Word of B.J. Upton signing with the Braves leaked sometime Wednesday, and a bit later the terms came to head: five years, $75.25 million. Essentially, a $15 million AAV for a guy whose OBP was under .300 last season.
Now I won’t pretend to say I don’t think Upton is a very good player; he is. But Upton was last an effective hitter (read: above-.335 wOBA) in 2008. And that was on the heels of an amazing 2007 that had people buzzing about him as a superstar. Who could blame them, as Upton hit .300/.386/.508 (.386 wOBA), exhibited stellar plate discipline, amassed 4.5 fWAR, and swiped 20-plus bags besides. That was in Upton’s age-22 season.
Since, Upton has had his finest season in 2008 (5.0 WAR) due in large part to stellar defense, excellent base-thievery, and what now appears to be aberrant whiff and walk rates. But from ’09 on, Upton’s best wOBA is .333 (’11), his best walk rate is 11.1 percent, and while his WARs have raged in the threes and fours, his defense has gone from very good to above-average.
In my view, Upton’s trending poorly. His strikeout rate in 2012 was 26.7 percent, which despite being only his third-worst ever, still doesn’t pair nicely with his 7.1 percent walk rate. His iso was nearly as good as his career year (with the stick) in ’07, but he also took advantage of excellent fly ball luck too. In fact, Upton’s batted-ball profile was almost exactly the same as it was in 2011, which obviously helped him pop five more home runs.
For comparison’s sake, via StatCorner, Upton is moving from the not-so-friendly confines of the Trop (91 HR park factor for RHH), to the even-less-friendly confines of Turner Field (85). Now year to year that can shake out plenty differently, and we could even see the parks completely flip-flop, but I don’t think there’s ample evidence available that he’s moving to a park that will boost his batted-ball tendencies.
Now I’m not saying Upton can’t be worth $15 million per; he pretty much has been his entire career. But since I’ve entirely buried my lede, why not compare him to Denard Span, a player whom the Twins are no doubt shopping.
In five full seasons, Span has accumulated 15.9 WAR, or about 3.6 WAR per 600 PA. Upton, on the other hand, checks in at 3.4. And this is nothing to say of contracts, as Span is only owed a maximum of $20.25 mill for the next three seasons ($11.75 mill minimum). Additionally, Span is almost a year younger.
And I understand the dynamic of a free agent signing versus a trade; you have to give to get in a trade.
But this is where the Braves luxurious pitching depth comes into play. The Twins — at least in my view — won’t be asking for more than one of your better arms. In fact, Wren could have dealt Julio Teheran/Randall Delgado and probably one more piece (for some reason, I’m seeing Tyler Pastornicky in my crystal ball), and that’d probably have gotten a deal done.
But Teheran?! I can hear Braves fans’ qualms already. But face it, a team would be buying low on Teheran, with the potential for him to bottom out altogether. He’s not the No. 4 prospect in baseball anymore; he’s probably closer to that in the Braves organization altogether. (For the record, I’d have pushed the Braves on Delgado. He looks like he could be that groundball/strikeout guy that teams gush over.)
And not signing Upton leaves the Braves with their first-round pick, or the added flexibility to add elsewhere. I see the caveats here, too. There are very few marquee free agents in this offseason market, and very few whom I would give up a first-round pick for.
I also don’t think B.J. Upton is one of those guys.
If the Twins are truly in the mix for Francisco Liriano, I say by all means go for it. Of course, there are a couple conditions. He’d have to sign for one year, or one year plus a team option. I’m thinking something between $5-7 million, with a built-in raise in the option.
Twins fans on 1500 suggested yesterday they’d want him back under no circumstances, or on a minor-league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Get real. Liriano may have been quasi-lousy last season, but the only pitcher of Liriano’s caliber who is settling for an invite this offseason is Jonathan Sanchez. His ERA looked more like the area code for a seedy hotline than an actual ERA in 2012.
Liriano is more valuable to a team this year than Scott Baker, and I firmly believe that. He might even be more valuable than Scott Feldman, and he wouldn’t have to be much better than he has the past few years to be better than Jeremy Guthrie. You’re better than this, Twins fans. If his name was Jorge de la Rosa, you’d be all over it.
For my other Twins bits, I posted a column yesterday at TwinkieTown. Check it out!