The Arizona Diamondbacks are reportedly exploring the idea of a Justin Upton trade. Why?
Here are three players who were born in 1987: Domonic Brown, Yonder Alonso, Jerry Sands. They're relative unknowns -- young players who are still burdened with expectations, still expected to grow into a role with their current organizations.
Justin Upton was also born in 1987. August, to be specific, so he isn't even 25 years old yet. He's not expected to grow into a role with the Diamondbacks. He's expected to inhabit the role he's already carved out for himself, which is that of a middle-of-the-order force. He's a former All-Star who finished fourth in the MVP voting at an age when most players are still struggling with a transition from AA to AAA. He's also locked up through 2015.
Based on that last paragraph, you'd expect a conversation with Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers to go like this:
Other GM: Say, we were interested in trading for Justin Upton
Kevin Towers: /something about 14 upside-down-airplane stamps and Other GM's mother
Other GM: Well, I never!
Towers: /something about 26 of Other GM's best prospects and a dolphin with legs and opposable thumbs
Other GM: Well, I never!
Except that paragraph is somewhat deceptive. It ignores that Upton is struggling this year. He hasn't fallen down a Rickie Weeks-shaped manhole, but Upton's power has disappeared. The average and on-base percentage is where it normally is, but he's halved his home-run rate from 2011. It's his lowest home-run rate since he was Bryce Harper's age.
And that part about him being locked up is true, but it's for $38.5 million. Which is fine if Upton does the things he's supposed to, but it's not as if he's getting $8.50/hr., free parking, and a discount on team merchandise. That's a significant amount of money, and it's being paid in the expectation of significant production.
So that leads to this, from Nick Piecoro:
And, yes, as far as I can tell, the Diamondbacks are seriously open to the idea of trading (Justin Upton), as incredible as that sounds given that just a season ago he was making a push for MVP consideration.
The three main reasons given by Piecoro: a) The Diamondbacks have extra outfielders, b) Upton would still bring back a ton of value in a trade, and c) there are supposedly Diamondbacks people who aren't enamored of Upton. Point by point:
a) The article mentions A.J. Pollock as a potential replacement. Pollock is hitting for less power in Triple-A Reno than Upton is in the majors, and Reno is a place where Kirk Rueter could have hit 30 homers. Also, Pollock is four months younger than Upton. Adam Eaton (not that one) is also listed as someone the Diamondbacks want to ease into the lineup, and he's hitting .383/.457/.544 in Reno. Impressive, but still Reno. And Eaton is a year younger than Upton. I would have loved to see the numbers Upton would have put up in Reno last year.
b) True. Maybe. More on that in a bit.
c) Oh. Okay. Maybe you can talk to someone about that.
The main reason Upton would be on the market is that second one up there. The team wants a haul. Other teams will probably still pay for Justin Upton, MVP candidate right now, but if his relative slump continues, they won't in the offseason. This is the tipping point. The Diamondbacks are hoping someone runs up to them, breathless, and says "GIMME THE TEIXEIRA. HERE ARE THREE INSANELY VALUABLE BUILDING BLOCKS." If not the Teixeira, they could yell out "GIMME THE COLON", preferably in public, and preferably while someone was filming them.
But the Mark Teixeira trade and the Bartolo Colon trade are the anomalies. That's why we remember them. Usually, the prospects-for-superstars gag doesn't work out. Cliff Lee's been traded three times for 12 players, and the next good player he's traded for will be the first. More than that, the Diamondbacks aren't even rebuilding. They're just five games back in the NL West, and even closer to the wild cards. They'd need to get immediate help and a prospect haul.
There isn't really a comparable trade in history. Players as good, as young as Upton don't get traded after they make the transition from prospect to All-Star. Roberto Alomar was one of the few, though he was traded for another young, established player. The better comp might be Jason Thompson, who was traded by the Tigers after two All-Star appearances, and then again by the Angels after a half-season. Neither of those trades worked out for anyone but the team acquiring Thompson.
And Thompson was a big, lumbering first baseman. Upton is a six-tool player -- with the sixth tool being a tool that he uses to make more tools. He isn't even close to what's normally considered a hitter's prime years. And his value isn't exactly at an all-time high, as he should rebound from his early-season struggles. It seems like a crazy time to trade him.
But it's never a crazy time to gauge the market, at least, and that's almost certainly what the Diamondbacks are doing. They're looking to see if the Rangers will offer Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez, or the Orioles with Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Schoop. Something outlandish that the other team wouldn't consider.
Because if they're looking for anything less, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Justin Upton is having a down year. Justin Upton is still valuable enough to the present and future of the Diamondbacks that other teams can't afford the price they'd have to pay to trade for him. Both things can still be true. Upton shouldn't be going anywhere.