Baseball general managers met last week and most of the talk was centered on the Arizona Diamondbacks surprisingly dangling star outfielder, Justin Upton, as trade bait. Upton is only 23-years-old and was the first overall pick in the 2005 draft.
So why are the Diamondbacks putting Upton out there? He is under their control for a reasonable price. He is owed about $40 million over the next four years under his current contract. That’s $10 million a year. Consider J.D. Drew is making $15 million per year, Vernon Wells $18 million, Alfonso Soriano $17 million, Barry Zito $18 million, and Carlos Beltran $17 million. All those players are in their 30’s and on the downside of their careers. Upton is a rising star who, coming into the season, was considered by many a top-5 outfielder.
I have to believe the Diamondbacks are hiding something. According to Rotoworld.com, Upton has been dealing with a tear in his left labrum (shoulder) that dates back to 2006. He has missed time on different occasions over the last few seasons when he has re-aggrevated the injury. He missed the entire last month of the 2010 season after injuring the same shoulder on a swing and a miss. Initially he was listed as day-to-day, but he wound up missing four weeks, being used only sporadically as a pinch runner. Some believe this may be a chronic condition which can surface at any time.
When healthy, Upton is unquestionably a terrific talent. Any fantasy league researcher would know that Upton was ranked among the top three outfielders in all of baseball going into the 2010 season, ahead of people like Carl Crawford and Matt Holliday. Throw out Upton’s first two seasons even though they were respectable considering his age. Upton was fast-tracked to the majors and was called up at the tender age of 20. One has to only look at his 2009 season to see his potential. As a 22-year-old, he hit .300 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI, while stealing 20 bases. He is an above average defensive outfielder as well, with a cannon arm. In 2010 he regressed, but still hit 17 homers and stole 18 bases in 495 at-bats, while hitting .273. He was just starting to warm up though when his injury occurred, having hit .312 with 8 homers in June and July.
As much as I like Upton, it would be a mistake for the Red Sox to acquiesce to Arizona’s enormous asking price. They are reportedly asking for a major league ready outfielder (Ryan Kalish/ Jacoby Ellsbury?), a starting pitcher (Casey Kelly?), and a closer (Daniel Bard?). Why give up anything when you could sign a free agent like Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth? It’s too much of a risk to have to worry about Upton’s shoulder every time he swings and misses, which he does a lot, or every time he dives after a ball. Then you have to worry about watching SportsCenter to see Ellsbury stealing bases like a bandit, or Kalish evolve into a Jim Edmonds. I’m not even going to mention Bard, because you have to believe Epstein views him as untouchable with the impending exodus of Jonathan Papelbon. Epstein has also shown a reluctance in the past to trade away his prized young talent.
It would be curious to see if the Yankees could put together a package to lure Upton. He would be an upgrade over Nick Swisher or Brett Gardner. Plus he would inject the team with some youth they so desperately need. The Yankees would probably need to include Joba Chamberlain in any deal. Arizona’s bullpen was a disaster last year, and is their biggest need. New York’s bullpen was not very good, and they probably won’t be able to assemble a package of young players that would be appealing.
Due to Upton’s reasonable contract, other teams besides Boston and New York are viable options. Toronto and Seattle have been rumored to be kicking the tires on a deal. Arizona fans and media are praying that these rumors are all a big bluff by new GM Kevin Towers. Either way, it will be intriguing to see how this situation develops as the baseball meetings are scheduled to take place in Orlando, Florida from December 6-9.