For many, the annual Bible of baseball prognostications is a 652 page ditty known as the Baseball Prospectus 2010. The thing is bigger than Mike D’Antoni’s ego. If this book had to fly commercially it would get charged for two seats (but unlike film director Kevin Smith, it wouldn’t complain on its Twitter account because it knows it’s that big).
But I read from this Bible every spring. And when first handed this year’s version I flipped right to Justin Upton; page 10, which goes something like this:
“Upton followed his rookie season – one in which he drew comparisons to a young Junior Griffey – with a yearlong coming out party that was remarkable, given that he is still carded at bars. Players just 21 years of age are deemed promising for an OPS in excess of 800 at the Double A level; Upton had one above 900 in ‘The Show’.”
The blurb then points out many of the players who have shown this kind of power at this young of an age. They are folks that maybe, just maybe, you’ve heard of before. ARod, Pujols, Williams, DiMaggio, Foxx, Robinson. The review is roughly akin to Roger Ebert gushing over Avatar.
So at first glance, giving Upton a 6 year deal worth more than $50 million (reportedly this is happening-by the time you read this it likely has happened) is a great move for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The ultimate “duh!” transaction. With apologies to the commercial that I hear constantly on our station, signing Upton is truly the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth. And for the most part, I am compelled to agree.
If you’re the D-backs you just limited the earning power of a player with limitless ability. Josh Byrnes eliminated all of his messy arbitration years and covered his first two years of free agency. Byrnes covets cost certainty and now, with his young superstar, he has it. Two years from now this could look like an absolute steal.
For Upton, it’s the ultimate insurance policy. What if he gets hurt? What if he under performs? It doesn’t matter anymore….he’s covered. Everybody wins, right?
Well, here’s three potential pitfalls that could turn the ultimate “duh!” transaction into the ultimate, Homer Simpson “doh!” transaction:
1. Track record. The D-backs have locked up young players before with mixed results. Brandon Webb gave you the most bang for your buck with his four year, $19.5 million deal. And I think Dan Haren’s four year deal worth just under $45 million (with a team option for a fifth year) has the potential to be just as good for the club- if not better- than Webb’s deal. But the team committed $42 million combined on Chris Snyder and Chris Young. Oops.
2. He gets hurt or even worse…..becomes content. You never know how guys are going to react when given a ton of guaranteed money. And yeah, I’m talking to you mister I-got-my-own-TV-show/somersaulting-in-the-outfield/.260-career-hitter/lead-the-free-world-in-infield-popups/fighting-to-be-a-4th-outfielder-in-Seattle/Eric Byrnes.
3. His instincts don’t improve. Notice I didn’t say defense. I said instincts. Every time I called out Upton on his poor defensive play last year I was gently lectured by some in the organization about his range and his arm, and how really, the sabermetric numbers prove he’s one of the best outfielders in baseball. Maybe he’s got the best tools among outfielders in baseball, but he doesn’t always use them the right way. Dropped balls, missed cutoff guys….at times a glaring lack of focus and concentration in right field and, other times, trying to do too much. Sometimes I think he lacks a real feel for the game – almost as if he’s always been able to out-talent everybody else on a baseball field and didn’t need to develop an instinct for the game. I dunno. Just a theory.
My guess is that two years from now Upton will be the best bargain in baseball and that Josh Byrnes will look like a genius for locking him up.