BJ Upton has played 954 games for the Rays, second only to Carl Crawford (1,235) in franchise history. And despite hopes that the new free agency rules will have Upton back with the Rays in 2013, it is very likely that Upton will only play 12 more games in a Rays uniform.
One of the keys to the Rays’ success in recent years has been the accumulation of draft picks they received as compensation for losing free agents. But under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Rays can only receive compensation for Upton if they first tender him a 1-year “qualifying offer.”
That is, the Rays must offer Upton a 1-year deal worth ~$13 million*. Upton must then decide between that contract and free agency. And everything right now suggests it would be silly for Upton to accept the qualifying offer.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com spoke with four executives. One predicted Upton would get a 3-year, $27 million contract in free agency. However, the other three suggested Upton will make $50-70 million on a 4-5 year deal. That would be $12.5-14.0 million per year. And if that is true, there is no reason for Upton to settle for a 1-year, $13 million contract.
Here is a look at two center fielders that recently signed extensions and how they compare to Upton. In each case, both Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones signed their extensions prior to reaching free agency. So the values below are the ages at which they would have become free agents and the values of their contracts during what would have been their free agency seasons…
Keep in mind that both players sacrificed some money for the security of long-term deals during their arbitration years.
Of course, the better comparison is Jones. And looking forward, Dan Szymborski of the ZiPS projections system, projects Jones to be worth ~$98 million (19 WAR) over the next six seasons. And he has Upton at ~$86 million (17 WAR) during that same period.
So I would guess that Upton is going to get a 5-year deal this off-season worth about $15 million per year ($75 million total). He could probably push for a sixth season, but may prefer to hit free agency again at 34.
Of course, this all depends on which teams might want Upton. A quick and dirty look around the league suggests there could be some deep pockets in the hunt, including the Yankees and Red Sox, both of whom have center fielders, but may need an outfielder in 2013. The Nationals have long be known to be interested.
But maybe the most interesting team might be the Marlins, who just happened to recently shed $15.5 million off their 2013 payroll by moving Hanley Ramirez.
It has been a roller coaster ride with Upton, a ride that is almost over. But Upton will get a nice parting gift, which is cool, as long as it is not the Yankees or Red Sox.
* of course the Rays don’t have to make the qualifying offer. But if they don’t, there will be no compensation.