In 2010, Justin Upton and the Arizona Diamondbacks agreed to a six-year extension for just over $51 million. He was coming off an All-Star season in which he hit .300/.366/.532, and he was just 22. There was logic behind his decision. When someone offers you $51 million or a spin on the Wheel of Life for extra money, just take the money. The Wheel of Life ends with you dead. Every single time. And in between, there are heartaches and unexpected obstacles. Just take the money.
On the other hand, if Upton's agent were Scott Boras, he would have spun the wheel. Would have tied him to a chair and told him not to touch the wheel. And Upton would have entered free agency after the 2013 season as a 25-year-old coming off a 27-homer season. His overall numbers weren't that outstanding, but he still had the whiff of what-if about him. He was just two years removed from an MVP-caliber season, and he was the same age as a rookie, or even a prospect. Someone would have paid for the potential.
We have a much better idea of what he is now. He's probably Justin Upton. Limited defense with above-average power. He does a lot of things well, but nothing so well that he'll anchor a lineup and paper over its flaws. His lack of contact will limit him. And yet there's still that glimmer of hope that he's so much more than he's shown, that the tools promised with his first-overall selection will translate into in-game magic. He wasn't just a first-overall pick, mind you. He was a no-brainer, like Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, or Bryce Harper. He was a franchise talent.
He still could be, you know.
/slides contract across table
All you'll need to do is pay $100 million or more to figure out. Oh, and there will be an opt-out clause just in case he goes bonkers over the next three years, so you can't pay him with the idea that you're going to reap the rewards for a decade if he does figure it out. You'll get two or three years, maybe four, before Upton ditches you and your team for the Dodgers or Red Sox. Maybe he'll opt out the same year that Jason Heyward opts out and Bryce Harper hits free agency, and they can all fight crime together. That would be something, alright.
Until then, we have to figure out who will pay a premium for a good-not-great player with the potential to be great-not-good. Where will Justin Upton go?
The Giants could turn a deep lineup into a frightening lineup. All they need is a left fielder, perhaps one who could join their under-30 lineup core. Maybe one with power.
Alas, they're without extra cash after the Johnny Cueto deal, so we'll stick with the realistic teams. The Tigers just signed Jordan Zimmermann, and Mike Ilitch sat in front of a microphone at the press conference and said this:
I don't care. I spend money. I don't have a lot of time left. You hear me? Don't care if Selig sends his commissioner-bots to restrain me. I have my own security detail, and I give zero shits right now. Maybe we're not done yet, either, you know? I will fight you. I will drink the nectar of a championship and live forever.
That might not be a verbatim translation, but it's close enough. The Tigers could ape the Blue Jays' lineup of doom with Upton, just with a couple caveats. As long as Victor Martinez hits enough, a middle of the order with Miguel Cabrera, Martinezes, and Upton would be fantastic. That's with Ian Kinsler setting them up and some interesting young talent around that.
The Tigers really make a lot of sense. Except they have other options, and at some point they should probably stop giving out $100 million contracts. Doesn't seem entirely sustainable.
You know, nuts to this rank speculation. I'm going to make a table.
|Team||Obvious need for Upton?|
Those "no" teams are basically mystery teams. The A's could wake up tomorrow, trade Josh Reddick for four prospects and sign Upton just because. Never rule the "no" teams out. In fact, maybe rule them in. Fear the dumbest of mystery teams. The less sense they make, the better.
It gives you a pretty good sense of who might be interested in a nine-figure contract to a corner outfielder, though. Yup, they make sense, and so do those guys. About half of the teams in baseball could make an argument for Upton if you jimmy with their roster a little, but only seven teams are clear, unambiguous fits.
The Giants are one of them, but they just spent $220 million on pitching. They'll explore the lesser outfielders, and they have a couple internal options if everything else fails.
The Indians could sure use a Justin Upton, but they're on a restricted budget. If it were as simple as nabbing a power-hitting free agent, there wouldn't be so many trade rumors about their mini-Mets rotation, which they should probably build around. They aren't signing Justin Upton.
That leaves the Angels, Orioles, Royals, and Tigers as potential, reasonable fits. Except there's a twist. Along with Upton, there's Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon for a team looking to wet its beak with premium talent in a corner spot. That's four teams with three outfielders, and it's not like all four of those teams are givens to spend. The Orioles are still figuring out what to do with Chris Davis, the Tigers spent a large chunk of change on Jordan Zimmermann and traded for Cameron Maybin, and the Royals aren't a nine-figure sort of franchise, even after the World Series win.
So, what, do we dip into the mystery teams already? Not yet. The Angels are the likely team, a team in need of more offense -- is that a 24-year-old catcher scheduled to be in the middle of the lineup? -- Upton's relative youth pairs nicely with the current roster. They probably have the money, even though they're paying Josh Hamilton to play for a division rival, and they can upgrade a lineup that desperately needs the help.
The Angels' lineup is kind of janky, you know. They have the best player in the world, but it's a questionable rotation and lineup, at least compared to recent Angels rosters. An Upton deal would a lot of sense for their short-term and long-term needs.
Tigers. First, just imagine the Kate Upton/Justin Upton/Justin Verlander jokes. I mean, I can't think of any, but he's literally a combination of Justin Verlander and Kate Upton. Ha ha ha, can you imagine?
Okay, that's not funny at all, so we'll move back to the idea of need. The Tigers are a hitter away from turning a compelling lineup into a scary one, the kind of offense that could help a team succeed with an inconsistent rotation. The Angels need more than Upton. He would be the sundae, not the cherry, but there aren't any great ways to get them both.
Plus, we'll see what buttons and levers Arte Moreno fiddles with when he's in his late 80s. Until then, Ilitch wins this round.
Justin Upton, Tigers -- six years, $121 million
There will be an opt-out. You know how trendy baseball can be.
Previous free agent predictions, which are working on an oh-for offseason streak of magic: