Outfielder Justin Upton has agreed to a six-year, $51.25 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Under those terms, the contract covers all three of Upton’s arbitration years and his first two free-agent years. He still would be eligible for free agency at 28.
Upton gets a $1.25 million signing bonus, half on April 15 and the rest on July 15. He receives salaries of $500,000 this year, $4.25 million in 2011, $6.75 million in 2012, $9.75 million in 2013, $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015.
"I do kind of put that pressure on myself,” he said Wednesday. "I want to be great, that’s the thing. If you want to be great, then you set your goals higher.”
Upton, at 22 considered one of the game’s rising stars, batted .300 last season with 26 home runs, 86 RBIs and an .899 OPS.
"We view him as a core player, one of our key pieces,” general manager Josh Byrnes said, "and as we view the next six years the kind of guy we want to build around.”
The only bigger contract in Diamondbacks’ history was the $52.4 million, four-year deal Randy Johnson signed in 1999.
"This is something you dream about. For it to come true, it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Upton said. "My parents have definitely been a special part of my life to get me to this point. It’s definitely a special day. I’m glad they could be here. I know they’re as happy as I am.”
Upton has had the pressure of high expectations for years, following the path of his older brother B.J., who was the No. 2 draft pick overall in 2002. Justin was one better, chosen No. 1 by Arizona in the 2005 draft.
He played less than two years in the minors before being called up by the Diamondbacks in 2007, one month shy of his 20th birthday.
Manager A.J. Hinch was newly hired director of player personnel when Upton first was signed in January 2006.
"We know him very well. We have a great relationship. To be able to have him as a centerpiece of our organization is a great advantage,” Hinch said. "He’s already had productive seasons and he’s still got a lot of room to grow, which is exciting to see and also scary for the National League.” While he has a quick, even picturesque, swing, his form in the outfield is a work in progress. Upton had played only eight games in right field in the minors before being installed there at the major league level in 2007.
Byrnes compared his outfield issues with "a young Vlad Guerrero,” with the speed and talent to get to balls but not necessarily the finesse that comes from learning the position well.
Byrnes said that teams in markets like Arizona’s have to make a move to keep their young talent as long as possible.
"We generally need to go early to deal with free agency, and we’ve done that in a number of cases,” Byrnes said. "There might be more risk because you’re going early and you’re going longer, but I think the reward justifies those types of moves.”
The Diamondbacks also have been negotiating a long-term deal with third baseman Mark Reynolds. With no new deal, Upton would be eligible for arbitration after this season. Reynolds, 26, is in the same service class. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.