Justin Upton is on the trade block… again. During the 2010 offseason, news leaked that Arizona might be willing to part with their franchise cornerstone, and the baseball world tied itself in a knot trying to figure out where he was going and for what. The team obviously never received an offer they deemed fair, as they held on to Upton and he responded with a career best year, producing a 139 OPS+ and being worth 5.7 or 6.4 WAR, depending upon whether you prefer the Baseball Reference or Fangraphs calculation. As a 23 year old, he was named an All Star, won a Silver Slugger Award, and finished fourth in MVP voting. He was one of the most exciting and talented players in baseball.
Now, just past the midpoint of the 2012 season, Arizona is once again shopping their right fielder. His performance has fallen off substantially, hitting only .273/.353/.401 through 289 at-bats. With a .324 wOBA, 97 RC+, and 1.2 WAR, even the advanced metrics can’t find many positives from his season. In short, he’s been a roughly league average player. Upton’s struggles have carried over to the team, as Arizona entered the break with a 42-43 record, four games back of the first place Dodgers. Just last year the Diamondbacks won 94 games to take the NL West – the second place Giants were eight games back – and despite a similar roster they haven’t been able to find their groove.
Back in June, the Diamondbacks managing partner Ken Kendrick had some harsh words for Upton, saying:
"“He’s certainly not the Justin Upton that he has been in the past and that we would expect of him,” Kendrick said. “He’s 24 years old and it’s time for him to be a consistent performer and right now this year he’s not been that.”"
It’s not common for an owner to call out any players, let alone his star player, and for good reason. Such comments can create a divide in the locker room, and come contract negotiation time, players won’t forget being publicly embarrassed. Imagine how things would have gone if the Rogers conglomerate had come out in late April and said Jose Bautista isn’t doing enough, despite literally carrying the team on his back last season. The fan backlash would have been palpable, and trade demands would have likely hit the airwaves shortly thereafter. Thankfully, nothing stupid was said, and as Jose always does, he rediscovered his stroke and is beating down the world one fastball at a time.
Back to Upton, if Arizona is foolish enough to make their franchise player available, you have to imagine the Blue Jays would be (or have been) one of the first to make a call. Upton is exactly the type of player Alex Anthopolous covets; young, athletic, dynamic, and under control (through 2015). The salary is not inconsequential, as over the final three years of the deal, Upton will earn 38.5 million, plus the remainder of this year’s 6.75 million. Given the team’s reluctance to hand elite free agents more than five years, the front office should be more than able to swallow three years at a high (but reasonable) salary.
Thanks to the Arizona beat reporters –- namely Nick Piecoro -– we at least have some idea what Kevin Towers, the Diamondbacks general manager, might be seeking in trade. Piecoro suggests the team is looking for a third baseman, shortstop, or top of the rotation starter. The first two requests make a ton of sense for Arizona. Between Ryan Roberts (258 PA), Cody Ransom (58 PA), Josh Bell (56 PA), and Geoff Blum (23 PA), the Diamondbacks have received a grand total of 0.0 WAR from their third basemen. At shortstop the team has Stephen Drew, but he only just returned from a long trip on the disabled list, and has free agency firmly in his sights. As a Scott Boras client there’s little doubt he’s going to test the waters, and recent comments made by the team suggest they’re not overly enthusiastic about bringing him back.
Despite possibly shipping their starting right fielder, outfield isn’t a pressing concern for the Diamondbacks. Between Chris Young, Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel, and top prospects A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton, the team could fill the void for the at least remainder of the year, before re-evaluating the position in the offseason. The top of the rotation starter request is a little less obvious, as despite losing Daniel Hudson to Tommy John surgery this week, they still have a strong core in Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, and Wade Miley. The team’s top prospect Trevor Bauer recently joined the staff, and Tyler Skaggs, Archie Bradley, and Andrew Chafin are continuing to develop in the minor leagues while all possessing big ceilings. Their desire for a pitcher is likely due to the old adage “You can never have enough pitching”, and given the ridiculous amount of arm injuries to strike baseball this year, it’s hard to fault them in that regard.
With all that being said, what do the Blue Jays have to offer? Third base is basically a non starter, as despite Justin Upton’s immense ability, there is literally a 0% chance Alex Anthopolous would include Brett Lawrie in a deal. In terms of talent, salary, and public relations, he’s far too valuable to this team. At shortstop, however, there appears to be a match. Adeiny Hechavarria is performing extremely well in Triple-A this year, and the Diamondbacks are said to be a fan of his abilities. Like Toronto, Arizona has their Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, so they’re well aware of the environment and the effect it can have on hitters and pitchers respectively.
In addition to Hechavarria, the Blue Jays have plenty of pitchers with top of the rotation potential for Arizona to look at. From the Lansing trio, the Diamondbacks would likely be focused on Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez, as both have clearly taken a step ahead of the left handed Justin Nicolino. Down in Bluefield, Daniel Norris and Kevin Comer might interest them, but their proximity (or lack thereof) to the major leagues might be a debilitating factor.
Hechavarria and a pitcher would obviously be insufficient to peel Upton away, so the Blue Jays would need to add more. As much as it hurts, that likely starts with one of the elite centerfield prospects, Anthony Gose and Jake Marisnick. They would likely favor Marisnick as he’s roughly a year and a half away, and as I mentioned, Arizona’s outfield need isn’t immediate. Gose should be ready within the next couple of months, and while he’s an elite defender, Arizona already has one of those in Chris Young. Both Young and Gose would lose a lot of value if shifted to a corner, so for the Diamondbacks, Marisnick is the more logical choice.
To round out the package, I’d offer Yan Gomes. He’s not in the Blue Jays top 30 prospects, but he could give Arizona some much needed offense from third base. Additionally, in the National League, his ability to play catcher, first base, and even some left field would be a huge positive. The Diamondbacks would like to contend again in 2013, and Gomes’ offensive spark and defensive versatility could fill a huge hole on their team until Matt Davidson, the team’s top third base prospect, is ready.
Would Jake Marisnick, Noah Syndergaard (or Aaron Sanchez), Adeiny Hechavarria, and Yan Gomes get the deal done with Arizona? Is it too much for the team to give up? The Blue Jays and Diamondbacks match up well, and I think an offer like this would be one of the best Arizona would receive. In addition to developing players for your own team, the other purpose of a farm system is to use in trade to acquire elite big league talent. As a prospect guy, losing these players would hurt, but for a player like Justin Upton, I’d make the deal. What do you think?