.

Pablo Sandoval
Year $/WAR ($MM) Age Total Salary ($MM) Projected WAR Estimated Value ($MM) Net Value ($MM)
2016 $8.00 30 $17.60 1.80 $14.40 -$3.20
2017 $8.40 31 $17.60 1.80 $15.12 -$2.48
2018 $8.82 32 $18.60 1.30 $11.47 -$7.13
2019 $9.26 33 $18.60 0.80 $7.41 -$11,19
2020 $9.73 34 $17.00 0.30 $2.92 -$14.08
Total     $89.40 6.00 $51.31 -$38.09


Hanley Ramirez
Year $/WAR ($MM) Age Total Salary ($MM) Projected WAR Estimated Value ($MM) Net Value ($MM)
2016 $8.00 32 $22.75 2.20 $17.60 -$5.15
2017 $8.40 33 $22.75 1.70 $14.28 -$8.47
2018 $8.82 34 $22.75 1.20 $10.58 -$12.17
2019 $9.26 35 $22.00 0.70 $6.48 -$15.52
Total     $90.25 5.80 $48.95 -$41.30


Even after considering the improvements suggested by Steamer, none of the 9 seasons controlled by the Red Sox would produce a net positive value, and overall the net loss of these deals comes at $79.4 million.

We ran the numbers, and in order for the Red Sox to recoup their investments, even after letting 2015 go down as a sunk cost, Sandoval would have to accrue 10.35 WAR for the rest of the contract (73% more than the projection), whilst Hanley would have to accumulate 10.56 WAR (82% more than the projection). This seems to be rather unlikely, especially when you consider that the Steamer projection already seems bullish, implying a 4 WAR improvement between seasons.

We wanted to test just how bullish this prediction is. We set out to find the past seasons most like the ones Sandoval and Hanley just endured and tried to identify how those players fared off the year after as well as for the rest of their careers.  We searched the last 30 seasons for players between the ages of 28 and 32, that produced a -1.5 WAR or worse in at least 400 PA, after accumulating at least 5 WAR in the previous two seasons. Namely, we were searching for players that had been performing at a high level, still in their prime or early phases of decline, which suddenly plummeted in performance.

Comparable rest of career outlook


Year of decline WAR two seasons before decline WAR year of decline WAR year after decline Change WAR rest of career after decline Seasons rest of career after decline

Average WAR per season rest of career

Richie Sexson



-1.5 -1.1 0.4 -1.1 1


Alvin Davis



-1.6 -0.1 1.5 -0.1 1


Allen Craig



-1.7 -0.9 0.8


Joe Carter



-2 4.6 6.6 6.9 8


Brian McRae



-2.5 0 0 0

Lo and behold the mother of small samples. We found just 5 players that met these requirements, 4 of them are already retired and one of them, well, one of them also plays for the Red Sox.  Out of these five players four of them improved after their decline season, the other one was out of the game. Out of the ones that improved, only one, Joe Carter, was able to meet the 4 WAR improvement inherent to the Steamer prediction, actually he was the only one that was better than replacement level after the decline season. So far Joe Carter has also been the only one able to play more than one season in the majors after the decline, with the jury still out on Allen Craig.

Just how good were Joe Carter’s first five seasons after the decline? Well he won back-to-back World Series with the Blue Jays, starred in one of the most memorable moments of baseball history and amassed a total of 9.4 WAR; a figure similar to what would be required for either Hanley or Sandoval to break even in their contracts. Just how bad is the alternative? Another season of negative WAR (-1 is the average for those not named Joe Carter) and 0 WAR from then on; a scenario like this would produce net value losses for the Red Sox close to $200 million or 150% more than what emanates from the Steamer scenario.

I know that we are dealing with extremely small sample sizes, but entertain this thought for a second. Let’s imagine that the above players represent the universe of possibilities and hence Pablo and Hanley each have a 20% chance of becoming Joe Carter and returning a net value of 0, that means breaking even and getting fair value for investment, and 80% of teetering off and producing a net loss of around $100 million.  Under that scenario the expected value of keeping both players comes somewhere at a net loss of $160 million over the life of the contracts. That is not necessarily crippling as it translates roughly to 3-4 lost wins per year, but these bad decisions can find a way to add up quickly.

