When the Diamondbacks traded Justin Upton to Atlanta last week, the reaction was mostly negative, and was mostly centered around the idea that Arizona traded three years of a young star for a one year rental and some marginal prospects. However, from Arizona’s perspective, they weren’t acquiring one year of Martin Prado; they were acquiring the rights to sign Martin Prado to a long term contract, and they just announced that they’ve done just that.
The four year deal is worth $40 million, according to Ken Rosenthal, and will cover his final season of arbitration eligibility and three years of free agency. He was already set to make approximately $7 million in 2013 — he had asked for $7.05 million, while Atlanta had countered at $6.65 million — so this can essentially be seen as a three year, $33 million extension that covers 2014 through 2016.
Considering what other similar players got in free agency this winter, 3/33 for Prado has a pretty good chance of working out decently for Arizona.
As we discussed in last week’s trade post, Prado is something like a +3 win player right now, and even though his contact-and-defense skillset is not as highly valued in the market as dingers-and-ribbies, the price for quality players who get value from these kinds of skills has been going up in recent years.
They might not have the same body type or athletic abilities, but overall, they had amazingly similar peaks, generating value through putting the bat on the ball, racking up a lot of non-HR extra base hits, and playing better defense than their reputations suggested. Of course, Victorino’s age 28 season happened back in 2009, so we can’t simply equate his numbers from then to the contract he got as a free agent this winter, coming off his age 31 season. But, the Diamondbacks should look at Victorino as an optimistic reference point for this deal for two reasons:
1. Victorino was better from 29-31 than he was from 26-28, putting up a 109 wRC+ and +13 WAR, as opposed to the 107 wRC+ and +12 WAR from his supposed “peak years”.
2. Victorino signed a three year, $39 million contract covering his age 32-34 seasons despite coming off a down year. In other words, the market — or at least, the Red Sox — valued this particular set of skills enough that Prado’s unlikely to be an albatross a year from now even if he takes a significant step backwards in 2013.
Victorino’s not just a single outlier either. Angel Pagan is another player of similar overall talents, mixing high contact and doubles rates with better defense than he’s given credit for, and he got 4/40 for his age 31-34 seasons. Michael Cuddyer, a player with a significantly worse version of this skillset, got 3/32 for his age 33-35 seasons last winter. The market has spoken, and it will pay something close to this price for the decline years of high contact/gap power players with some defensive value.
Of course, all those deals were signed in free agency, when the ability to lure multiple bidders into the picture could drive up prices. Prado’s signing his deal a year out from free agency, transferring risk of injury and performance variation from himself to the Diamondbacks, so Arizona should get a discount on those free agent years for agreeing to sign him before he’s eligible for free agency. If Victorino and Pagan set the market at around $40 million for three or four years for similarly talented players, is $33 million a big enough discount to justify the extension now?
I think it is. If we assume that the price of a win over the next three off-seasons will average $6 million apiece (maybe going $5.5, $6.0, and $6.5, or something like that), then $33 million over three years is essentially paying for +5.5 WAR over the life of the deal. That means that Prado would need to produce at roughly +1.8 WAR per season to justify the deal from a market price perspective. Since he’s getting the deal a year early, he probably needs to produce more like +2 WAR per season from age 30-32 in order to justify the extension.
And, given what we know about Prado, that’s probably about right. If we estimate him as about a +3 win player for 2013, then knock him down half a win for aging in each subsequent season, you’d have him as a +2.5 win player in 2014, a +2.0 win player in 2015, and a +1.5 win player in 2016. In other words, you’d expect something like +6 WAR during that stretch, or +2 WAR per season – pretty much exactly in line with what the contract expects.
The extension isn’t some kind of massive bargain, as Prado was unlikely to land a huge contract even if he had another big season; just ask Nick Swisher how good the market is for corner guys who don’t hit a ton of home runs and are looking for $100 million deals, after all. But, given what we know about Prado and what we can guess about his future, the D’Backs got a pretty fair price for the extension.
