Justin Upton LF/RF 08/25/87 (28) : Tigers for $132.75M over 6 years
Unlike many of the mega-deals we’ve been seeing lately this contract is not backloaded or deferring money years into the future. This is said to be a straight up $22.125 million annual contract with an opt-out clause after the 2nd year. The whole trend of opt-outs has fascinated me since Greinke utilized it and many more deals have been signed including one. It seems to me that they heavily favor the player so I’m not entirely sure why teams have been seemingly handing them out so easily. If the player performs at a high level or exceeds their current value they can make the easy decision to opt-out and get more money for more years. If they underperform they can stay with their current team knowing they won’t get that much money elsewhere. If Upton continues to perform he will certainly make the most out of his contract as he will be only 30 in two years. Teams may be hesitant to hand out 6+ year deals to players 32 and over but at 30 he should definitely be looking at another 6 year contract depending on the market.
Upton bolsters a Tigers team that was already solid offensively. If their rotation can perform up to potential they should be in contention for the AL Central. Despite the Royals leading the league in wins last season they’re much more middle of the pack than it seems(as I showed in my post about actual wins vs WAR). Currently all 5 teams in the division appear to have a shot and that division will likely be the hardest to predict. With Upton now in left field the Tigers are now in the middle of the pack for their division in predictions(as per some Fangraphs numbers and other various speculation).
Over the past 3 years Upton has been worth 3, 4 and 3.6 fWAR and his best season was in 2011 when he hit 31 home runs, stole 21 bases and was worth 6.3 fWAR at the age of 23. Upton is certainly a tremendous player but he’s never quite reached his potential. We’ve seen what he’s capable of in fairly lengthy instances but it seems he always averages back down to what he’s been over his career(which is still a great player don’t get me wrong now). For instance, in 2013 Upton finished April with 16 home runs, a .298 batting average and an OPS of 1.136. He went on to just hit 11 more home runs and finish with 27 home runs, a .263 average and an OPS .818. He hit 60% of his home runs in just one month, and while I obviously could never anticipate him keeping his April rate up for a full season, I think he’s shown that he can be a dynamic player that completely changes a team. His potential and talent place him in a class only Trout and Harper can really exceed, and I would love to see him at his peak. His highest OPS seasons were 2009 and 2011 at .899 and .898 respectively, and he was only 21 and 23 for those years. He’s in the prime of his career now and I see no indications that he’s not capable of another year with an OPS around .900 or even a year that exceeds all of his past campaigns.
Regardless of whether or not he reaches his peak, this deal is not just great for Upton, it’s a good value for the Tigers as well. As I’ve already stated, Upton brings the Tigers up a notch to where they have a good opportunity to make the playoffs which is certainly worth a lot. On the topic of worth, it has been calculated by many people that 1 WAR is between 6 and 7.5 million dollars(depending which contracts you include, whether you factor in draft compensation and other factors). I’m going to use 7 million as the value as it’s a nice round number that’s on the more accurate side in my opinion. For Upton to be worth his money he will have to put up 3.16 WAR a season on average. His last 3 seasons he has averaged 3.5 fWAR and 3.5 rWAR(although the two metrics do value his last 2 seasons very differently, it averages out conveniently) and being just 28 I see no reason why he can’t replicate his performance throughout his contract. He’ll be beginning the last year of this contract at the age of 33 and while regression can be reasonably expected for that year as well as the year before, he shouldn’t drop off drastically and overall should be able to finish averaging over 3 WAR a season. If Upton does end up exercising his opt-out clause it’ll most likely indicate that he outperformed his contract and in this case the Tigers will have certainly gotten their money’s worth. Of course if the market is strong enough and he performs at just around 3 WAR he could test out the market in search of another 6-7 year deal for similar money just for the extra guaranteed years. Overall this seems like a great deal for both parties involved, and I can’t wait to see if a move to the Tigers is what Upton needs to really hit his ceiling.