Based on this, the Red Sox would certainly welcome another Dodger bailout, however this time around they might have to add additional value for a deal to go through. Moving forward the Red Sox might want to pursue one of three alternatives. First off, they might use that $160 million expected net loss value as an upper bound of how much they would be willing to send (in either money or player value) to another team as compensation for taking these contracts off their hands. Secondly, they could settle on the Steamer projection and set that upper bound on $80 million. Lastly, they could try to make the other team believers of the Joe Carter dream, and try to get away with not sending anything else, and even hoping to get something of value back in return, but this seems rather unlikely.  In theory by sending something (money or players) of less value than those upper bound figures to facilitate the deals they would be effectively cutting their losses.

With regards to the debate between sending some money or a player with value to make the deal work, it should be noted that $160 million in net player value over 5 years is something like Xander Bogaerts and a Top 25-50 prospect. Despite all the good will that recent deals have gained Dombrowski, there is no way Red Sox Nation would look kindly into giving up that kind of talent just to undo a mistake. The Red Sox are looking to become consistently competitive for the years to come and it does not make much sense to mortgage the team’s present and future by giving up so much controllable high-end talent. It may be time for the Red Sox to leverage their financial fortitude, bite the bullet, subsidize part of the contracts if need be, and move on.

Douglas is a Venezuelan baseball enthusiast. Background in economic development. You can read more of his work at:

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Owen S
8 years ago

“Even after that woeful start, the Red Sox are still on the hook for 5 more years and $89.4 million for Sandoval, and 4 years and a total $90.25 million for Hanley.”

$75M for Sandoval over 4 years. Not sure why you are guaranteeing the team option.

$66M for Hanley over 3 years. Not sure why you are guaranteeing the vesting option.

Also, in your LVP piece you said Trout was worth $72M. This was based on $8M/WAR, which is the speculated 2015 OFFseason price. The 2014 speculated offseason price, which is what you should have been looking at, was $7.5M.

The $72M was also based on his ~$6M salary. Really, you should have been looking at his AAV, which is ~$24M.

Still entertaining pieces, though.

Ben Cherington
8 years ago

The cost to me personally was not being given the chance to undo those mistakes. 🙁

8 years ago

Oh Ben! It all started out so well! There will always be the 2013 WS and a deep productive farm system, the crowning jewels of your tenure. These two signings and the back to back last place finishes spelled doom though. Thanks for the memories and enjoy the Ivy League!

Cory Settoon
8 years ago

One small variant, and there are 100 different ways this could go wrong or right, is that Hanley will be the presumed DH after this coming season. This may add to his value since he will not be handling a glove.

Another thing is that Joe Carter did have 3 good years after his -2.0 in 1990. He posted 4.6, 2.9, and 2.0, so there’s a slight chance for them. In the case of Hanley, there was a lot of injury speculation, and the majority of his negative value came from the glove.

8 years ago

Allen Craig only “improved” last year simply because he was shipped out to AAA before he could accumulate enough playing time to lose enough WAR to approach 2014’s figure. I’m so glad my Cardinals were able to dump that contract while also getting an incredible bargain of Lackey’s outstanding 2015 season at the MLB minimum.

Now, while his drop-off out of nowhere wasn’t anywhere bad enough to qualify for your list, I have no idea why the Cards thought it was a good idea to tender Brandon Moss a contract this offseason. If he doesn’t have a Carter-like rebound, he’ll be something like a $9M bench player in the mold of a left-handed Mark Reynolds! They’ve could’ve resigned the actual Mark Reynolds at a third of that price and formed an effective platoon between him and Matt Adams.

8 years ago

The thing to understand is that top payroll teams are not trying to extract value from their contracts; they are trying to find places to spend their excess funds. Think of it as a salary cap fantasy league where you have 3x the cap of most teams. You’d love to build a roster that generated net positive value (actual value minus cost), but the reality is you probably won’t be able to do so while choosing all top players.

I’m not saying these signings were the best the Red Sox could have done. But I am pointing out that any long-term veteran contract is going to project to be negative value — by design. Including those made by mid-market teams. The end of those contracts are always going to be negative projected value, and they implicit understanding is that they will be able to offload these players at that time to the Red Sox and Yankees of the world who do not care about costs. The only way this would not be the case is if baseball had a hard cap.