Justin Upton’s Trade Value

Yesterday, the Arizona Diamondbacks got an offer for Justin Upton that they would say yes to, as the Seattle Mariners reportedly agreed to ship Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush, and Stephen Pryor to the D’Backs in exchange for their young right fielder. Today, Justin Upton is still a Diamondback, because he used his limited no-trade clause to block the deal, as Seattle is one of four teams he can’t be traded to without his consent.

In the aftermath of the news, sentiment seemed to coalesce around the idea that the Mariners were significantly overpaying for Upton. For instance:

A front office friend of mine shared a similar sentiment, suggesting that giving up Walker and Franklin was too much for Upton. Arizona clearly preferred this deal to the other offers that they have received, going forward with this negotiation even though they knew Upton had the right to veto the deal. If the offers were similar from other clubs, then logic suggests that they would have taken the path of least resistance, and simply picked a deal that Upton couldn’t have scuttled. So, were the Mariners overpaying for Upton, or is Arizona now likely to have to settle for a discounted deal from a team that isn’t on Upton’s no-trade list?

Clearly, there’s a line at which a prospect’s value surpasses that of a big league player, even if that prospect hasn’t yet achieved success in the big leagues. I was strongly against the Wil Myers trade for the Royals, for instance, even though acquiring James Shields makes them better in the short term. Prospects-for-veteran deals have to be a balance, weighing the long term value associated with the expected production of cost controlled players against the present value of a guy who is already producing at the big league level, but likely comes with fewer years of team control and a higher cost in terms of salary.

Generally, this analysis is done through the lens of surplus value – how much more will each player produce than what you would expect to be able to purchase with the cost he’s going to require? For a player like Upton, this isn’t super difficult, and we did just such a post on him a few years ago, when trade rumors around him started gaining traction. At that point, we estimated that Upton was worth something like $70 to $100 million in surplus value, but that was with five years remaining on his contract, including the two cheapest years. Clearly, Upton is less valuable now, though interestingly, his 2011-2012 total performance of +9 WAR is essentially right in line with what we projected two years ago, so I don’t know that his future on field expectations should be perceived much differently now.

But, because his most recent year is also his worst, let’s just downgrade his projection slightly, and treat him as a +4 win player in 2013, with small improvements going forward as he gets closer to his peak years. A +4.0/+4.5/+5.0 WAR estimate for the next three years would give us +13.5 WAR; if you think the price of a win is around $5 to $6 million now and increasing somewhat as new TV money flows into MLB, then that would put Upton’s total value at around $75 to $80 million over the next three seasons. Given what Josh Hamilton — a +4 win outfielder in his thirties, with more injury questions, and similar concerns about how much of his performance was due to his home park — got this winter, I think that might even be a little low, but since we’re just focusing on the next three years, let’s call it $75 million in value, giving Upton the same AAV as Hamilton.

Since he’s due $39 million in salary over the next three years, that puts his surplus value at around $36 million. You’d then want to adjust that up slightly to account for some chance of re-signing him to a contract extension or getting draft pick compensation if he left as a free agent, so let’s just round up to $40 million. None of these numbers are based on precise calculations, so just understand that we’re working in generalities. $40 million is a close enough figure, not an exact answer, and if you want to pick any number between $30 and $50 million, you could probably make a solid case for it. The point is, his value is somewhere that range.

So, what is ~$40 million worth in terms of prospects? That’s the trickier part.

Victor Wang has the most often cited work on prospect valuation, but his study came back in 2008, and the economics of the game have changed a bit since then. Last year, there were a few different efforts to update his methodology, using slightly different numbers and years to run the calculations, and they came to slightly different conclusions, though a lot of the same points held in both, including the definite need to understand that pitching prospects aren’t as valuable as hitting prospects, even if they’re rated similarly. Prospect evaluators haven’t properly accounted for the risks associated with pitching prospects, and so a top 10 hitting prospect is simply a more valuable asset than a top 10 pitching prospect, even if both are ranked in the same spot in the top 10.

So, what’s the surplus value of the players the D’Backs were getting from the Mariners? Taijuan Walker is generally accepted as a top 15 prospect, and probably will end up towards the back end of the top 10 on some lists, as Mike Newman called him “the second best pitching prospect in baseball”. Franklin is more of a middle of the top 100 guy, and Newman notes that he is “not an impact talent”, though he has a pretty high floor as a middle infielder with some power. For ease of calculations, let’s treat Walker as the #10 prospect and Franklin as the #50 prospect in baseball.

Using Kevin Creagh’s methodology, that would put Walker in the top group of pitching prospects, and Franklin in the third group of hitting prospects, but both would take up the very last spot in their respective groups. Using the overall group averages ($27 million in surplus value for Walker, $18 million for Franklin) would overstate their own individual value a bit, since they are both straddling the line between tiers, so if we knock 10% off the values Creagh came up with, we’d up with… $41 million. Funny how that works out.

Michael Valencius’ method gives a bit more value to prospects since he doesn’t account for the time value aspect of prospect performance and uses lower arbitration salary figures, but it’s also worth looking at, since we don’t know exactly what the discount rate for future WAR is for each team, and you could argue that a likely non-contender like the Mariners shouldn’t be applying a big one right now. He’s got Walker worth $44 million by himself, and Franklin worth another $20 million, so his methodology would agree with the large overpay estimate, even before you calculate in the two relievers also going to Arizona in the deal.

