An Upton Trade Would Be Unique

This afternoon’s chat was dominated by one subject – Justin Upton trade speculation. Roughly 90 percent of the questions submitted were queries about what he’s worth, why the Diamondbacks would even want to trade him to begin with, and – most popularly – what it would take for a particular team to get him. In fact, I’d say that most of the questions asked today followed some kind of “would Propects A, B, and C get Upton to Team X” pattern. In general, my feeling was that almost every suggestion underestimated Upton’s value. Here’s why.

Because of the types of players that are usually traded, we’ve become accustomed to trades having a fairly specific kind of structure. Deals for a big name player now usually fall into one of three categories.

1. One (or sometimes two) year rental – a free-agent-to-be is traded for prospects.
2. Cost-saving move – a team with limited resources gets worse but saves money.
3. Change of scenery – perceived disappointment gets to start over in a new organization.

Matt Holliday? Rental. Mark Teixeira? Rental twice. Miguel Cabrera? Cost savings. Alex Rodriguez, Dan Haren, and J.D. Drew? Cost savings and change of scenery. Johan Santana, Cliff Lee (three times), CC Sabathia, Josh Beckett and Roy Halladay? All rentals.

Justin Upton doesn’t fit into any of those buckets. He’s signed through 2015 at a rate that is a fraction of his actual value. His 2010 wasn’t as good as his 2009 season, but it’s still impossible to label a guy who put up +7.7 WAR at age 21 and 22 a disappointment.

We just don’t really have many contemporary examples of a guy like Upton being moved at this stage in his career to base expected returns on. You never see teams trade guys like this – not this young, not this cheap, and not this good. Probably the closest thing I could find would be Roberto Alomar getting moved from San Diego to Toronto, and he was dealt (with Joe Carter) for two established All-Stars in their primes in Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez.

In the absence of truly comparable deals, however, it seems like the common perception is to assume that a Justin Upton deal would look like the other big name trades we normally see. Most of the offers that were suggested were based around a couple of pitching prospects of varying quality, maybe an alright major league player, and sometimes a throw-in or two – exactly the kinds of deals we’re used to seeing for rentals, cost savers, or change of scenery trades.

Those are great offers for Zack Greinke or Adrian Gonzalez. That’s the kind of package those teams will be looking for. For Upton, though, the price has to be significantly higher.

At the minimum, I’d imagine we can all agree he’d get at least $100 million for the next five years if he were a free agent this winter, or twice what he’s owed. I think he’d get more than that, personally, but even if we work off the lower figure, we’re looking at $50 million in surplus value.

If you take Victor Wang’s estimates of prospect value, that’s something like a top-10 hitting prospect and a top-10 pitching prospect for Upton. Or, to put that into current player terms, that’s something like Mike Moustakas and Mike Montgomery from the Royals, and that’s at the low end of Upton’s value.

If you’re not a fan of the Royals, your organization probably doesn’t have two of the top-10 prospects in the game to begin with. Kansas City can make a good offer with a couple of guys from their farm system – most other teams will have to add a pretty good Major League player along with their best prospect in order to seriously get into the discussion.

Justin Upton will not come cheap. If Arizona trades him, it won’t be for a similar package to what other normal trades look like. They’re going to get a serious haul.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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12 years ago

Great write-up Dave. I’ve frankly been amazed by the firm stances some commenters across the internet have stubbornly dug into, like Braves fans insisting Teheran and Freeman would be off-limits and still be able to make a package.

I’m also quite surprised the smoke didn’t seem to die off after the initial signal from yesterday and that trading Upton would be productive to the future plans of the DBacks, but that’s just me. It could get very interestiing.

12 years ago
Reply to  Rob

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