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Upton's deal is risky (but in a good way)

3/2/2010

In the wake of this news, Nick Piecoro checks a list of players to Justin Upton and is optimistic, but notes that even this contract isn't free of risk:

    He hasn’t been an MVP candidate yet. Nor has he stayed healthy for a full season. He hasn’t hit 30 home runs. He hasn’t ironed out his problems defensively in right field.

    These are the caveats to consider when looking at the six-year, approximately $50 million deal Upton and the Diamondbacks were nearing agreement on as of Tuesday afternoon. The deal will buy out all three of Upton's arbitration seasons (2011-13) and his first two years of free agency.

    Upton’s 2009 season came out to an 126 OPS+, a statistic that takes OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) and adjusts it for ballpark and league averages. It means that he was 26 percent better than league average.

    Before Hanley Ramirez signed his $70 million contract, he had posted a season with a 145 OPS+. Miguel Cabrera, who will make $74 million over the same six-year slice ... had a 151 OPS+ in his second full season. Ryan Braun, who signed for less guaranteed money at $45 million, had a 154 OPS+ as a rookie.

When you figure everything -- hitting, running, fielding, the whole thing -- Upton falls somewhere between Cabrera/Ramirez and Braun ... which lines up well with everyone's contracts.

But those other contracts are, in a sense, irrelevant. What the Diamondbacks had to figure was this: How much money would Upton make over the next six years, absent a long-term contract?

The answer is probably more than $51 million. A lot more, probably. I would guess somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million in the first four years, and another $35 million in the last two. That assumes that he continues to play well, but then so does paying him $51 million.

A deal like this accomplishes two things. It locks up a great young player at a reasonable cost and it relieves the organization from having to devote any brainpower to figuring out what Upton will cost and who's going to play right field.

This is essentially the best way that a baseball franchise can spend its money.