Chris Davis 1B 03/17/86 (29) : Orioles for $161 over 7 years
When the payment structure of this deal was announced the reaction was wildly mixed with some people praising the deal for both sides, and others comparing it with the Mets paying of Bobby Bonilla. The details are Davis is going to receive $17 million a year throughout the contract, followed by $3.5 million a year from 2023 until 2032, and then finally $1.4 million annually from 2033 through 2037. Yes, the Orioles will be paying Chris Davis every year for over 20 years but it’s not bad at all. Let’s address the comparison to Bonilla first. The reason the Mets deal with Bonilla is so bad is because of how it was designed and how much more they are paying him in total than he was set to earn. The Mets agreed to a $5.9M buyout of Bonilla but decided to not pay it upfront, and instead defer it years down the road letting it accumulate interest. In the end, the Mets will pay close to $30 million total which is around 5 times as much as they should have. Many fans hate it even more because the Mets have seemingly stopped spending money but for years they’ll still be paying Bonilla. While it’s a terrible move, in my opinion a little over a million dollars a year really shouldn’t have any significant impact over the decisions of the front office if any at all. The deferred payments in the Davis deal will not be adding on interest and as years pass and contracts continue to grow in dollar amount, I’m confident the Orioles won’t be feeling it too much. With inflation the $1.4 million in between 2033 and 2037 will probably seem almost negligible. In the meantime for $17 million a year Davis is a very fair price that gives the Orioles more flexibility when it comes to bringing in more players to build a contender. This is of course assuming Davis is the big slugger he’s advertised to be for years to come.
Had it not been for his abysmal 2014 season, Davis could have been looking at a much larger deal with all of the money upfront. As you probably recall, Davis’ offense all but disappeared that season and he finished with a .196 avg and an OPS of only .704. Not exactly big slugger numbers. Luckily for him, he found the same swing he had in 2013 when he exploded with 53 home runs and wound up totaling an MLB leading 47 in 2015. Between these two great seasons he averaged 6.2 fWAR and if Davis can be somewhat close to this for at least the majority of his contract he’ll easily make this contract beneficial for the Orioles. Using $7M as the standard cost for 1 WAR and the $17M a year that he’ll receive as he plays, Davis will have to total just 17 WAR throughout the contract to be worth it for the Orioles. If he performs at 2015 levels for just 3 years he’ll already be there. If he’s worth 1 or even 2 WAR less than 2015 it would still only take 4-5 years at that level. Of course who knows how his career will go? If I had to guess I’d assume he has a few good years as the slugger he is now and in retrospect people will think well of this deal, even if it sucks for a few years at the end.
Bringing back Chris Davis doesn’t make the Orioles a huge threat in the AL East as they still have multiple holes in their lineup, and they still lack any true front rotation starters. He does add an element of certainty for the near future which is important because the Orioles have only a few more years with Machado and Jones before they hit free agency. They’re a few moves and some breakout performances away from being a serious contender the next few years. They could surprise and contend deep into the year and maybe even squeeze a wild card, but as they stand now it’s not looking likely.
Ian Kennedy RHP 12/19/84 (31) : Royals for $70M over 5 years
A .8 fWAR pitcher is now set to bring in $14M for the next 5 years. That doesn’t make much sense does it? Well clearly the Royals think he’ll be worth much more than that, as does Kennedy seeing as he has an opt-out after the 2017 season. Now to his credit, he did have a 3.5 fWAR season in 2014. Despite this, it’s still hard to ignore that the year before that he was worth .6fWAR. The further you go back, the more you really just see how inconsistent he is. At his best, he’s certainly worth much more than $14M a year but who knows what you’re going to get with him? Over the course of the next few years I’d guess that he’ll have a couple of good years where he’s well worth the money and some mediocre seasons with a possibility of some downright poor years. It’s hard to say although I wouldn’t be surprised if he went out and had a 3 WAR season in 2016. I’d just be very surprised if he is able to be worth 2+ wins even just 4 years of this deal. As a whole this deal really isn’t that bad for the Royals, but it’s certainly not what many people expected. After the season Kennedy just had it seems as though a slightly higher annual pay over 2-3 years would have been more likely for him to receive but he certainly won out taking the financial security from the Royals. He’s also on the reigning World Series champions which I’m sure is a plus for anyone. We’ll just have to see if he can help them get there again this year.