According to Ken Rosenthal, the Dbacks are close to inking Justin Upton to a 6 year deal in the 50 million dollar range. More to follow, I'm sure. Steve Gilbert confirmed on twitter that the Dbacks are close on making the deal with Upton, which may be announced as early as tomorrow. [Thanks also to Blair Rocket for the first info!]
After the jump, we'll review Upton's career to date, and see if this looks like a good deal
To go back over some history, Justin Upton was the #1 choice in the 2005 draft and, looking at the numbers, has been the most successful first pick, probably since Joe Mauer in 2001. Little more than two years after being picked, Upton arrived in the majors, playing his first game for the Diamondbacks on August 2nd, 2007, at the age of 19 - the youngest player to appear in the National League since Wilson Betemit for the Braves in 2001. He also became the first teenager to homer in the majors since Adrian Beltre did it (curiously, against Arizona) in April 1999 - the only player to do it in the AL was his brother, BJ, in August 2004.
Upton played in 43 games that year, but gave little sign of what was to come, hitting .221 with two home-runs. The next season was a signifcant improvement on that. Despite missing most of July and August, due to a strained oblique muscle in his left side, Upton still homered fifteen times, including a monster shot on July 6th against San Diego, estimated at 484 foot in length. He ended the year with a thoroughly respectable 106 OPS+, the result of a .250/.363/.453 line. To put that into perspective, only A-Rod and Ken Griffey Jr. have had a higher OPS+ by a 20-year old player in the past two decades (min 400+ PAs).
But, wait! There's more! If you liked Upton's 2008, you'd love his 2009. As noted last week, he had the highest OPS+ in franchise history by any outfielder not named Luis Gonzalez (again, min 400 PAs). Upton batted .300 for the season, along with 26 home-runs and 86 driven in, joining Dan Haren on the National League All-Star team in July. Again, his overall OPS+ (126) was remarkable given his young age, being surpassed among 21-year olds by only Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Griffey in the previous 25 seasons. And Upton also swiped 20 bases, something none of those three did.
Which brings us to this off-season. Today's news comes as something of a surprise; while there had been rumblings about a contract extension previously, the general opinion was that negotiations with Mark Reynolds were a great deal more advanced. Less than two weeks ago, Upton said not much more than a vague "They've expressed that they want to do something, and I've said I'm interested." From there, it appears that discussions have proceeded smoothly, with the formal annoucement now set for Tucson tomorrow.
I'll get into more details on the economics, once we have the full contract data, but given that Fangraphs recently said, "Maybe a five-year, $58 million deal would get the job done," this sounds like a very good deal from the Diamondbacks' point of view. Especially as the sixth year should be at or near Upton's peak age - paying only an extra couple of million for that would be extremely sweet indeed. Even the restrained PECOTA projections, which don't seem to have been updated to include his 2009 performance, project Upton at producing 4.1-4.5 WARP per season for the next six years. Generally, one WARP is valued at about $4.5 million. UIpton's projected total over the live of the contract is 25.4 WARP. You do the math.
Even if we compare the numbers to those of similar players, it seems remarkably cheap - though, as noted above, "comparable players" to Upton are few and far between. You're looking at superstars like Hanley Ramirez, whose deal was worth $70 million over six years (albeit a couple of seasons later in his career than Upton) and David Wright, who signed a $67.5m contract for six years, including the $16m club option in the final season. Again, he was somewhat older, being aged 23 at the point when the deal was agreed. Still, there's nothing there to suggest this was other than good value for Arizona.
There seems little doubt about Upton's talent - unlike some of the players we have extended, he has produced numbers at every level which are impeccable for his age. Talent-wise, he's probably about as close to a sure-fire thing as can be imagined, and it's a delight to think that he'll be playing here in Arizona for the next six seasons. I bet you sales of Uptonmabilia will surge significantly as a result, in the expectation that they will no longer be all retro and out of date after 2013.
However, there are inevitably some doubts. Nick Piecoro mentions some of these, in particular that the likes of Ramirez and Cabrera had already posted better seasons than Upton has yet managed, at the time they signed their contracts. There's also the disappointing career trajectory of Justin's brother, who followed up his monstrous age-22 season in 2007 (OPS+ 136) with years of 108 and 79 OPS+ - here's hoping the same thing doesn't happen with J-Up. And then there's the similar kinds injuries which have sent him to the DL and limited his playing time both the last two years.
That said, his potential is certainly Hall of Fame caliber, with enormous upside, and if he performs anything like close to expectations, and stays healthy, this should be a good deal for the team, providing cost certainty and production at a cost well below league average.