Padres Should Let Upton Walk

Slugger can play, but history says he'll be a bad investment

NBC 7’s Derek Togerson takes a look at one of the Padres’ biggest off-season questions in this commentary

What should the Padres do about Justin Upton?

Depending on which baseball evaluator you talk to, Justin Upton is either an elite talent who’s on the brink of a breakout season or an elite talent who’s never going to fully live up to his potential. He’s either about to blossom in to a perennial a 40-homer-a-year guy or an over-swinger who strikes out too much and gives away at-bats.

So … What should the Padres do about Justin Upton?

He’s either a 28-year-old with solid numbers and all five tools or a guy who’s been in the league for nine years and lacked consistency. He’s either a middle-of-the-order masher who you can build a lineup around or a complimentary bat you need to pair with another, more dangerous hitter to be truly successful.

I ask again … What should the Padres do about Justin Upton?

I’ll tell you what they should not do. They should not give him the kind of contract he’s going to get on the open market and that kind of narrows things down a bit. Most industry experts agree Justin Upton will command somewhere around $125-$150 million over six or seven years as a free agent.

That’s some serious cash and the Padres lineup certainly will lose some of its pop if he’s gone (of course, that’s not saying all that much on one of the most listless offenses in the game). But MLB history tells us signing an outfielder to a 9-figure deal is a recipe for disaster.

As we enter the free agency period there are 10 outfielders who have contracts worth at least $100 million:

1)    Giancarlo Stanton (MIA) $325 million
2)    Matt Kemp (SD) $160 million
3)    Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY) $153 million
4)    Mike Trout (LAA) $144.5 million
5)    Carl Crawford (LAD) $142 million
6)    Shin-Soo Choo (TEX) $130 million
7)    Jayson Werth (WAS) $126 million
8)    Josh Hamilton (TEX via LAA) $125 million
9)    Matt Holliday (STL) $120 million
10)    Ryan Braun (MIL) $105 million

Trout might be a bargain at his price. He’s the most exciting young talent in baseball. I could make an argument that Stanton is worth his deal because he has the potential to hit 60 homers every year and it’s hard to put a price on putting rear ends in seats (what else do Marlins fans have to watch?). So let’s throw those two guys out and focus on the other eight.

Choo had a solid season and Braun was alright, but certainly not commensurate with their bloated paychecks. The other guys were flat-out stealing money.

The eight players on that list not named Stanton or Trout combined for a WAR (wins above replacement) of 8.8. Trout alone had a WAR of 9.0. Would you like to know how much MLB teams paid for those 8.8 wins?

Just last year alone the Padres, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Nationals, Cardinals and Brewers paid a grand total of $128,642,857 for 8.8 more wins than random dudes most likely making the league minimum would have brought them. That’s $3,267,517 more than the Royals paid their entire roster to win the World Series.

That circles us back to Justin Upton. Baseball economics dictate he’ll get a big payday. The Padres are going to make him the qualifying offer of around $15.8 million, which they have to do by Friday November 6 and is really a no-brainer. If he shocks the world and accepts it San Diego gets him for another year at a decent price. If he doesn’t and signs elsewhere the Friars end up with a high-quality compensatory draft pick.

But the second the negotiation heads north of nine digits General Manager A.J. Preller needs to say, “Thanks but no thanks. We appreciate your hard work. Good luck on the remainder of your career.” It’s crazy to think but San Diego probably could afford that kind of deal and Ron Fowler’s ownership group has shown the desire to raise payroll in an attempt to win. As much fun as it is to watch Upton hit, the Friars should let him walk away.

Upton might hit 40 homers and drive in 130 runs in 2016. He certainly has that kind of potential. However, the Padres need to play the percentages on this one and look somewhere else for a left fielder. Upton might be the guy who puts a contender over the top but the Padres have too many holes to fill to be in that class.

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