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St. Louis Cardinals free agent signings: GM John Mozeliak has been value shopping so far this offseason

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After two disappointing free agent signings in a row (in 2012 and 2013), it appears John Mozeliak has done a little better shopping for value so far this offseason.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

So far this offseason, John Mozeliak has completed a blockbuster trade (netting Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden), swapped minor leaguers with the Mariners (landing Ty Kelly), and has signed three free agents to big league contracts. On November 11th, the Cardinals signed middle infielder Dean Anna for presumably the league minimum. On December 2nd, right-handed reliever Matt Belisle agreed to terms on a one year, $3.5 million deal. Nine days later, as winter meetings were coming to a close, they signed right-handed power bat Mark Reynolds for one year, $2 million.

The reported Belisle and Reynolds contracts consist of base salaries with various incentives attached to playing time accrued in 2015. I will not go into the price of these, though, because if either player maxes out on said incentives, the value provided to the Cardinals will be worth more than the dollar amount added to the respective players' paychecks. After signing Ty Wigginton to an unnecessary two-year, $5 million deal back in 2012 and Mark Ellis to a one-year, $5.25 million deal in 2013, on paper, it appears Mozeliak has figured out how to land a free agent at the right price in 2014.

If comparing sheer dollar amounts, Mozeliak has basically added two players (Belisle, Reynolds) in 2014 for the price of one (Ellis) in 2013. This already seems like a value added as one could reasonably project that, combined, these two players will be worth more than -0.4 fWAR in 2015. However, I am not here to judge Mozeliak's signing of Ellis as I praised the acquisition back when it was reported roughly one year ago. Of course, it didn't end up working out, but it happens. That's the nature of the free agent market. Thus, let's take a look at the value of the Belisle and Reynolds signings compared to other free agent signings that have already taken place this offseason.

Up-to-date free agent signings per MLB Trade Rumors 2014-2015 Free Agent Tracker:

Relief pitchers

Player Contract (AAV) 3-year average fWAR
David Robertson (CWS) 4 years, $46 million ($11.5 MM) 1.7
Andrew Miller (NYY) 4 years, $36 million ($9 MM) 1.1
Justin Masterson (BOS) 1 year, $9.5 million 1.9
Pat Neshek (HOU) 2 years, $12.5 million ($6.25 MM) 0.5
Luke Gregerson (HOU) 3 years, $18.5 million ($6.17 MM) 0.8
Zach Duke (CWS) 3 years, $15 million ($5 MM) 0.5
Chris Capuano (NYY) 1 year, $5 million 1.4
Jason Motte (CHC) 1 year, $4.5 million 0.6
Matt Belisle (STL) 1 year, $3.5 million 1.3

For comparative purposes, I added up the AAVs and 3-year average fWARs of the eight relief pitchers that signed more expensive free agent deals than Belisle. The purpose of this process was to provide a very rough measure of dollars spent by opposing ball clubs per one fWAR ($/fWAR). Well, by AAV, the eight relievers will be making $56.92 million in 2015 and have been worth 8.5 fWAR when looking at their 3-year average. Thus, using this rough estimate, teams have spent $6.7 million per one fWAR on these relievers. Using this information, Mozeliak essentially "got his man" for half the market price.

For those wondering, I included Masterson with relievers because I believe the Red Sox are one deal (either signing Max Scherzer or a trade), one bad spring training, or one re-injury away from bumping "Masty" out of the rotation. Plus, given the success he had in 2012 and 2013, his inclusion actually helps lower the $/fWAR of free agent relievers. If you believe Masterson is due for a comeback in 2015 and choose to exclude him, teams are spending $7.2 million per one fWAR ($47.42 million, 6.6 fWAR).

Editor's Note: I realize I could have used 2015 Steamer Projections instead of 3-year average fWAR, but I will admit I'm not much of a fan of that projection system. Given the fact that Dan Szymborski's ZiPS aren't publicly available for every team just yet (thanks to catapults, mysterui, and brackenbox, we will see the Cardinals sooner this offseason), I went with the next best option, in my opinion of course.

Position players

Player Contract (AAV) 3-year average fWAR
Hanley Ramirez (BOS) 4 years, $88 million ($22 MM) 3.8
Pablo Sandoval (BOS) 5 years, $95 million ($19 MM) 2.6
Nelson Cruz (SEA) 4 years, $58 million ($14.5 MM) 2.2
Melky Cabrera (CWS) 3 years, $42 million ($14 MM) 2.1
Chase Headley (NYY) 4 years, $52 million ($13 MM) 5.1
Adam LaRoche (CWS) 2 years, $25 million ($12.5 MM) 1.8
Nick Markakis (ATL) 4 years, $44 million ($11 MM) 1.4
Alex Rios (KC) 1 year, $11 million 2.5
Michael Cuddyer (NYM) 2 years, $21 million ($10.5 MM) 1.5
Torii Hunter (MIN) 1 year, $10.5 million 2.7
Billy Butler (OAK) 3 years, $30 million ($10 MM) 1.4
Kendrys Morales (KC) 2 years, $17 million ($8.5 MM) 0.5
Michael Morse (MIA) 2 years, $16 million ($8 MM) -0.2
Jed Lowrie (HOU) 3 years, $26 million ($7.67 MM) 2.6
Alberto Callaspo (ATL) 1 year, $3 million 0.8
Chris Young (NYY) 1 year, $2.5 million 1.1
Mark Reynolds (STL) 1 year, $2 million 0.6

I used the same process with position players as I did with relief pitchers and came up with a total AAV of $177.67 million and a total 3-year average fWAR of 31.9. This translates to roughly $5.6 million spent per one fWAR. Thus, yet again, Mozeliak found a value—acquiring Reynolds for roughly one third of the price being spent on the free agent market thus far.

Some players worth noting are Cuddyer, Butler, and Morse. In a way, all three could have been seen as a "fit" for the Cardinals in 2015, with Morse and Cuddyer being much more likely due to their relative abilities to play both first base and the outfield. Both Cuddyer and Morse received two year deals despite not providing all that much in terms of fWAR over the last three seasons. Thus, signing a bench bat to a one-year, $2 million deal is much more palatable, before even including a $/fWAR comparison.

Cardinals acquisitions as a whole

Player 2015 Contract (*Projected)
J. Heyward $8.3 million
M. Belisle $3.5 million
J. Walden $3 million*
M. Reynolds $2 million
D. Anna $510,000*
T. Kelly $510,000*
Total $17.82 million*

Disregarding dollar amounts completely, the thing I like most about this table is the fact that they are all currently one-year deals. One-year deals, especially involving relief pitchers, are a thing of beauty in baseball because of the variance in performance from year-to-year. If, for whatever reason, neither player performs up to the Cardinals' standards, they can cut ties without having to endure a long-term financial hit. Now, if Mozeliak wants to address a possible extension with the first player listed in this table, then by all means, have at it because I personally think it would be wise of him to do so. However, I'm not getting my hopes up as I don't believe it is in Heyward's best interest, at the age of 25, to sign an extension prior to a contract year—especially given the dollar amounts being thrown around this offseason.

The fact that Mozeliak, in today's market, has been able to add six players for a grand total of less than $18 million is rather impressive. For entertainment and discussion purposes, how would you grade Mozeliak's offseason performance thus far? Provide your answer in the poll below.