The Tigers overpay for Justin Upton. You knew somebody would

Of the three, only B.J. Upton remains. Yikes. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Remember when? (Jason Getz/AJC)

Know how the Atlanta Braves say the free-agent market is an inefficient use of funds? Know how we all gnash our teeth every time we hear that and, “They’re only trying to justify being skinflints”? Know what else? They’re correct.

Two years ago, the Braves’ corner outfielders were Justin Upton and Jason Heyward. The Braves traded them last fall/winter because both were set to become free agents after the 2015 season. Here’s how much it costs to employ Upton and Heyward today:

$316,750,000.

That’s not for a team. That’s for two players, or eight percent of a 25-man roster, or 25 percent of an everyday eight. Admittedly, that $316.75 million buys eight seasons of Heyward plus six of Upton — both have opt-outs, those being the newest thing in FA contracts — but still: Those two contracts are what B.J./Melvin Jr. Upton got (and what helped get Frank Wren fired) TIMES FOUR.

Don’t get me wrong. I like both players. I like Heyward a bit more than Upton because he’s much the better fielder, but I’d be happy with either on my team — as long as I didn’t have to pay. Even with both, the 2014 Braves finished under .500 and next-to-last in baseball in runs. (The 2013 Braves won 96 games and the National League East, it must also be said. They’d won 94 the year before without either Upton.) Heyward and Upton are good-to-very-good players, but here’s the number of times, over 14 full major-league seasons, they’ve finished among the top 10 in MVP voting:

One.

(That was Upton in 2011. Fourth at age 24 as a Diamondback. Arizona traded him a year later. Arizona does strange stuff.)

The Cubs bought Heyward for $184 million over eight seasons. The Tigers just bought Upton for $132.75 million over six seasons, which is $22.15 million per year, which on an annual basis is almost exactly what Heyward got. If neither contract represents anything close to a bargain, Detroit seems to have overspent more.

Heyward is two years younger and, over six full seasons, has had four years of a 5.8 WAR value or better (using Baseball Reference’s formulation). Over eight full seasons, Upton has had one such year, the aforementioned 2011. We think of Upton as a power hitter, but he has hit 30 homers only once and driven in more than 88 runs only once. Using FanGraphs’ wRC+ (weighted runs created adjusted for park effects), he was 42nd in the majors last season — three spots behind Heyward, one behind Yunel Escobar.

Wren traded for Upton — it was the sort of trade 28 other teams would have made, and it worked out pretty well; the Braves also got Chris Johnson, who had a career year in 2013, and the D-backs dumped Martin Prado before that season was done — because the GM believed J-Up could be a franchise player. (Almost everybody else in baseball felt the same.) As good as Upton can be, he’s not quite that. He can get hot and carry a club for a month, but he’s not Miguel Cabrera.

With Detroit, he doesn’t have to be. The Tigers already have Miguel Cabrera. Upton is headed for one of the few teams that doesn’t need him to be a superstar,  which means Detroit overpaid for essentially a complementary type, but that’s the way of free agency. Everybody always pays too much. Don’t you hate it when the cheapskate Braves are right?

Reader Comments 0

36 comments
DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Question: Did someone overpay signing Michael Bourn? Swisher?

drew48
drew48

By May, the Tigers will be praying Upton opts out of the contract after 2 years.

Big Wally
Big Wally

The new soccer team will win a championship before the Braves will.

Jonathan O
Jonathan O

 No one is mentioning that the Braves could have extended Heyward for much less money than he ultimately got.  They instead weren't sure about him and only extended him for 2 years at $13.3 million, essentially ensuring that they weren't thinking about him longterm.  We could have locked him in while he was young, but Braves management didn't value him as much as winning organizations, such as the Cardinals, did.  That was a huge mistake on the Braves end.

SpudWebb1
SpudWebb1

@Jonathan O Nobody was mentioning it because Heyward had already been extended for 2 years at a decent salary. Heyward wanted to go to free agency and no he wasn't going to sign for much less money. They did lock him when he was young. JayHey is good but he's not worth the salary he just got. The braves did the right thing...turning him for miller and turning miller into the RAKE they just got from zona. Much better than one over-priced player.

Edgar
Edgar

Seems the Reds, Brewers and Braves are headed in the same direction. Dumping salary by trades for prospects and looking toward the future with the hope they will have a team like the Astros, Royals and Twins this past season. But how can you rate Houston, the 4th largest city in the US, a "Small Market" team. Kansas City has jumped into the FA market with both feet since the championship. That term has come to mean nothing more than tight wad ownership. If the Braves fail to produce a winner in a few years then what will ownership do? Sell the team? Move to another small market? Fire the front office again? It's just bad baseball for the Braves for the next few years.

SpudWebb1
SpudWebb1

@Edgar Selling the team would be the best....particularly to owners who will do the Ted Turner thing.......spend money.

OedipusTax
OedipusTax

@Edgar  There's a huge income disparity in baseball that's been well documented for a couple of decades since the days of huge local TV contracts. Yankees pay 210 million year in and year out in salaries, a great deal more than Atlanta's total revenues. That is why there's about 15 real major league teams and 15 minor league teams in a 30 team field. That is why teams like Cleveland feed the 15 real major league teams with talent once free agency becomes an option. Sad. Other sports have roughly equal incomes. Baseball does not. One team can have 4x the revenues of another. And the players to where the money is.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Edgar: "It's just bad baseball for the Braves for the next few years."

___________________________

The next few years???

What about 49 of the past 50 years?!