I think you do need to apply a discount rate to future value, and I think Valencius’ system likely understates the future costs of a prospect who develops into a star, so I lean more towards Creagh’s numbers, but there’s no reason to pay attention to just one and not the other. That one system thinks the deal is fair (again, not considering the value of the two relievers, because, well, they’re relievers, so it’s not going to change the calculation too terribly much) and the other thinks its an overpay does suggest that, at the minimum, Arizona was doing well in this deal, and this is probably the best they were going to get for Upton. Other teams are less likely to put up a similar offer, especially if the most aggressive bidder is out of the running due to Upton’s no-trade list.

But, at the same time, I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence to support the notion that this offer was such a large overpay that Upton’s rejection will “save Zduriencik’s job”, as Rosenthal’s source claimed. The attrition rate of pitching prospects is absurdly high, and there’s still a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that pitching prospects, as a group, are overrated. Even the best pitching prospects flame out 60% of the time. Trading Taijuan Walker is not the same thing as trading Wil Myers, even if both are highly rated prospects.

And, the Mariners calculations also has to include the their own situation, as a team in a cool weather city on the west coast who plays in a park that has been one of the most pitcher friendly in baseball since it opened. Convincing free agent hitters to come play in Safeco is a more challenging sell than convincing pitchers to come to the northwest, so the Mariners strategy of overpaying for a hitter and offsetting that by finding value on the pitching side of things is likely a more efficient way to build a roster.

Surplus value calculations also have to be weighed against the actual opportunity cost, not just a hypothetical one. In January, with most of the impact free agents off the market, having $20 million in available spending money doesn’t do you as much good, since there aren’t as many ways to effectively spend that kind of money and get a good return. Teams shouldn’t just ignore efficient spending at the end of the winter, but if the choice is to slightly overpay or to simply not spend any money at all, the second option might lead to a more efficient payroll but fewer overall wins. And wins are the name of the game, not $/WAR maximization. Efficiency is a tool to be used to maximize the amount of wins you can buy, not an excuse to not buy wins in the first place.

Was Jack Zduriencik desperate for a hitter? Maybe, maybe not. Offering up a top ten pitching prospect, a top 50 hitting prospect, and a couple of relievers for a 25-year-old +4 win player who is making half of his market value for the next three years isn’t anywhere close to the same kind of overpay as other deals we’ve seen in the last few years. It was a good deal for Arizona, but Upton’s worth something close to that kind of package. Now, it may be up to Texas, Atlanta, or some other interested party to see if they can put together a similar offer.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


113 Responses to “Justin Upton’s Trade Value”

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  1. Steven says:

    Trade Kevin Towers to anywhere he doesn’t have a NTC blocking him from going to.

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    • Alex says:

      You just read an article about how the Mariners likely were overpaying for Upton (though not as much as accused of) and you’re saying to trade the DBacks’ gm anywhere? Um, what? Towers is a fine gm, even if he does like to gamble and make a ton of moves

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      • Paul says:

        The point was that he has attempted to trade Upton to 2 of the 4 teams that he has a no trade clause for. Seattle and the Cubs. Seems strange to me.

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  2. MrKnowNothing says:

    “as he gets closer to his peak years”

    That’s the craziest thing about Upton: in theory, he hasn’t reached his peak.

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    • Antonio bananas says:

      He hasn’t even reached his prime yet. As in, he should have 4-5 years in a row better than any year he’s already had.

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      • jpg says:

        That’s simply not the case. Player don’t always develop and progress in a linear fashion. By that logic, Angel Berroa would be a perennial All-Star and Chris Cohglan would have won an MVP by now since they both won ROY. Upton may have or may not have peaked already. Some guys peak early. Some late. Look at Hanley Ramirez. Do you think his best years are still ahead of him?

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      • SKob says:

        And think what he can do if he’s not pissed at his ownership group!

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      • SKob says:

        @jpg – hahahahaha. Did you just pretend Chris Coghlan was ever a top prospect with actual potential. hahahaha.

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      • jpg says:

        @SKob He won the Rookie of the Year. If he Who cares if he was a top prospect or not. Based on the false assumption that he was lock to improve every year, he would be better now than he was his rookie year, which was clearly pretty good considering he won the RoY. Instead he’s struggling to stay on the big league roster. The point I’m making, which apparently flew way over your head, is that no player is a mortal lock to be better at 27 then he was at 26 or a 25 or 24.

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      • JamesDaBear says:

        Can we agree that the side of the former #1 draft pick and already All-Star is going to look less like a fool in this discussion?

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      • Balthazar says:

        As this deal stood, it was an overpay by the Ms. Whether it became a gross overpay would have depended upon how well the prospects turned out. There is _nothing_ certain about Justin Upton’s future performance. Hence, nearly all of the risk assumed in the final grade out was taken on by the Mariners. I don’t think this is all Jack Z. ‘trying to save his job;’ rather, there is great pressure from ownership in my view to acquire a ‘star player’ they can work their marketing mumbleshow around and try to backstop the plunging value of the franchise: Jack is likely under orders to acquire a star by any means necessary.