That brings up the question of how this news should factor into the discussion of the Justin Upton trade. There’s a school of thought among some writers I respect — such as Keith Law — that acquire-and-sign deals need to be looked at as two separate transactions, with the player’s guaranteed level of team control being the only factor considered in the trade analysis. I simply disagree with that mentality, and think that we can’t separate out decisions that were clearly made with the intention of agreeing to a longer term deal. The D’Backs never intended to acquire one year of Martin Prado, and we shouldn’t treat the Upton trade as if that was ever a realistic outcome.
So, are the Diamondbacks better off now than they were before they made the trade? Let’s look at the ledger.
2013: Justin Upton ($9.8 million), Chris Johnson ($2.3 million)
2014: Justin Upton ($14.3 million)
2015: Justin Upton ($14.3 million)
2016: Some unknown possibility of extending Justin Upton or receiving draft pick compensation
2013: Martin Prado ($7 million), Randall Delgado ($500K), prospects
2014: Martin Prado ($11 million), Randall Delgado ($500K), prospects
2015: Martin Prado ($11 million), Randall Delgado (arb-1?), ?
2016: Martin Prado ($11 million), Randall Delgado (arb-2>), ?
For 2013, it’s probably a wash. Upton and Prado aren’t so different in total value that it can’t be overcome by swapping out the mediocre Johnson for potentially useful Delgado, and they picked up a few prospects/trade chips in the deal as well. For 2014, things probably start to swing slightly towards the Braves direction, as Upton should get better while Prado should get worse, though Delgado, the other prospects or players those prospects could be used to acquire, and the salary differences will even out some of that gap.
By 2015, this is probably a pretty big advantage for Atlanta, as Upton should theoretically be in his prime while Prado will likely be an average starter. If Delgado has turned into something good, he’ll start to cost money, as he’d likely qualify as a Super Two at that point. If he hasn’t turned into anything good, he’d likely still be cheap for 2015, but cheap and bad isn’t a great value either.
And then, there’s 2016. If you have some affinity for the prospects that Arizona acquired and happen to think that the relationship between Upton and the D’Backs wasn’t ever going to result in another long term deal between them, then that final season is probably an advantage for Arizona. They turn a walk-year into a still decent role player at a not terrible salary and some extra stuff they’ll still have in the organization. It’s not a huge win, but the 2016 D’Backs are probably better off with Prado and the collection of players they got from Atlanta than they would be letting Upton walk for draft picks, or attempting to convince him to re-sign with an organization that didn’t treat him very well earlier in his career.
Overall, I don’t see a lot of evidence that the trade moved the needle for Arizona much at all. They turned a good player into a slightly less good player, and for that exchange, they acquired some other things of value and saved a bit of money. They also ended a soap opera that needed ending –albeit one they created themselves, which I’m not defending in the slightest — and realigned their roster for 2013 to be able to capture more value from the other pieces they already had in place.
I agree with the sentiment that Justin Upton is a better player than Martin Prado. I know that there’s an idealistic scenario out there where the Diamondbacks could have had both, simply keping Upton for 2013 and then signing Prado as a free agent over the winter. However, I don’t know that a scenario like that would be realistic, given the dynamic that existed between Upton and the front office, and that scenario ignores that Arizona is better off with Prado at third and their outfield uncrowded for 2013 than they were with Upton in right field and an Eric Chavez/Chris Johnson platoon at third base.
Which brings me back to the same conclusion I made a week ago when the trade was announced. Arizona basically swapped some future value for some present value, but when you look at what they already have in place, that’s not such a terrible idea, as they have the ability to contend for the NL West title in 2013. And, with a fair extension for Prado on the books, the future value differences aren’t nearly as large as they were originally made out to be. I still like this trade for Atlanta, since they weren’t going near a long term deal for Prado, but I think this deal works for Arizona too. Upton to Prado isn’t so large a downgrade over the next few years that the additional factors in the deal can’t make up for the gap.
To me, this trade still reads like a win-win. And given that the extension was pretty clearly in the plan at the time of the trade, this contract has to be considered part of the trade from Arizona’s perspective. With four years of Martin Prado in the fold, the D’Backs actually did okay while trading away Justin Upton.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.