As we all know, BJ Upton is an impending free agent. This means that the week after the World Series concludes, he will be free to negotiate and sign with any team of his choice, be it the Rays or another team.
It seems highly unlikely that BJ will re-sign with the Rays. Not only is he one of the more desirable free agents (in an admittedly talented pool of center fielders), but the Rays are also capable of substituting his position with the returned Sam Fuld. Although Sam Fuld is obviously not going to replace BJ's production, he'll create a fair amount of value at a significantly lower cost (i.e. the Rays way).
BJ's contract is a matter of a fair amount of disagreement. The old saying "it only takes one crazy GM" applies as always, but in a market with as many impact centerfielders available as there are, it seems highly unlikely BJ breaks into nine figure territory as some have suggested. My prediction is that BJ ends up receiving a deal of roughly 5 years and $65 million total. Although this is more than similar players have received recently, BJ has a combination of youth and intriguing potential on his side, with the Phillies and Nats being the frontrunners to obtain his services. I went to the rest of the DRaysBay staff and asked for their opinions, for this edition of the Rays Roundtable.
Scott Grauer: I think Upton will be looking at a contract around $30 million over three years. I expect the AAV to be about $10 million a year give or take a couple million, but since he's going to be one of the younger free agents, he could always get a longer deal. It's hard to find comparisons on the free agent market to look at because centerfielders haven't really hit the market much in recent years. Last off-season, Coco Crisp received $14 million over two years. No significant center fielder signed the off-season before that, and in the off-season before that, Mike Cameron got $15.5 million over two seasons. With a lack of center fielders on the market in recent years, I think the best comparison I could find was Jimmy Rollins. Both players play good defense at premium defensive positions, hit for some power but don't hit for high averages or OBP's. Rollins got 38 million over three years. I think Upton will get less because Rollins is more known for those intangibles that a lot of teams value and he had a big market team ready to overpay to keep him. This is also an unusually deep free agent class in center field; Upton will be competing with Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino (and for the perpetually disappointed among us, Grady Sizemore).
Philadelphia strikes me as the top Upton suitor. There have been reports for about two months that Upton could be the Phillies' biggest target in free agency to maintain a high level of defense in center field and add some power into the lineup. It seems like Washington has been in Upton trade rumors for years now, and signing Upton would allow them to move Michael Morse to first base, and keep Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper in corner outfield spots which would result in a pretty decent defensive upgrade for the Nationals. However, former first rounder Brian Goodwin could soon be knocking on the door for Washington, and that could make them reluctant to offer Upton the years he might be able to get elsewhere. One more NL East team, Atlanta, is another possibility. If they're unable to re-sign Michael Bourn, Upton could help shore up one of the league's less impressive offenses against left handed pitching.
Jason Collette: I see Upton going to the Phillies or the Nats for 5/60-75.
Of the 3 CF free agents on the open market, he's the youngest. We know the aging curve for the position is earlier than it is for other players so teams looking at Bourn (30) or Victorino (32) may be scared to commit those types of years/dollars to older players.
Ryan Glass: I predict 6/80. You heard it here first.
Jonathan Mitchell: I see 5/70, with the Rangers, Nationals, and Phillies being his top suitors.
Ian Malinowski: I'm on the 5/60 train, and I think he exceeds the contract in terms of value. His strong arm will ease a transition to right field when the speed erodes, and I think he should have plenty more 4 WAR years in him. My guess is Texas. If he goes to NY, I'll cry.
Bradley Woodrum: I'ma guess 6/90. I'm thinking the Rangers, Yankees, and Phillies all make a play for him. If either the Yankees or Rangers are not in it, then the price will come down. If a few other teams -- the Braves, Mets, or Nats -- push hard for him, I would not be surprised if his total contract value exceeded 6/100 or even 6/110. But at the same time, the market is deep. So I could see him going 4/48 if he doesn't sign until, say, January or late December.
Daniel Russell: I'm expecting 5 years for about $60 mil, broken out as: 3 years for $30 mil, with options at $12m and $15m, and about $5m in bonus incentives.
If the market recognizes Upton for the talent he is, I'm fully expecting him to land with the Giants, Phillies, or Braves, competing with Michael Bourn and Angel Pagan. If either of those players are re-signed by their current teams then the decision is easier, but both players project at least 1.0 WAR above Upton right now, so they will sign first and Upton will place third.
If the market loses Upton in the shuffle, he may follow the path of Shane Victorino, who I expect to sign with DC or the Rangers on a 1-2 year deal. As Scott wrote, the Nationals have a prospect in the wings, so a long term deal for them seems unreasonable, and Texas seems likely to wait with the CF options coming next year (namely Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, and Adam Jones). Either team could take Upton on a 1 year/$14M deal with an option.
Wild Card: Much of the Masthead seems worried about the Yankees making a play, but I think the Cubs (who are waiting on Jorge Soler) or the Mariners (Michael Saunders) could enter the fray.
Michael Valancius: I believe that BJ Upton will receive a 3-4 year deal in 45-60 million dollar range. It is incredibly difficult to predict how much a free agent is going to make. With a player as unusual as Upton, the equation is only more difficult. It only takes one team to have an unusually high amount of interest in Upton to escalate his contract's value. However, I find it hard to believe any team is going to hand much more than 15 million dollars to a player who is as streaky as Upton or who has his contact issues.
As far as who will sign Upton, I have no idea. The Rays should give the idea a thought if Upton's interest levels from other teams is lower than expected. Texas may be interested in replacing Hamilton with Upton. Who knows.... if Boston moves Ellsbury, they could even be interested. Center fielders are like catchers in that manner. If there is a good one available on the market, most teams will be interested.
The staff consensus seems to be in the neighborhood of BJ geting a 5/60 deal, with the Phillies being the most popular name thrown out. Still, with as many teams in search of a centerfielder as there are, there's no doubt significant potential for a surprise.
Where do you think BJ will end up? Share your opinion in the comments!