BetterDog
BetterDog

They now have an unproven Cuban who would not play Winter Ball.  That might be a financial drain for time to come.  Swisher and Bourne are owed a little but, one will exit next month.  More than likely Swisher.  The Braves are a small market team now.  Budget is ruled by Liberty Media Accountants.  Not a good thing for a MLB Team.  Ender Inciarte will be a player to watch.  Diamondbacks might have gave up too much for Shelby Miller.  Inciarte was sought after as soon as we got him.  Letter to the Johns: Do not Trade this guy.  Give the fans something to root for. 

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@BetterDog I agree Inciarte is the best player not prospect that the Braves have acquired through all of the trades so far.

BetterDog
BetterDog

Mark I agree that the Braves could not afford these guys.  Time will tell if we go any good players for their

Dumbmick
Dumbmick

At this rate, the it appears the poor tax-payers of Cobb county are about to fork-out millions of dollars on "infrastructure improvements", like new roads & a pedestrian bridge to accomodate baseball fans in an "empty" stadium next year...

Chop_Chop
Chop_Chop

Well, if any of these kids end up being good, then I guess we will see them walk right out the door. Salaries ain't getting any lower, so teams like this one have to constantly produce winning talent in order to compete. I hate Liberty Media.

Big Wally
Big Wally

yea,, with our 95 losses, we are definitely going to have the last laugh on these playoff teams.

SpudWebb1
SpudWebb1

@Big Wally No doubt....but watching upton loaf out in the OF and JayHey continually struggle at the plate wasn't much fun either!! Save the money as their both over-rated.

DawgLink
DawgLink

There is no way that the Braves will be competitive in 2017 for the new Cobb stadium. That was the initial malarkey that was spewed. BS

UnbiasedObserver
UnbiasedObserver

Here's the Braves payoff on "foresight"


8. Atlanta Braves> Sport: Baseball> 10 year attendance decline: 20.6%> Avg. home game attendance: 25,017> Avg. capacity filled: 50.3%

The Atlanta Braves are just one of several MLB teams with a rapidly dwindling fan base. Home game attendance declined from an average of 31,514 fans in 2005 to only 25,017 in in 2015, a more than 20% decrease. While attendance records across all professional sports leagues may suggest waning interest in baseball, the Atlanta Braves’ uniquely precipitous drop is likely due to the team’s poor performance in recent years. The Braves started out the decade with their 14th consecutive division title win, a record high among MLB teams. However, after poor performance in subsequent years, the Braves rounded out the 2015 season with a 41% win record, one of the worst in baseball.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@UnbiasedObserver

This is nothing new for the long term fans of the Atlanta Braves ,the so called fan base today 25,017 actually dwarfs the attendance during the Braves malaise in the late 80's. Braves were in contention in '83 and averaged 26,170 fans at home games, by 1988 the attendance dropped to an average of 10,470 a 62% drop in only 5 years.



The Braves under Liberty Media actually have not seen the drop in attendance that Turner went through in the late 80's. Obviously with the Cobb Braves coming in 2017, the owners of the Braves are hoping for a bump in revenue while they try to rebuild the team. But even with the 10 year slide in fans attending home games ,Liberty should still be able to turn a nice profit on the Braves and the new multiplex in Cobb,regardless of the level of play on the field.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@UnbiasedObserver: ". . . the Atlanta Braves’ uniquely precipitous drop is likely due to the team’s poor performance in recent years."

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Actually, the drop is entirely due to the team's poor performance. Win CHAMPIONSHIPS, and they'll pack the place--even in ATL.

SeminoleDale
SeminoleDale

@UnbiasedObserver it's not that the fans are dwindling, it's putting a sorry product on the field and nobody wants to pay to see it.

escapeplan
escapeplan

I've got no problem with the Braves trying to maximize the value of their FAs.  We all have to realize that they are a mid-market team from a budget standpoint and are owned by a corporation that worries about profit and loss - not an individual that worries about ego.


What I DO have a problem with is that the Braves seem to have one of the worst organizations in the league, at least at the near-Majors level, in developing talent.  The rotation and bullpen seem to be where ulnar collateral ligaments go to die (is Dr. Andrews at least a minority owner yet?).  Batters seem to regress when they put on our uniforms.  And the word "upside" almost seems to be a punchline.  


I think the Bravos have fixed their front-office problems with Coppy and Hart.  But they need to gut the entire (and I mean ENTIRE) coaching and conditioning crew, from AA up.  Cleanse all the facilities, maybe hold a seance, and get all the bad vibes out of the clubhouses.  Then start fresh.


The front office has stocked the shelves, but we need to fire the cooks and hire new ones.

STHornet1990
STHornet1990

@escapeplan  Stocked the shelves? In  my grocery store they call those "no name brands" and they suck compared to the real thing. If you're an owner in this league and you're in it to turn a profit on the cheap, screwing the fans is the only way. Welcome to the Braves way of thinking.

Home Team Critic
Home Team Critic

Right about free agents but wrong in trading every one of any value for minor league pitching.

DoubleSubject
DoubleSubject

At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that Upton must endure the city of Detroit for a period of time. 

DaBigMotor
DaBigMotor

From one who has lived both places, I can assure you that this is one stupid @$s comment.

Saldiven
Saldiven

I guess "being right" is how the Braves' front office staff finds consolation when looking at their 67-95 record in 2015....

Hogan
Hogan

@DawgNole @Saldiven Well at least that's better than the Falcons, Hawks, Thrashers/Flames records.....combined.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Hogan @DawgNole

Yup.

Pretty sad when only ONE title makes you better than all the rest in the city.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Saldiven 

Kind of the way it's gone for most of the team's half-century in ATL. 

ONE championship in 50 years.