The Yankees seem to be set to rely on trades to improve themselves this offseason. They have yet to sign a major league free agent and there have been few whispers linking them to any of the big names. I believe in what the front office is doing. They want to get younger, athletic, and not burden themselves with more long-term contracts that end up being a disaster, at least not until some of their current bad contracts come off the books. It's smart, responsible thinking that should definitely help the team for the future, while still not being a full rebuild. I, however, believe that the Yankees should make one exception and sign right-handed outfielder Justin Upton to a long term deal.
While a short-term deal would obviously be ideal, I can't imagine a player of Upton's age and caliber not getting a contract in the four to seven year range. If the Yankees are serious about signing him then they will likely have to go big. I suggest that the Yankees try to sign Upton on a 4 year/80 million dollar deal, but that they go up to somewhere around 6 years/130 million dollars if needed.
Justin Upton is just 28 years old. He's a proven All-Star who's been a very good hitter, solid baserunner, and adequate defender over his career. Here's a look at his career 162-game average since he debuted in 2007:
Those are very solid numbers, compiled from ages 19 to 28. Upton, who won't turn 29 until August, is still in the prime of his career. This means we can expect similar or better numbers going forward and for most of, say, a six year deal, he'd still be just 34 when that deal expired.
Between those numbers, his age, and the fact that he's averaged a 3.8 WAR over the past seven seasons, the bottom line is that Upton is a very good ballplayer. His defense is considered to be average at best, but offensively, he's a legit bat that any team would love to have.
Add in that he's a righty, and he's a bat the Yankees would love to, and should, have. Currently, the Yankees only have two righties in the starting lineup, in addition to three switch-hitters. Alex Rodriguez, one of the two right-handers, is on the wrong side of 40 and can't be expected to duplicate the season he had last year. As much as we all love A-Rod, the reality is regression or even an injury is very possible this season, and the Yankees have to understand that. The other true righty is newly acquired Starlin Castro. Castro is still just 25 and a three-time All-Star with a promising bat. However, he's not a power hitter and is far from a sure thing.
The three switch-hitters are Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Chase Headley. Teixeira was great when healthy last year, but the problem is he also has a good chance to get hurt this season and next in line is Greg Bird, a lefty. Carlos Beltran was possibly the Yankees' best overall hitter last year, but he'll be 39 and is also injury prone. You hate to assume injuries, but being realistic, there's a good chance at least one, if not two, of A-Rod/Teixeira/Beltran miss significant time next season. The remaining switch-hitter is Chase Headley, who if we're being honest, was not a very good hitter last year.
Even if the Yankees catch lightning in a bottle and all these guys stay healthy, they'll still be gone soon. Teixeira and Beltran are out after 2016, and A-Rod is gone after 2017. Castro is the only current right-handed major league bat the Yankees have for the foreseeable future, and that is a problem. Not having a well balanced lineup really hurt them last season, especially after Teixeira went down. The lefty-heavy lineup had no chance against Cy Young left-hander Dallas Keuchel in the Wild Card Game. While Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are promising right-handed prospects, but Upton is a proven All-Star.
The obvious question is where does Upton play? The outfield is presumably full with Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Beltran. Well, I wrote the other day that the Yankees should explore trading Gardner, and I stand by that. Upton is a better hitter than Gardner and hits from the right side. Also, Upton will just cost the Yankees money, while trading Gardner can likely land a a starter to help bolster the rotation. They'd be improving the outfield and the rotation, just for the cost of signing Upton.
Also, going forward, it's not like the Yankees are full in the outfield, especially if Gardner's gone. As mentioned, Beltran is out after 2016, and while Ellsbury is under contract through at least 2020 (vomit), he has proven to be far from reliable. So don't worry–there's still room for Upton, Judge, and eventually Bryce Harper, should the Yankees go down that road, and they better go down that road. The 2016-2019 outfield could look something like this
Upton, Ellsbury, Beltran
Upton, Ellsbury, Judge
Upton, Ellsbury, Judge
Upton, Harper, Judge
The bottom line is that if the Yankees trade Gardner, there's room for Upton, even with Judge coming up and potentially signing Harper. So, don't sweat it.
Upton won't be cheap, but if Alex Gordon's recent 4 year/72 million dollar deal is any indication, perhaps the outfield free agent market won't be so expensive. Either way, Upton is worth it. Signing him will balance and improve the Yankees lineup this year and could lead to an upgraded rotation if Gardner is on the move. For the future, the Yankees have control of a right-handed, proven All-Star in his prime to anchor the lineup. So, why not? Get to it Cashman.