Back in 2011, Justin Upton hit 31 homers. He finished fourth in the MVP race, with a .369 on-base percentage and 6 WAR. He was 23 years old.
That's the description of a player on a Hall of Fame path. Add in his status as a first-overall pick, with tools and tools and tools, and he looked like future superstar, if he wasn't already there. If the Diamondbacks signed him to a 10-year, $200 million deal, it would have made sense at the time. It might have seemed like a steal.
Four years later, Upton is a free agent, and he's an afterthought for a lot of people. I know I've focused on Jason Heyward and even Yoenis Cespedes more. The Carlos Gonzalez rumors excited me, even though he's older and more fragile, and he would cost talent. For whatever reason, a five- or even six-year deal for Upton rarely crosses my mind as a possibility for the Giants.
He does make sense for them, though. He makes a lot of sense.
One of the reasons he's not as thrilling as some of the other free agents is because Petco sucked the life out of his raw stats. He hit just .251/.336/.454. It was his lowest batting average since he was 20, and the lowest OBP of his career. Still, according to WAR, he had his second-best season ever, with a solid 121 OPS+. His defense was average, at worst. And he's just 28.
That part is important. We're all probably over the idea that he's just going to get better and better -- what you see is what you get for a few years, at least -- but yesterday's point still stands. The Giants aren't just all-in for 2016. They should be thinking about 2016, 2017, and 2018. Buy the time 2018 is over, Upton will be the same age that Alex Gordon is now. That shouldn't be the biggest factor in the Giants' thinking, but it should be a pretty freaking big factor. The Giants have youth. Youth is good. More youth would be better.
The problem is that Upton might want a six- or seven-year deal to be pretty good. Over the last three years, he's hit .262/.344/.470 with a 126 OPS+. That's pretty good! It's probably not $150 million good. He's a complementary player looking for superstar money.
He's consistent, though. There isn't a lot of mystery to him. In his worst seasons, he's worth about two-and-a-half wins. In his better seasons, he's worth about four. That's nice and steady, with dingers included the whole time. If you're looking for a solid comparable player, Hunter Pence will do. And you like Pence. You don't wince when he comes up; no, you expect good things. It would be the same with Upton.
The list of three-win Giants outfielders is long and comforting. You know those names and enjoyed those seasons. If Upton came to the Giants and did what he's been doing for five years before he started to decline, we would be thrilled.
Here's another list, this time of three-win outfielders developed by the Giants since Chili Davis left:
The Giants are historically miserable at developing outfielders for whatever reason. Part of that is just a fluke, considering that it's not like the current front office was responsible for drafting Steve Hosey and Adam Hyzdu. Maybe it's all a fluke. The Giants couldn't develop infielders, either, until they developed all of them at the same time.
Still, the Giants spending money on a relatively young, consistent outfielder would fill a hole that they haven't been great at filling themselves. And if he decides to break out and have a 40-homer season, well, by all means.
I'm not going to do that thing where I type out the hypothetical lineup again, just for the titillation of seeing a deep lineup with an additional slugger
Angel Pagan - CF
Joe Panik - 2B
Justin Upton - LF
Buster Posey - C
Brandon Belt - 1B
Hunter Pence - RF
Matt Duffy - 3B
Brandon Crawford - SS
Whoops, sorry. You can see how nice it all looks, though. That's Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, and six dudes who won't be 30 for a couple years, if not longer. I'm talking myself into a Justin Upton deal, even if the money would be stunning.
Here's the dilemma, then. What if it's Upton and that's the offseason? What if he takes up the rest of the budget with a $23 million salary, leaving the Giants no room to sign Wei-Yin Chen or Mike Leake? Are you okay with that lineup in front of Matt Cain and the winner of a sinkery Chris Heston/Clayton Blackburn battle? There are always trades to consider, but assume the Giants can't swing one before the season. The dropoff from Chen to Heston would be more substantial than the dropoff from Upton to Blanco/Williamson.
Still, Upton fits. He fits the Giants' desire for more dingers, and while he'll never win a Gold Glove, he's not Pat Burrell out there. In three years, when Hunter Pence might be transitioning to a different role, Justin Upton should still be Justin Upton.
There's no getting out of an Upton article without referencing this tweet for the hundredth time:
@walkinthewalk I hate going to SF. The ball travels like crap there— Justin Upton (@JUST_JUP) December 23, 2011
I'm not exactly wild about Medford, but I would sure enjoy the heck out of it if you paid me more than $100 million to live there. And I'll bet that Upton would be just fine with AT&T Park for enough clams, especially as a right-hander who just left Petco.
There are so many ways the Giants can make me happy with the offseason. So many different permutations that make sense. So let's kick back and wait for Ian Kennedy and Gerardo Parra, but think about Upton hitting 30 dingers in the French vanilla in the meantime.