In the third installment of our exploration of current market value, we turn to Mr. Paul O’Neill. At this point in his life, O’Neill walks a tightrope between providing analysis on the hitting side and playing the role of YES class clown. In a lot of ways, he fills the Keith Hernandez role better than Keith does – or at least, is less cringeworthy while doing so.
Before we get started here, I’d like to remind everyone this is a hypothetical thought exercise. I am not actually advocating for the Yankees to sign current 55-year old Paul O’Neill to play baseball. You would think this goes without saying, but my email inbox would argue differently. Now then…
In his younger days, Paulie was a key member of the Yankees’ return to relevance. After spending the beginning of his career with the Cinncinati Reds, more or less his hometown team, O’Neill was traded to the Bronx prior to the 1993 season. He had a crazy six-season stretch at the beginning of his tenure with the Yankees, working a 140 OPS+ and 22.1 bWAR through his age 30 to 36 years. Effectively, O’Neill was Bryce Harper in pinstripes before age took its toll starting in 1999, although he stuck around as a regular long enough to be a part of all four World Series winning teams.
What makes O’Neill so interesting for the purpose of this series is that he had such a career shift after his trade. In Cincinnati, he had dabbled with good performance but wasn’t anything spectacular, with a 110 OPS+ as a Red, accumulating 12.2 bWAR in parts of eight seasons. Funnily enough, under the current CBA, he would have become a free agent immediately before his trade to the Yankees, so we have a very clear cutoff of time to evaluate what his market value would be.
As before, I ran a Play Index search for similar players, ranked for age and emphasis on more recent players:
It’s not a great list. Billy Butler, Lyle Overbay, Aubrey Huff and Maicer Izturis all had fine careers and made plenty of money in a relative sense, but none of them are particularly notable in the history of their generation of baseball. The four averaged just over $6,000,000 in annual earnings of their major contracts, and it presents a really interesting baseline for O’Neill in our hypothetical world.
None of the four best comps for O’Neill went on to have success after signing their deals. Combined over the length of their careers, they accrued 15.4 bWAR with a 92.43 OPS+, and there was just one truly elite season in the entire combined set, Aubrey Huff’s 142 OPS+ in 2010. Compare that to O’Neill’s numbers above, and the YES broadcaster was 143% more valuable and 150% a better hitter after a hypothetical free agency!
In short, if O’Neill were available along the lines of the term and value we see above, it would be one of the greatest steals in recent free agency memory. If we assume that he would sign for $6.5 million a year or so through his Yankee prime, he would have produced a ludicrous $148,850,000 in surplus value! A contract like the ones his comps received, if O’Neill’s career was exactly the same, would be as valuable to a team as any contract in baseball.
So we’ve worked our way through the YES broadcast booth, covering Ken Singleton, David Cone and now Paul O’Neill. Coney would have yielded the best contract, but O’Neill almost certainly the most surplus value:
With the big YES names done, is there anyone else in Yankee history we should evaluate against the current market? Let us know down below!