        There is an assumption in the post that because a) young pitchers are risky that b) _these_ young pitchers can’t be valued at projection (even though one of them is not a prospect but established), and therefore should be handled at a discount, and of less concern if dealt. While the potential of injury risk is real and documented, one is giving up a LOT of projection. It strikes me here as it has all year that Franklin’s bat is being seriously undersold as well. The point being, with a lot of projection going one needs something of _certain_ value coming back.

        And certain value is exactly what Justin Upton is _not_. He isn’t ‘a 4 win player.’ His value has bounced around from 2.5 to 6 in no trending pattern. His walk rate has been excellent to god. His defence has been plus to subpar. His K rates have gone steadily down from way high to just high. His ISO has fluctuated radically, reportedly depending upon whether or not he is heavily pulling the ball; in short, to have superior power, he must pull. His present organization is dumping him for widely reported personality conflicts, and attitude influenced mediocre performance; call it perception, but that is the perception of those who deal with him. Yes, normally one would project a player of Justin Upton’s service time and age to peak in the next three years. A somewhat improved contact rate is the only support for that contention for him, while the red flags of high variability year to year, poor performance outside of his hitter’s paradise, the need to pull to realize superior power, and concerns with attitude are all red flags undercutting that projection.

        Let’s be clear: Justin Upton is a HUGE risk as far as projecting performance. Once can all but count on getting at least one 2.5 win season in the next three. Maybe one gets a 6 win season. The other is likely to be in between and to the low side. That is the history. I have no idea what the outcome will be, but I’d take the under on Upton’s projection. In which case the offered package is a major overpay.

        Could the Ms afford to deal that package. If it’s Stanton or McCutcheon, it seems a fair offer for ceiling and sustained achievement. For Upton, it would have been a massive gamble with absolutely everything having to break the Ms way to pay off. And things usually don’t break your way like that. I’m very glad this flail of a deal didn’t go down. Personally, I’d bet on the prospects to easily exceed Upton’s value going forward, but then the Ms need a good outfielder now, so that would have been a reason to pay in a sane deal. This one wasn’t.

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        No, we simply can’t agree on something like that. Because bottom line, jpg is right. We just don’t know whether Justin Upton is heading into his prime, or has already reached it, or won’t reach it for many years. Yeah, I don’t know that bringing up Angel Berroa or Chris Cohglan is really helping make his point, but his premise holds true.

        One thing you will find, is that pretty much any player that has been well above average, no matter what age or in what stage of their career, doesn’t have a whole lot of expectation of improving in the future. Some do, but others don’t. Some even regress. Justin Upton could blossom into a superstar, which wouldn’t surprise me in the least, but he’s got almost as much chance of falling back to just a regular player, or even tanking altogether. While I think you could expect a player like Justin Upton to improve going forward, I wouldn’t expect that improvement to amount to a whole lot. He’s probably already very much the player he’s going to be in the future.

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      • FJ says:

        There is _nothing_ certain about Justin Upton’s future performance. Hence, nearly all of the risk assumed in the final grade out was taken on by the Mariners.

        This is a ridiculous statement.

        Justin Upton’s future performance is much less riskier than the risk of Taijuan Walker suffering some career-ending/worsening injury.

        You have a floor right of 2.5 WAR/season for Upton. Walker could easily be 0 WAR. Heck, even Franklin isn’t even a lock to contribute in the majors (cf. Smoak). And relievers also have a riskiness which is higher than starters because of the small sample size.

        I think the deal was pretty fair on both sides from a talent AND risk perspective.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        The other thing that affected his power was the fact that he couldn’t properly grip a bat because of a thumb injury. Look at his stats after August 25, when his thumb felt good enough to play without a protective pad:

        http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=uptonju01&t=b&year=&share=0.01#696-731-sum:batting_gamelogs

        He went straight back to being The Justin Upton.

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      • Synovia says:

        “You have a floor right of 2.5 WAR/season for Upton. ”

        No, you don’t.

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    • Joshua says:

      What if the Upton brothers just peak early?

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    • Alex says:

      I wouldn’t say that that’s necessarily crazy. When we talk about a player’s peak, were usually talking about his 4th or 5th year in the league, correct? “Peak” is not solely related to age. Upton has been in the league for many years already. It’s insane to think that, just because he turns 27, he’s going to become a monster.

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  3. TheOneWhoKnocks says:

    I thought it was an underwhelming package. Franklin isn’t a great prospect, Walker is an elite prospect but he’s far from the majors and struggled at double a. The other 2 guys are just relievers. First they traded Bauer for Gregorious (gross) and now they trade upton(after taking 3 years of offers for him) I’d hate to be a dback fan

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    • Average_Casey says:

      Walked was the youngest player in AA. He really didn’t struggle that much. I think you may want to read what the prospect guys say about him. Personally, as a Seattle fan, I was really happy the deal fell through because I’m not an Upton fan and I don’t think he was worth Walker alone.

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      • JohnQ says:

        So he’s a less polished Edwin Jackson circa 2003?

        And that alone is too much for Justin Upton?

