Thus far this offseason, baseball teams have committed over $2 billion to various free agents, yet not one of those dollars has been for Justin Upton. The Giants had a need but filled it with Denard Span. The Cubs had a need but turned to Jason Heyward. The Orioles were reportedly interested but instead spent $161 million to bring back Chris Davis. The free agent class of 2015-2016 was one to remember, but for Upton it's likely been extraordinarily frustrating.
There hasn't been a single report of Upton receiving a long-term contract offer (although that doesn't mean he hasn't), and with Spring Training just a month away, the clock is ticking for him to find a new team. While it's still possible that Upton could receive the five-to-seven-year contract that was projected for him at the start of the offseason, it might make more sense to sign a one-year deal at this point, as his leverage in negotiations is dwindling.
Since the 2011 season, Upton has played in at least 149 games and has been remarkably consistent over that time. He had some red flags during 2015, but not enough to scare anyone into thinking that Upton's best days are behind him. At just 28 years old, he's likely still in the prime of his career, and as such he can afford to take a chance on a one-year deal. While there's always the risk of injury, which is a legitimate reason to be wary about a one-year deal, Upton should take advantage of the opportunity.
Not only would that type of deal open up his list of suitors to nearly every team looking to contend in 2016, but it would also mean he could ask for a higher AAV. Without a long-term commitment, a team could theoretically dole out $25 million in order to secure Upton's services. However, the most attractive reason for Upton to take a one-year deal is because of the 2016-2017 free agent class of outfielders.
His biggest competition next offseason would be Chris Coghlan, Gregor Blanco, Colby Rasmus, Michael Bourn, Carlos Gomez, Angel Pagan, Jose Bautista, Josh Reddick, and depending on whether or not their respective options are exercised, possibly Matt Holliday, Cameron Maybin, and Jay Bruce.
That's a steep drop off from being in the same market as Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Davis, Dexter Fowler, Denard Span, Jason Heyward, and Alex Gordon, among others. Another factor working in Upton's favor (should he choose to take a one-year deal) is that the pitching depth isn't nearly as robust as it was this offseason. Aside from the fact that the outfield market was saturated with great options, teams spent over $1.2 billion on starting pitchers.
While many teams could still use an outfielder (Tigers, Diamondbacks, White Sox), there simply isn't that much money left to spend. However, after the 2016 season more than a few organizations have significant money coming off the books. Below is a table that shows how much money could be coming off the books for each organization, based on expiring contracts or those that the team can void (mutual or club options).
*Figures are based on Spotrac's data.
|Los Angeles (AL)||$58.15M|
|Los Angeles (NL)||$57.30M|
|New York (NL)||$27.00M|
|New York (AL)||$78.33M|
These figures shouldn't be taken as gospel, as there will undoubtedly be variations from team to team. Payrolls fluctuate year to year, and with arbitration some of the money coming off the books via free agency will be committed to players that are already under team control. Even with some variation across the board, there are still an incredible number of teams that will have serious money to throw around in free agency.
The Braves, Astros, Royals, Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, Phillies, Padres, Giants, Mariners, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Nationals could all have upward of $40 million for the 2016-2017 offseason. With a clean slate and significant money in the game of baseball, Upton's market would likely be much stronger next year.
As mentioned previously, the risk of injury is a serious concern, and if Upton can ultimately sign a long-term deal now, even if it's for less money than he set out for at the beginning of the offseason, it would be hard to turn down. Agents often talk about how hard it is to persuade their clients to pass up guaranteed contracts, and in the case of Upton, any long-term deal would approach or surpass $100 million. But if teams are unwilling to go beyond two or three years, Upton should spurn those in favor of a one-year contract.