Quick thoughts on Marlins-Justin Upton rumors

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The Marlins are quite the busy team this offseason. With all the moves they made Tuesday, you would think they would take a breather and relax, but it seems they are at it again. This time, the Marlins are kicking the tires and talking to the Arizona Diamondbacks about 23-year old outfielder Justin Upton, who was recently put on the trade market.

For the record, I don’t believe Upton will be traded this offseason. The D’backs are demanding a large haul (and rightfully so) for the young star-in-the-making, and teams are wary about giving up too much because he had a regression season after a breakout 2009 campaign. Where do the Marlins fit in all of this? Well apparently the Marlins have quite a bit of interest, says Joel Sherman of the New York Post:

Arizona badly wants to rebuild its bullpen, add to its rotation and address first base. The Marlins were described by one official with knowledge of the Diamondbacks’ plans as having the most interest in Upton for a while. Florida is among the organizations that most favors scouting and tools, and one AL personnel man described Upton as “a tool shed.”

With a new ballpark due to open in 2012, the Marlins could in theory try to build around two of the most interesting young outfielders in the game, Upton and their own Mike Stanton. One executive even suggested a package of outfield prospect Logan Morrison and righty Ricky Nolasco, who has won at least 13 games three straight seasons, would probably get a deal done.

Look at the two big names involved. Ricky Nolasco and Logan Morrison could be a part of the package heading back to Arizona for Upton, with this particular executive saying that that alone would get the deal done. I don’t think that would be enough, for some of the reasons that Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs has been discussing the last two days.

We just don’t really have many contemporary examples of a guy like Upton being moved at this stage in his career to base expected returns on. You never see teams trade guys like this – not this young, not this cheap, and not this good. Probably the closest thing I could find would be Roberto Alomar getting moved from San Diego to Toronto, and he was dealt (with Joe Carter) for two established All-Stars in their primes in Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez.

At the minimum, I’d imagine we can all agree he’d get at least $100 million for the next five years if he were a free agent this winter, or twice what he’s owed. I think he’d get more than that, personally, but even if we work off the lower figure, we’re looking at $50 million in surplus value.

Cameron may be a bit hyperbolic with his effusive praise of Upton, but it cannot be denied that he is definitely a steal for most teams given his contract. So how could the Marlins make an offer for such an asset? Let’s give some crude estimates for all of these players involved.

Upton’s value

Cameron thinks Upton’s value is enormous, and it’s hard to argue the fact. Take a look at this semi-modest projection going forward:

2011 – +3.5 WAR, $17.5 million value, $4.25 million salary
2012 – +4.0 WAR, $20.8 million value, $6.75 million salary
2013 – +4.5 WAR, $24.8 million value, $9.75 million salary
2014 – +4.5 WAR, $25.7 million value, $14.25 million salary
2015 – +5.0 WAR, $30.0 million value, $14.5 million salary

This is assuming he doesn’t become more than an All-Star level player. It also assumes 2011 will be close to $5M / WAR. I’m inclined to go with $4.4M to start with a 10% increase along the way each year, but the value comes out the same. That means Upton’s value during this time period is a healthy $70M in surplus. Yikes.

Morrison’s value

Morrison would be the highlight of this deal, as the 23-year old had a solid debut in the majors and has a lot of expectations on his head going into his first full season. I have Morrison at around a 2.0 WAR as an even-defense first baseman for 630 PA next season. Assuming a passable growth pattern for his team-controlled seasons you could see something like this:

2011: 2.0 WAR, $8.8M value, $0.4M salary
2012: 2.5 WAR, $12.0M value, $0.4M salary
2013: 3.0 WAR, $15.9M value, $6.36M salary
2014: 3.5 WAR, $20.3M value, $12.18M salary
2015: 3.5 WAR, $22.3M value, $17.84M salary

Such a progression would yield $42M in value from Morrison. Using Cameron’s dollars/WAR figure and a more conservative peak of 3.0 WAR yields a similar value. Indeed, if you guess that Upton is not going to become a superstar-caliber player, Morrison goes a long way towards making up his value due to his cost-controlled status.

Nolasco’s value

I conservatively pegged Nolasco as worth 2.5 WAR a season over the next two years, which are the final two years of his team-control. The Marlins are likely to owe him around $16M over that time period. Using the same dollar / WAR figures as in the previous examples, Nolasco would be worth about $7M in surplus value. The WAR estimate was low in order to take into account that, for the past two seasons, Nolasco hasn’t performed close to the level his FIP suggests, signaling the possibility that something (such as an issue pitching out of the stretch) could be causing him problems. If you think that he is closer to the 3.5-4.0 WAR pitcher that fWAR thinks he is, then you are looking at a projection closer to $16.2M. Take your pick here.

Names to add

Unfortunately for the Marlins, there are few players that the team has left that they can offer. A player like 2009 first-round draft pick Chad James, likely the best pitching prospect in the system, would be worth another $10-12M in value, putting our package at between $59-70M. With filler names that are almost major league ready (Brad Hand is a good example), the Marlins may be able to pull it off. Whether you think a package of Morrison, Nolasco, James, and filler names would be too much is another story, but the Marlins sure would be acquiring an intriguing name.

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Tags: Arizona Diamondbacks Chad James Justin Upton Logan Morrison Miami Marlins Ricky Nolasco

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