The original title of this article was "Who Wants Justin Upton?"
I was going to type "Every team wants Justin Upton", submit the story, and go to a little out-of-the-way café to wear a beret, smoke cigarettes with one of those long cigarette-holder thingies, and talk about foreign movies. That always seemed like a neat way to kill hours and hours of found free time.
But Neyer wasn't having that. So here we are.
Every team most certainly does want Justin Upton, though. At least in the abstract. They might not all be willing to give up their best major-league-ready players and prospects for him, but they would all take him on their team. Heck, some teams would probably put him at his high-school position of shortstop if it meant acquiring a hitter with his demonstrated skills. Players like Upton -- 24, under team control, and already with an All-Star season -- almost never come on the trade market. Yet just a few moths after leading the Diamondbacks to a worst-to-first playoff appearance, there's a decent chance he's traded.
I'm not going to attempt to figure out the Diamondbacks' perspective on this. Maybe Upton is knee-deep in insider trading or foie gras smuggling. Don't know. Nick Piecoro gets a choice quote from another team's executive:
Executive One: "I have some curiosity as to why Kevin (Towers) is so down on this guy," he said. "Whenever a player like that is available, I think, ‘People who work in this game are smart. Why is he willing to trade a guy like that on a fairly reasonable contract?’"
That's exactly the right response. That kind of cynicism is why the Diamondbacks aren't going to get one of the game's very best prospects -- I'd say there's about a two-percent chance of them getting someone like Jurickson Profar. They'll still get a chunk, though, and now we get to figure out the team that's the best for Upton -- the team that's justified in selling the farm for him.
MLB Trade Rumors has linked about a dozen teams to Upton. Blue Jays, Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, Pirates, Reds … and they all would give up a lot of value for him. But what does Upton mean for another team? He's ...
- a short-term solution for a lineup
- a long-term solution for a team expecting to contend in three years
- a cost-controlled player for teams on something of a budget
Those fit most of the teams linked to Upton, but take the Blue Jays for an example. They want Upton for 2013. Oh, man, you'd better believe they do. But when it comes to 2012 -- the year of melting ligaments -- they aren't going to pay a premium just to get Upton for this season. It's not like the Blue Jays are giving up, but they probably aren't that interested in giving up a lot to help the team this season.
Other teams closer to playoff spots might be willing to pay that extra bit to get Upton. He acts as a short-term and a long-term solution for teams contending now. The Diamondbacks might extract extra value out of that dynamic.
But of all the teams looking to win now and win then, no team makes more sense than the Pirates. Upton would help a team desperate to keep the feel-good story going. He'd help the Pirates in a public-relations, win-now sense. He'd also help the Pirates win in 2015 with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Tallion, if everything goes right (and depending on who would go back to the Diamondbacks in the trade).
He's having your cake, eating your cake, using it in preseason promotional commercials for cake, and giving away cake-themed bobbleheads for the next three years. Consider one of the names that's often floated in these trade rumors: Starling Marte. He's a tools monster, a scout's centerfold. He hit .332/.370/.500 last year in AA, and he's inching his walk rate closer to acceptable while putting up good numbers in AAA this year. If the Diamondbacks don't want him, you can be sure that he can be traded to another team in a three-way deal to get something the Diamondbacks do want.
What's Marte's best-case scenario? What's the payoff if everything goes right? Probably something like Justin Upton last season, maybe with fewer walks. And, say, here's a coincidence: Justin Upton's upside is something close to Justin Upton, too. I'd say the best-case scenario is that Upton hits like Justin Upton from last year.
A relevant fact: Starling Marte was born 13 months after Justin Upton. When Upton was Marte's age, he was finishing fourth in the MVP race. You're trading Marte's upside for 2016 through 2018 to make a deal like this. The Pirates have to consider it.
Not that it would be a Marte-for-Upton straight swap. There would be other names -- possibly a lot of other names. But it would be a start. And if the Diamondbacks are serious about Upton, you'd have to believe the Pirates would be.
There are teams that can use Upton. They go by the nickname of "baseball teams." But no team comes closer to needing Justin Upton than the Pittsburgh Pirates.