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      • Jeff says:

        It would be insane not to trade Upton for Walker straight up. What are the chances Walker is ever going to give the M’s 2-3 years of 4-5 WAR? Very slim.

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  4. Tomcat says:

    So would the Shields package have been equivalent? Would it have been a good trade for KC to offer it for Upton?

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    • jB4s7 says:

      In terms of needs, no. Both teams have/had a surplus of outfielders.

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      • chuckb says:

        KC has Jeff Francouer in rf. They may think they have a surplus of outfielders, but they most assuredly do not.

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        The reason KC doesn’t have a surplus of outfielder is they included their best outfielder in the TB trade.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        @ chuckb: Dyson/Francouer platoon would actually provide decent value and the Royals tried it last year, but injuries prevented it from going on long.

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  5. Josh says:

    Very much agree. I think that looks like a fair deal. Are baseball teams overvaluing prospects now, or are Franklin and Walker just maybe seen as better by some than the consensus

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  6. ThundaPC says:

    On the other hand, I’m very much okay with what the Mariners offered being considered an “overpay” for Justin Upton if it means the Miami Marlins want to take a shot at “fleecing” the Mariners with Giancarlo Stanton!

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  7. Jon E says:

    Dave……Castellanos, Porcello, Villarreal, Marte for Upton. Is this package from Detroit in the same area as Seattle’s? Or less valuable? Should Detroit do a deal like this if AZ was willing?

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    • Spike says:

      what value could Porcello have to a team already with oodles of SPing?

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      • Will says:

        Well the original trade was built around getting a SP in return…

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      • Joe says:

        The original trade was built around getting one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, not a groundballer who even struggles at that role. I think if Arizona bit on that the Tigers should do it in a heartbeat, but that would be more than foolish for the D-Backs to consider for even a second.

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      • tommy says:

        “a groundballer who even struggles at that role”

        In fairness to Porcello, he gets a lot of GBs (53%), but he’s terribly unlucky (.344 BABIP in 2012). Put him on a team where 1B and 3B aren’t manned by Easter Island statues, and he should see some improvement.

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  8. Jonathan says:

    Excellent article Dave. Very well written.

    I’m personally man-crushing on Walker. I’ll own it. He’s awesome and so I hope this trade dies. Their present rotation will need the help anyway.

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  9. jdbolick says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Interesting take, as I actually feel like Arizona would have been foolish to take only that. Nick Franklin will be an average regular at absolute best. His prospect status is still largely based on one huge season in high A, which we’ve seen a lot before from prospects who failed to match the hype. His defense would probably be a negative at shortstop as well. I still like him, but not as a main piece for a superstar.

    Then Taijuan Walker is the most insanely over-hyped minor leaguer in the world. His fastball is nice, but no more so than a lot of other top pitching prospects. The curve looks great at times and soft at others, while his change is a work in progress. I simply don’t get the craze to annoint him as an elite pitching prospect like Bundy. He doesn’t have the same level of “stuff” or the same level of production. His strikeout rate in AA was solid but not exceptional (remember that pitchers don’t get extra credit for age like hitters), and his control is just average.

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    • Spike says:

      I tend to agree with this.

      To me, a deal centered around Mike Olt seems like the most obvious fit, assuming that Texas actually has interest in Upton.

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      • jdbolick says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Are you a Rangers fan, by chance? I guess Mike Olt has more upside than Franklin, but also a lower floor, as his swing and miss tendencies make me pessimistic about his future. Even if Taijuan Walker is overhyped, he’s still a much better prospect than Olt.

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      • Ivan Grushenko says:

        Why do say Walker is “much better” than Olt? If Walker is the #10 prospect and Olt is around #20, they seem to have about the same value based on positional difference. You’d have to either like Walker more than the consensus or Olt less to think Walker is “much better” than Olt.

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      • JamesDaBear says:

        Mike Olt is only as high as #20 because of his positional difference. If the Mariners gave up Walker for Mike Olt, they’d deserve to be drawn and quartered by their fans.

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    • edgar4evar says:

      If Franklin is an average regular he’ll probably create as much total WAR by himself as Upton will. It will just be spread out over six seasons instead of three.

      The reason I’m ok with the Mariners trading Franklin along with Walker is that the Mariners have organizational strength at second base where Franklin is likely to land.

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      • jdbolick says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        It’s possible, but I think you’re under-selling Upton and over-selling Franklin. Above average talent and especially potential star talent is a fairly rare commodity. Throw in Justin’s reasonable contract and he is a pretty attractive player.

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      • wobatus says:

        I agree as far as dealing from depth, with Ackley already there and Miller coming up, but I would prefer 3 years of a guy averaging say 4.5 than 6 of a guy averaging 3.

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      • Radivel says:

        If James Loney is an average regular, he’ll probably create as much total WAR as Barry Bonds will. It will just be spread across his entire career instead of 2003.

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    • Klatz says:

      Why don’t you take age into consideration for pitchers? A part of Walker’s value comes from being the youngest or near youngest pitcher at each minor league stop. In a vacuum Walker’s production is good but what really adds value is his youth, projectability, stuff, and rawness. He played basketball mostly in high school and therefore doesn’t have much experience.

