Justin Upton managed to avoid the free agent market this offseason by signing an extension with the Angels at the literal first opportunity following the World Series. It turns out there’s a reason he was in no rush to spend the rest of his fall and winter negotiating, and it was the way he was treated on free agency the last time he was there
Upton, speaking to Pedro Moura at The Athletic, detailed how the days of teams courting free agents are over, replaced by what is basically front offices calling players to tell them they’re not any good at baseball and that’s why they should sign for these smaller deals.
Teams want to call and downgrade you as much as they possibly can to sign you for cheaper. That’s not what free agency is about. Free agency is about finding a team that matches you. It’s weird. I remember, when my brother was a free agent, he went and visited teams. This was before ’13, three seasons before I was a free agent. He met with teams at their stadiums. They put him on their scoreboard. They were courting players. Now, all of the sudden, you’re telling players how bad they are and how little money you’re gonna give them. It’s not right.
Upton went on to explain that, following a season in which he hit despite Petco Park’s limitations, capping a five-year run where he posted a 126 OPS+, he had “somewhere between seven and 10 teams” call him to offer a one-year deal when he hit free agency.
Upton says the sabermetrics has a lot to do with this, and makes sure to point out he doesn’t mean that as a negative — put down your torches and pitchforks, nerds, they’re not needed here. But it’s more that front offices have figured out exactly what they want to spend in large part due to how sabermetrics have influenced their thinking, and they’re not willing to move off of their prices and actually seek a player out like they used to.
Or, as Upton put it: “There’s no piece of paper with, ‘Do you love me? Yes or No?’ written on it being slid your way. It’s like, ‘I’m going to prom if you’re going.’”
This isn’t even exactly new — the only thing “new” about it, historically, is just how unsubtly cutthroat the teams are being about it, maybe — but it’s fascinating to see Upton discussing it, especially given how this offseason has gone for many free agents and Upton’s immediate decision not to partake in free agency this time around. Give the whole interview a read.
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