By: Greg Goldstein
It took a lot longer than anybody expected, but 1B Chris Davis and OF Justin Upton have finally been signed. After a long cat and mouse game between Scott Boras and the Orioles, Baltimore was able to land the 29 year-old first baseman to a 7 year $161 million deal, with $14 million of that being deferred money. Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch struck again in free agency by signing Upton to a six year, $132.75 million contract. It had been recently speculated that because of the perceived lack of market for the 28 year-old outfielder, that he could sign a one-year contract so he can test a weaker free agent class less winter. However, Upton eventually got the long term deal that he wanted, which includes an opt-out after the second year. Below I’ll break down what I think about the Davis and Upton signings and how they change the Tigers and Orioles outlook for 2016.
On Chris Davis:
From checking the internet reaction to this signing, it seems that the majority of people think that the Orioles ended up on the worse side of this deal. The main criticism I have been reading is that people don’t think that there were many serious suitors for the slugger, meaning that they didn’t have to up their heavily reported $154 million offer to $161 million. The other criticism has been that Davis is no where near worth that money because of his unpredictability and his high strikeout rate, especially with other really good options on the board for the Orioles to pursue.
To address the first concern, I think that yes, Baltimore did bid against themselves a little bit. I thought that there were probably some teams that we just weren’t hearing about who were involved, which actually is somewhat true according to a tweet by Jon Heyman, which stated that the Tigers were ready to meet Davis’ asking price, until their General Manager Al Avila talked their owner out of it. But let’s assume that there were no other legitimate suitors for Davis besides the O’s. I think that Baltimore was in the right to up their offer if it would get the deal done, which it ultimately did. The reason being that it would help to give the Orioles more time to build their team while there are still free agents that could help the club available, and trust me, this team still has multiple holes it has to fill if it wants to have a good shot at winning the AL East next year. If the O’s decided to wait on Davis further, there is a chance that another team would decide to come up with a legitimate offer, which would increase what you have to pay him. This would make it more reasonable for Davis to walk, which would be a shot in the gut for the organization. My belief is that when you have an opportunity to get a star player who is still in their prime, which Davis has proven he is because of his home run totals that past couple of years, than you sign them if the contract is reasonable, which I think the deal is.
Courtesy of the Team Rvhx Youtube Channel
The main concern from many baseball pundits is that the Orioles overpaid for the all-star first baseman. At the start of the offseason, I predicted that Davis would get a seven year, $175 million contract, which I thought was fair for a guy who led the league in homers in 2013 and 2015. The fact of the matter is Davis has special power. Yeah, he strikes out a lot and can go into slumps easily, but looking at his stats since coming to the Orioles in 2012, Davis has been really good and even improved his on-base percentage last season. The final number of $161 million is also deceiving because $14 million of it will be paid to Davis when he is retired, which lowers his salary number for those seven years he’s under contract. This brings his deal down to $147 million. When comparing Davis’ deal to other top first baseman in the game for the 2016 season, here’s where he now ranks…
- Miguel Cabrera ($28 million)
- Albert Pujols ($25 million)
- Ryan Howard ($25 million)
- Mark Teixeira ($23.125 million)
- Joe Mauer ($23 million)
- Adrian Gonzalez ($21.857 million)
- Joey Votto ($20 million)
- Chris Davis ($17 million)
- Ryan Zimmerman ($14 million)
- Freddie Freeman ($12.359 million)
I’m a believer that the market sets your value. This is not ten years ago when this contract would make Davis one of the highest paid players in the league. There are many other players that have gotten contracts better than Davis. Right now, he is getting paid like an second tier star, which in my opinion, he is at least close to being. He led the league in homers in two of the past three seasons, he’s versatile in the field and he is still in his prime. Yes he does have weaknesses in his game like most power hitters do (excluding Mike Trout and Bryce Harper of course). Now I’m not saying that some of these contracts have turned out poorly for these clubs, mainly speaking of 1B Ryan Howard, however Philadelphia did sign him to a contract when he was 32 and coming out of his prime. Joe Mauer and Ryan Zimmerman have not played the way their teams would’ve liked when they signed their deals as well.