      So add up youth+stuff+inexperience+production you get one of the best pitch prospects. Of course he could fail like many prospects do but success at AA often considered one of the biggest signs for future MLB success.

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      • jdbolick says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Klatz, pitchers generally don’t have a steady rise, peak, and decline the way that hitters do, which is why young pitchers can be at their best in their first few seasons. In the aggregate they also don’t have an age progression the way hitters do where posting .xxx/.yyy/.zzz at age 20 in AA is so much more impressive than at 23. I don’t know the reasons why, but statistically it doesn’t seem to matter nearly as much for pitchers. It doesn’t matter if they’re dominating at 19 or 21, the only relevance to future success is what level they’re succeeding at.

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      • BIP says:

        Actually, the linked studies suggest that age relative to league is MORE important for pitchers than for hitters.

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      • jdbolick says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        You have that backwards.

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    • philosofool says:

      I think you’re underestimating Franklin’s ceiling. He made it all the way to AAA at the age of 21, set the Midwest league home run record, and has been an above average hitter at almost every level while being age appropriate or a little young, all while playing a premium position. While his projection isn’t his ceiling, his ceiling is easily above 3 WAR. Newman said he’d stick at short, and if you can play an average short stop while hitting at a league average level, you’re a good major league player.

      I’m not saying Franklin is a future all star. Probably he averages 2 WAR in his years with the M’s. But his ceiling is higher than that.

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      • jeromesdome says:

        This. Franklin’s season last year was excellent. Holding his AAA numbers against him is absurd. He killed AA as a youngster, and actually did well as the year went on in AAA, then had a great Fall League.

        His ceiling would have been excellent in AZ.

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      • jdbolick says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        I own Franklin in a keeper league, so I’d be happy if you’re correct, but I see him as a guy who you have to stick at short because of the bat rather than him being a natural fit there. Yes, he can stay at the position but that doesn’t make him value neutral defensively. His power hasn’t been in evidence aside from that one season, while his contact rates are not exceptional. He’s probably a ~.270 hitter with 10-15 home runs, something that does have value, but not a ton. Basically, I think it would be fair to call him a slightly better Zack Cozart.

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    • Killua says:

      Nick Franklin, average regular at best? The number of 21 year old, AAA level shortstops who crushed AA pitching are count-able on one finger.

      It’s funny you call Taijuan Walker over-hyped, then proceed to anoint Dylan Bundy as having elite stuff, when Bundy’s stats in AA are a joke compared to Walker’s despite being only a few months younger.

      Bundy: 7 K/9, 4 BB/9, age 19.6
      Walker: 8.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, age 19.8

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      • BSLJeffLong says:

        Here’s the thing about both guys…

        Talking about the numbers guys put up in the minors is pointless because you have no context. For example, Dylan Bundy is not allowed to throw his best pitch (Cutter). If Dylan were allowed to throw it, he’d have put up silly numbers throughout all of his stops in the minors. Additionally Dylan has been told to work on various offspeed pitches focusing on changes or curves almost exclusively in some games.

        My assumption would be that Walker is under similar restraints from an instruction standpoint, so saying “here’s his k/9 and bb/9 in xx innings at AA, LOL overhyped!?!?” is kind of silly.

        Also, Bundy threw 16 innings in AA compared to 125+ for Walker, so I’m going to call small sample size on your comparison too.

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      • jdbolick says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        By all accounts Bundy has a better fastball, better secondary pitches, and better command. I have yet to understand what differentiates Taijuan Walker from the other nice pitching prospects in the minor leagues aside from youth and the perception that his inexperience means he’ll magically keep getting better. I’m not saying he’s a bum, as I do like him more than Hultzen, but the hype train on Walker is completely out of control.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        Walker is also an insane athlete with a lot of projection, both of which scouts love.

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    • pointsette says:

      Franklin overvalued? Where is that coming from? And why the ‘he’s blocked at 2nd’ comment? He is a middle infielder – he had a concussion last year and was sick. You must think the kid is superman so how dare he not outperform his 2010 A ball where he broke a 49 year hr record and was the first of three guys to be a 20/20. Don’t you read anything?

      What? MVP at Rising Stars game and a .322 average that came down from .600 after he got hit in the face last year isn’t good enough for you?

      He tore it up in AA this year as a switch hitter – broke his toe and still outperformed. Batted .400 the month of May before getting called up.

      There I have updated you just a little. Don’t make absurd statements unless you are willing to look up the facts.

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  10. Jason says:

    Lookout Landing only came up with $20M in surplus value.

    http://www.lookoutlanding.com/2013/1/10/3847918/justin-uptons-surplus-value

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    • Matt says:

      The primary difference in projecting surplus value is that in the Lookout Landing article, they note that his 2009-2012 average war was “in the 3.5-4.0 win range” (when he was averaging 4.2 wins over that time), and then projecting him for 11.5 wins (~3.8 wins per year) for the next three years. They also don’t take potential inflation with the new TV deal, and value a win at $5 million (instead of $6 million).

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  11. kid says:

    Given that the rate of pitching prospect flameouts is sky high, I don’t think it’s enough of a package for Upton. Justin was in the NL MVP discussion as recently as 2011. Granted, he’s running out of time to be able to lean on the “he’s young, he’ll still get better” excuse; at some point we’ll simply have to accept that he’s a good-to-very good player, rather than a perennial MVP candidate. Still, players with his skills don’t grow on trees.

