MLB: How franchise tags can fix arbitration, save baseball

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark speaks during a press conference on youth initiatives hosted by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association at Citi Field before a game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 16, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Pirates 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark speaks during a press conference on youth initiatives hosted by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association at Citi Field before a game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 16, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Pirates 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

MLB Year 5: The WAR Based Franchise Tag

These days it’s hard to have a serious conversation about what an MLB player is worth without the talk turning to WAR, or Wins Above Replacement.

Tying arbitration more closely to this type of analysis has actually been discussed. Something that has seen pushback from the MLBPA, which prefers to keep salary negotiations focused on the disparity between payrolls and league revenues. But those discussions were focused on an individual player’s WAR solely determining their arbitration earnings.

This franchise tag, however, would be determined by what the average salary figure was of the five best players at the position league wide.

Now, the first four years of an MLB player’s career stay unchanged in this scenario. Three years of that minimum salary, one year of arbitration as it presently exists. Then things get interesting. Before continuing, let’s take a look at what that WAR based franchise tag salary would like.  Again, the tag value is driven by taking the average of the salaries earned by the top 5 in terms of WAR at each position. These figures were arrived at using a mix of the most recent salary figures available on Baseball Reference and/or 2022 arbitration projections from MLB Trade Rumors. Not a perfect science, but it does present a rough idea of what this would look like in practice.

Position/Average Salary Of Top 5 At Position In WAR

  • Catcher                        $ 13,033,355
  • First Base                   $ 16,200,000
  • Second Base              $ 12, 920,000
  • Third Base                  $ 13,275,000
  • Shortstop                   $14,642,000
  • Right Field                  $14,097,769
  • Centerfield                 $ 5,872,800
  • Left Field                    $ 8,751,400
  • Designated Hitter    $15,231,400
  • Relief Pitcher            $ 7,566,666
  • Starting Pitcher        $ 18,916,666

So if you play your fifth year under the WAR franchise tag, the above is what you’re making, regardless of whatever your individual WAR actually was. For example, let’s look at the WAR rankings for third base from 2021, picking two players who are entering that fifth year of service time. Yoan Moncada was worth significantly more WAR-wise than Matt Chapman last year, but both would earn the same $13,275,000 if they played 2022 under the tag (Moncada’s 2020 extension is being ignored for the sake of easy math here). So too would Brian Anderson of the Marlins, or Jeimer Candelario of the Tigers. Four years of service time in the books is all it takes to qualify.

Of course, the player’s team has to be willing to offer that tag. Four options would be on the table for every league GM: tag, extend, trade, release. If released, that player gets to enter free agency after just four years in the bigs. If tagged, then an even bigger payday could await in that sixth and final year of club control…