But I most liken Davis’ contract to Mark Teixeira’s deal he got from the Yankees in 2009. At the time, Teixeira was 29, same as Davis. He was coming off a season in which he hit 33 home runs, while Davis hit 47 last season. Teixeira had a better batting average at .300, while Davis was closer to .260, but they are similar players at the time they signed their contracts. It is interesting to note that the Teixeira signing was met with mostly positivity, while the Orioles have been scolded for the deal they gave Davis. In my mind, Texeira helped lead New York to a World Series in 2009, and even though his salary is a problem now, I don’t think Yankees fans would take back that title. Davis can no doubt be a key cog to an Orioles World Series team.The Orioles probably do not have the roster, including Davis, to compete to a World Series in 2016 though. However, losing and not replacing him, would’ve certainly not helped Baltimore’s chances of eventually getting to that point.
The Orioles have made mistakes in making their roster, there is no doubt about that when you look at their starting rotation, but I won’t take that into account with the Davis signing. Chris Davis; along with 3B Manny Machado and OF Adam Jones, are players that the Orioles can build a World Series roster around. There aren’t a lot of players that you can say that about, which in my mind, validates the $147-161 million the O’s will be paying the all-star first baseman.
On Justin Upton:
The lack of interest in the younger Upton brother was really confusing to me. He is only 28 years old, has a good track record and he was coming off but a pretty solid season. Upton is a legitimate power hitter too, having hit 25 or more home runs in the past three seasons. Adding up all of this, I would think that there would be a multitude of teams vying for his services. However, that has not been the case until a couple of days ago. We even heard that he may being willing to accept a one-year deal and re-enter free agency in 2017, which I never thought would be the case. In my opinion, Detroit didn’t need to add another outfielder in the mix to be competitive for the postseason, especially with the additions of SP Jordan Zimmerman, RP Francisco Rodriguez and RP Mark Lowe. All of whom are signings that I love for Detroit, but bringing in Upton certainly increases their chances for an AL Central crown. Looking at the Tigers lineup, it has a chance to be one of the best in the MLB. Here’s my projected lineup for Detroit to open the season (with their stats from 2015)…
- CF Cameron Maybin (141 games/.267/.327/10 hr/23 stolen bases)
- LF Justin Upton (150 games/.251/.336/26 hr/19 stolen bases)
- 1B Miguel Cabrera (119 games/.338/.440/18 hr)
- RF J.D. Martinez (158 games/.282/.344/38 hr)
- 2B Ian Kinsler (154 games/.296/.344/11 hr)
- DH Victor Martinez (120 games/.245/.301/11 hr)
- 3B Nick Castellanos (154 games/.255/.303/15 hr)
- C James McCann (114 games/.264/.297/7 hr)
- SS Jose Iglesias (120 games/.300/.347/2 hr/11 stolen bases)
This is one really good lineup, and with Upton now inserted instead of Anthony Gose, the team is in even better shape to be a true contender to represent the AL in the 2016 World Series. With solid players at every position, the Tigers should be in for a good offensive year.
Looking into the value of Upton’s deal, I think that he did pretty well considering the circumstances, but I really thought he was going to get more money. I predicted that Upton would get seven years and $170 million. In that same article, I stated that I valued Upton at six years, $135 million, which is right around what he got. Even though the money was less for the former Padres outfielder, he has an opt-out after the second year of his contract when he would be 30 years old. So if he has a spectacular two years in Detroit, he could test the market for more money in 2018. Upton is set to earn $22.125 million in 2016, which would rank as the 5th highest value for outfielders for this coming season. Now while that does seem steep, I think that Upton is well worth the contract. The 28 year-old will be in the prime years of his career for most of his deal. He has a smooth swing and has put up fairly consistent numbers every single year in the league.He’s had some great years, he’s had some average years, but as a player I don’t think he presents much risk for the Tigers. In comparison, I think that while Chris Davis offers slightly more upside, he is certainly more risky than Upton. When you also take into account that he makes Detroit a much more serious contender for this coming season, the deal seems to be worth it.
Courtesy of mlb.com
It is interesting though that they decided to lose a pick over Upton, instead of simply bringing back OF Yoenis Cespedes, who I think is the superior player. Even with that question, Upton still greatly improves the team offense and they were able to sign him to a contract for far less than I thought he would get at the start of the winter. The opt-out is interesting because if he doesn’t perform up to what Detroit thinks he will, than it could turn into a poor contract. But being the consistent player that he is, I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. I project that while Upton doesn’t have his best year, he will do much better than in 2015 with a more quality lineup around him. I think he plays out the length of the contract with Detroit, and the Tigers won’t regret bringing him into the fold.