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  12. phoenix2042 says:

    Can’t blame Upton for rejecting this. Leaving the only team he’s ever played for, which has a good home park for hitters, and is not an awful team for the last place team (until the Astros arrive to fight them for the title)in a strong division, which also plays in one of, if not the, worst hitter’s parks in the majors. I would instantly reject it too, unless the Mariners were offering a $150MM extension once he arrived.

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  13. Paul Clarke says:

    A few things that push this more to the overpay side:

    1) The Pirates Prospects guys were using $5m/WAR. If you’re going to use $5-$6m and increasing for Upton then you need to increase the dollar value of prospects as well.

    2) While Franklin and Walker are obviously the main pieces, Furbush and Pryor aren’t without value either.

    3) As a non-contender, wins are less valuable to the Mariners in 2013.

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  14. Antonio bananas says:

    When evaluating prospects wouldn’t you want to put some kind of risk coefficient next to the projected amount? Pitchers have roughly a 33% chance of reaching their supposed potential, so maybe .33X + .33Y + .33Z where you do bust, moderate, and success levels would be the best estimation. We adjust for injury rates with existing ML players, why not prospects?

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    • Eric R says:

      That is already part of the prospect evaluation. Franklin had $27M in surplus value above because there is some chance he becomes an elite player with >$100M in surplus value and some chance that he’ll flame out and be worth <$10M.

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  15. kid says:

    The DBacks just completed a deal where they traded away surplus SP for a MI… and then they accepted a deal where they’d get back more SP and another MI?

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  16. Jaker says:

    Great article. I only wonder where this leaves Arizona. If it was a ploy to set his market value, I’m not sure how successful it was. It certainly showed what one team was willing to pay but it also made it painfully obvious that the Diamondbacks and Upton have arrived at an impasse. I can’t help but think that this gives other GMs far more leverage moving forward.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Yes, if Towers trades Upton for a package perceived as less valuable than this one, he’ll be thought of as the guy who sold Upton cheap. I’m not sure what the point of publicizing this was for Arizona.

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      • chuckb says:

        If Arizona were the ones who made this public, my guess is because they were trying to put pressure on Upton to change his mind. “See…if you want out you’re going to have to take the deal.”

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  17. maqman says:

    As an M’s fan I’m glad this deal do not consummate. The prospects are worth more to me and Upton is overrated. He would not perform nearly as well at Safeco and would not be worth his cost.

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  18. Mr Punch says:

    As some have already suggested, it’s a very unusual veteran-for-prospects trade because Upton is so young. I think the risk has to be weighed differently in this case. Arguably, AZ is trading the risk that Upton’s off year is a sign of disappointments to come for (presumably) higher levels of risk distributed among more players – it’s a diversification move. This might explain why Towers’s handling of Upton has been so odd.

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  19. Umpire HQ says:

    I have a feeling the M’s are making are not done making an offer to Upton. They could still buy out his no-trade so I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear of this deal.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Or if they don’t they could go after someone else. Just because they didn’t trade Walker and Franklin for Upton doesn’t mean that they won’t trade them for somebody else. They’re clearly willing to trade them for a short term improvement.

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  20. manley says:

    The strange thing about this deal is that the primary piece in the deal is also an unknown. Usually, we can assess the prospect haul because we know what the team is getting back, but do we know what Upton is? What people think of the deal seems to depend more on what they think of Justin Upton, not what they think of Walker, Franklin, etc., which is opposite of public sentiment for most prospects-for-star deals. I’m high on Upton and Walker, so I think the deal is a fair one, but if you’re starting to give up on Upton based on his up-and-down early career, of course you don’t like the deal. And it’s hard to say which side of that argument is wrong right now.

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  21. Hank says:

    I’ll ask this again…

    Other than Dave waving his hands with “TV Deals” and “inflation is coming” is there anything data to support an upper end estimate of salary inflation of 33% (4.5mil going to 6 mil) and using a centerpoint which is over 20% inflation?

    Though I guess after Dave saying 5mil for the last 2 offseasons (which was also wrong), folks have now been conditioned to the point where 5-6mil seems reasonable.

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    • From what I’ve seen, the new national TV deal will bring in roughly $50MM per team. Teams as a whole are generally expected to put 50% of revenue toward player salaries (I am not sure if this is spelled out in the CBA or if it is just a working assumption.) Given these numbers, we can expect at least $750MM to be spent on player salaries once the new deal kicks in next year. Last year teams spent 3 billion on player salaries.

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      • Hank says:

        The existing TV deal is not $0… it’s not a 50mil/team increase like you (and many others) are incorrectly assuming

        You also can’t assume that the % of revenue spent on payroll is completely elastic. As an example the Yankees will not be adding 25mil when the new deal kicks in; they will be in the process of cutting 25-30mil.

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  22. rubesandbabes says:

    Well, one person not looking through the “lens of surplus value” is Kevin Towers. I’m pretty sure he’s looking through the lens of moving Chris Young to make salary room for Heath Bell. Perhaps in this case the lens is the bottom of an empty glass.

