In a time when player salaries are increasing to ridiculous levels, what is Ted Williams’ 2017 market value?
Putting aside the three seasons Ted Williams missed (1943-1945) while flying combat missions for the Marines during WWII, it is likely that Williams’ salary would dwarf those of every other ballplayer on earth if he were playing today. In fact, they would be so far apart it is comical to think about. Considering his superior skill at the dish and how much better than every other batter he was, and still is—born and unborn, for, let’s go with eternity—that would be ok by me. It is fair to say Ted Williams’ 2017 market value would be nothing to sneeze at. General Managers around the league would most certainly feel that puckering sensation at the negotiation table.
For those unfamiliar with Major League Baseball’s rules on free agency, a player is only eligible to become a free agent after he has accrued six seasons of Major League service (or a full season in the bigs). He is also eligible for arbitration after three years of accrued service, but generally arbitration only awards a fraction of what a player can get on the open market.
Cleveland, get ready to pay Francisco Lindor in 2019. And above all, enjoy him while he is not in Yankee pinstripes!
Teddy the Bargain
Salaries in MLB are climbing as 36 ballplayers are set to make at least $20 million for the 2017 season. According to Spotrac, the game’s best pitcher and highest paid player, Clayton Kershaw will take home a cool $35.57 million this season. Considering Kershaw is only asked to play every fifth day it makes me ponder: What would Ted Williams, the finest hitter of all-time, be worth on the free agent market if his contract were up at the end of the 2017 season?
To put things into perspective, in 1942 Ted Williams made $30,000. Also in 1942, Ted Williams won his first of two career triple crowns, putting together a beastly (.356/37/137) campaign.
Just in case the significance is lost here, $30K adjusted for inflation works out to $451,875. Could you imagine paying a triple crown winner that type of dough in today’s extravagant world? There’s little doubt that Williams was probably the best bargain in baseball history at that price.
While you are thinking about that, think about this, Jason Heyward is making $28.16 million this season in Chicago.
Williams, at 23 years of age, surely would have won a landmark arbitration case after the conclusion of 1941. A season in which he plundered American League pitching to the tune of (.406/37/120).
Yes, the money Teddy would have been awarded in his arbitration settlement after his third season in the bigs would have undoubtedly been silly money. But it pales in comparison to the feeding frenzy hot stove season would have become in MLB once he became eligible to test the market. It would almost certainly be the biggest story in sports if it were unfolding right now.
Rise of Big Money Players
In an era of big money in sports, we have seen player salaries rocket skyward in the decades since Nolan Ryan became baseball’s first million-dollar man in 1980. What started with Ryan, baseball’s preeminent strikeout artist at the dawn of the 80’s, came to a close in November 1989 when Minnesota Twins legend and Hall of Famer, Kirby Puckett, put pen to paper becoming baseball’s first $3 million man.
On the heels of that 1989 transaction in Minnesota, Roger Clemens became the sport’s first $5 million player by the spring of 1991. And that’s when player salaries really shot through the roof.
By the end of the 90’s Kevin Brown (remember him?) was baseball’s leading money man, signing up to be the Dodgers’ ace after an improbable run to the 1998 World Series with San Diego. Brown’s contract made him the first $100 million dollar player, on a $15 million per season average.
While this did usher in an era where A-Rod was the highest paid player for the better part of a decade and a half, because of his back-loaded contract, what was happening in effect was the rest of the league was catching up.
The standard would rise again with Mike Trout’s contract extention in 2014 with the Angels making him the first $30 million dollar man. This club has since been joined by David Price, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
On a side note, this is the period we saw the introduction of the $5 million a year utility infielder. A damn good gig if you can swing it! But a bad one if you are David Stearns, the young GM of the Milwaukee Brewers.
One thing we can almost be certain about? Ted Williams could have never dreamed of the type of money that modern ballplayers are on and his 2017 market value would be off the charts.
Ted Willams’ 2017 Market Value
How can you even begin to quantify Ted Williams’ 2017 market value? Is it even possible to speculate? I would say we can reasonably assume based on the salaries we see in MLB currently (looking at you, Jason Heyward) that the salary due Ted Williams, if he were playing in front of Fenway’s Green Monster in 2017, would be astoundingly high.
The notoriously filthy Clayton Kershaw is the game’s highest paid star. Accounting for the fact that a starting pitcher in perfect health plays about 33 games a year, give or take, what is 150 games of Ted Williams worth? Clayton Kershaw is on $35 million a year. Or roughly a million dollars per start, but only if he has perfect health. If he misses time, like he has this year, his cost per start to the Dodgers increases dramatically.
Let’s drop Williams’ three lost years in his early 20’s, and just take 1947 as his true sixth season. Let’s realize that Williams at that point was coming off his second triple crown season (.343/32/114) in 1947.
Let’s realize that this is what you are paying for, (.352/28/125). That line is Williams’ six year statistical averages in the triple crown categories.
Still not impressed? The man had a .488 OBP in that stretch. That’s an average season, folks. Think about what kind of value you might put on a player that reaches base safely in nearly one of two plate appearances for six years! Not surprisingly, this mirrors his MLB record in career OBP (.482). What is the 2017 market value of a player that reaches base safely in just under half of all his plate appearances?
Teddy Ballgame was a one of a kind. And in today’s game, he easily becomes the first $50 million per season man, if not $60 million. I have absolutely no doubts about that.
“From our Haus to yours!”