    But what about the other guys – Pryor and Furbush? Guys like this are almost always there in a winning box score these days.

    Speaking in generalities, didn’t Ryan Cook return like at least $4mil+ in surplus value over retail in 2012?

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  23. rbt says:

    Mike Newman said in his chat today that the proposed deal wasn’t enough for Upton. From what I have seen, he is part of a very small minority.

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  24. Jack Donahue says:

    Hey there’s a shock, the prevailing opinion is that the prospects are more valuable than the MLB player. WHO is Charlie Furbush? The D’Backs were getting 1 of 3 SP prospects (various degrees of status with Walker well ahead of Paxton and ahead of Hultzen for me), a SS some are already moving to 2B in the minors, a good relief prospect, and a BOR prospect for a 25 year old MLB star with three years before FA. What year does the age of overrating prospects on the internet end?

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  25. GregW says:

    A bit much for Milton Bradley Jr. JackZ has said many many times before, the name of the game these days is player control. He gives up many years for a player who will be gone before the deadline in 2014. I would perfer to see what Franklin, Walker and Pryor can do. I don’t want the Mariners to be Felix, Justin and a AAAA team.

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    • chuckb says:

      Milton Bradley? Why? Because they’re both black?

      Bradley had 2 4-win seasons his entire career. Upton already has a nearly 5-win season and a 6-win season. He has nearly as many career war in 4 seasons as Bradley did in 12. Additionally, Bradley was always in some sort of trouble and Upton’s never been in any.

      Absolutely stupid comparison.

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  26. Michael says:

    Upton’s home/road splits are really pretty bad and he would be going from a top hitters environment to a top pitchers environment. If you ask me I can’t help but agree that Upton very well could be saving Jack Z his job by rejecting this trade.

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    • chuckb says:

      i’ll bet that every D-back has severe home/road splits. It’s one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors. Moreover, the M’s are bringing the fences in.

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  27. Dan says:

    You overpay when you are a player or two away from the playoffs. I don’t think sesttle is at that point. Thnk they would have seriously overpaid. They. Need to go out and get decent corner OF players. They have to give up haul zen or walker to get any decent young major league hitter who can play OF

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  28. jcxy says:

    I guess despite their best efforts the Dbacks haven’t devalued Upton’s trade value much at all.

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  29. Oprk says:

    I’m glad it was vetoed by Upton. He would’ve cut into Seattle’s future corner OF’er AB’s on his tired legs. This way we’ll be able to see what we have in our two young OF prospects Ibanez and Bay.

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  30. evo34 says:

    Nice article. One of the better ones I have seen on Fangraphs lately.

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  31. JamesDaBear says:

    The Mariners’ desire (desperation?) to do anything to energize their fanbase counteracts anybody’s assertion that they shouldn’t make this deal because they’re too far away from contention. I’m surprised Dave didn’t bring that up considering how the Mariners have received rejection from every top free agent they’ve gone after since Beltre. They’re forced to get them through trade until they turn things around and might have to overpay significantly at some point.

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  32. shel says:

    meanwhile there are posters on Cubs message boards willing and eager to give up Castro + Soler + Baez + 1-2 minor prospects for Upton. Get a grip!

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  33. akh243 says:

    this is a simplification of course but if you assume that bauer and walker are essentially interchangeable, then the dbacks would have traded upton for gregorious, franklin, three relievers and lars anderson. Towers already made the point with the bauer trade that he thinks the dbacks have enough SP depth so why would they take walker in this trade? especially considering the dbacks are close to contention and bauer could have given them more this year than walker

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  34. Nathaniel Dawson says:

    So how is it you increase Upton’s future value going forward because you assume some inflation, perhaps accelerated because of new TV money, but you don’t apply the same inflation to the value of prospects? I would think that the two move more or less in lock-step. If you’re using current dollar values for prospects, shouldn’t you be using the same for Upton?

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  35. Rush Limbaugh says:

    “Given what Josh Hamilton — a +4 win outfielder in his thirties, with more injury questions, and similar concerns about how much of his performance was due to his home park — got this winter”

    I’d just like to point out that any such ‘similar concern’ would be purely anecdotal–if you look at both of their splits Hamilton has clearly been much better on the road than Upton. For their careers, Upton has a 96 wRC+ on the road and Hamilton has a 126. The differences in 2012 were even more drastic.

    Sorry to nitpick, that just jumped out at me.

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  36. ZACH says:

    The Mariners are really awful. I don’t blame him why go from a challenger to a group of never has Beene and never will be’s?

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  37. Mike rusk says:

    Here’s a solution to the problem don’t trade upton or anybody, have Ross in center, Kuel in left, and Upton in right and have eaton and pollock in triple a Reno, and just keep parra as the backup outfielder! Simple as that no problem and when kubels contact is up bring up eaton.

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    • chuckb says:

      Except that Parra’s a legitimate starter and, if they’re not going to play him, they should trade him somewhere to beef up some other area where they’re lacking. It does little good to have an above average OF on your bench when you have Chris Johnson and Eric Chavez at 3b.

      Additionally, Parra’s better than Kubel so if you’re going to put one on the bench, it should be Kubel anyway.

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  38. LHomonacionale says:

    The last CBA changed prospect spending dramatically so I imagine that right now prospects have a value that is still fuzzy but supposed to be higher than before the new rules. Perhaps the real story is between one team selling short while another sells long- people were surprised the Mariners wanted to buy up some competitiveness, but isn’t it strange that the Diamondbacks are having a stealth firesale?

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  39. HPJoker says:

    I never really thought this was a bad trade for either team. Walker isn’t as nearly as big of an overpay when you realize that they have 2 other elite SP prospects. Franklin was never thought to have much power coming out of college and hasn’t lived up to the 23 HR season he had out of nowhere in 2010. The 2 relievers don’t seem like much since they are just that, relievers, and not very good ones at that. Losing 2 prospects and 2 bullpen arms for what might be one of the top 10 best hitters in baseball isn’t that bad of a deal IMO. I realize this is an overly simplistic way of looking at it, but that’s just the way I saw it at first glance.

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  40. neftali says:

    Stephen Pryor definitely has high-octane stuff and would garbnder some soid trade value on his own. Possibly more than Franklin. Guys like T Walker stand some considerable chance to be “just a reliever” anyway, which can be mighty helpful by the bye if dominant. I think the Yanks are glad they converted a kid named Rivera a ways back to cap with a dramatic anecdote

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  41. nsacpi says:

    There have been some significant changes in the attrition rate of pitchers in the last 15 years or so. I think the view that the attrition rate for pitchers is absurdly high is based on data from the 1970s and 1980s when a lot of top pitching prospects did not pan out due to injury and other reasons. The lower attrition rate of the past fifteen years might be a fluke, or it might be a reflection of medical advances in treating and preventing pitching injuries as well a changes about how teams control the stress that young arms are subjected to.

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  42. harmony55 says:

    The best comp for the reported Seattle offer would be Cincinnati’s trade of Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger to San Diego for Mat Latos. One difference is that the Reds needed a starter while the Mariners ostensibly need a big bat.

    Alonso, Grandal, Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin were/are Top 50 or so prospects, although the Seattle pair is younger than the Cincinnati duo. Boxberger and Stephen Pryor were/are promising relievers of the same age. Volquez was a former All Star with only two years of team control while Charlie Furbush comes with five years of team control.

    Mat Latos was nine months younger at the time of the trade than Justin Upton is today. Upton has been valued at 17.1 WAR, including 6.4 and 2.5 the past two seasons. At the time of the trade, Latos had been valued at 7.6 WAR, including 4.1 and 3.3 the previous two seasons. Latos came with four years of team control while Upton comes with three years of team control.

    Perhaps the Red overpaid for Latos, but the reported Upton trade proposal was similar.

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  43. evo34 says:

    People are so eager to claim that outliers will not repeat that they miss the very real possibility that a certain human being might behave abnormally in certain situations due to a very real and repeatable cause. Josh Hamilton cannot possibly have persistent day/night splits bc most players do not. Jered Weaver is apparently no more likely than the average pitcher to outperform at home next year. Justin Upton’s ridiculous career home/road splits: sheer noise. Luke Hochevar: chronically unlucky, mostly because Hellickson stole all his luck. The list goes on and on.

    One reason I am confident that people have gone off the deep end in applying generalizations to tail cases is that I have made a living betting on baseball for the past 10 years, and it’s been in no small part due to taking the other side of these inaccurate predictions of mean reversion (provided the sample is large enough to refute it).

    I hope someone here or elsewhere can devote an entire series to examining serious career outliers (in FIP vs. ERA, handedness splits, etc.) apart from the rest of the population and determine if such players should be lumped in with the rest of the player universe, or rather if we should be applying different predictions of regression.

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    • YanksFanInBeantown says:

      I think it’s more that Upton’s H/R splits don’t tell the whole story and don’t mean that he won’t hit if he’s traded.

      He’s not a Dustin Pedroia, for example.

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    • pft says:

      This is an important point. Statistics tell us a lot about populations or samples, but are not so useful when it comes to telling us much an individual.

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  44. smocon says:

    You are way off on Upton, not only here, but also in the previous piece on him regarding home/road splits. 13.5 WAR over the next 3 years is an EXTREMELY optimistic view of his potential. Making this type of projection on him after 2010 would have been fair, but given his past two seasons, and the fact he plays in Chase Field most of the time is possibly close to a 50% over reach on his projection.

    I get the impresion that you are working backwards to prove your point on Upton. Bringing in the fact that its January and there is no one else as big as him on the market right now, driving up his price; and how you have to figure for attriction with pitching prospects; all in an effort to prove that although the Mariners offer was an overpay, it just wasnt as much of an overpay as everyone thinks.

    With his last two seasons, what he is still owed, and where he has racked up a lot of his numbers, Franklin or Walker alone would have been an overpay. Upton’s true surplus value is only aided by the fact that he most likely would be given a qualifying offer after his contract expires, and even then it eodens reach $10 million.

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  45. chri521 says:

    Upton and Chris Johnson for Delgado, Prado, Ahmed and Spruill from the Braves. Better or worse haul?

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    • chri521 says:

      Marc Hulet’s #9 and #11 prospects from the Braves, their #3/4 starter and their starting 2B/3B/OF?

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