That has led to a flurry of teams being named as potential suitors, but the most intriguing proposed landing spot emerged today when the reigning AL champion Texas Rangers were named as a team who could look to acquire the 24-year-old.
The Rangers are as loaded an offense as any team in the league, so picking up Upton may not make sense on the surface—but the impeding free agency of Josh Hamilton chances things.
Extension talks with Hamilton have proved unfruitful to this point, as the Rangers would prefer to bring the injury-prone slugger back on a three-year deal, but Hamilton understandably wants a max contract in the six-to-seven year range.
Hamilton has certainly played to at a level worthy of a big payday this season, with a .308 BA, 27 HR and 75 RBI line—leading the AL in home runs and RBI.
However, since playing 156 games in his first season with the Rangers, Hamilton has averaged just 114 games per season over the last three years.
He likely won't be extended during the season and will at least test the market; and while the Rangers certainly have the payroll to bring him back, replacing him with Upton would save them some money.
A two-time All-Star who has been in the majors since the age of 19, Upton signed a team-friendly six-year, $50 million deal prior to the 2010 season. He is due to make $9.75 million next season and just over $14 million the two seasons after that.
That is guaranteed to be less than what Hamilton commands; and while Upton is having a down year, he still has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone type player.
Hitting just .273 BA, 7 HR and 37 RBI this season, he had a breakout year last year in leading the Diamondbacks to a surprise NL West title. He finished fourth in NL MVP voting with a line of .289 BA, 31 HR, 88 RBI and 21 SB.
The Diamondbacks are still in win-now mode and are not looking to move Upton for high-ceiling prospects, but are instead looking for players who can help them out now.
Top Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar is as untouchable as any prospect in baseball, but third baseman Mike Olt would be a good place for the trade package to start.
The 23-year-old has hammered Double-A pitching to the tune of a .292/.403/.574, 22 HR and a 63 RBI line through 78 games this year.
The Diamondbacks have a clear need at third base, where Ryan Roberts (.237 BA, 6 HR, 32 RBI) has failed to produce after a breakout year last year. The Diamondbacks have a decent third base prospect in Matt Davidson (.259 BA, 18 HR, 49 RBI), but he is still at least a year away and does not have nearly the upside of Olt.
From there, the Rangers could offer up left-hander Martin Perez—who made his big league debut this season at 21 and has frontline starter potential—and Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin, who has spent time in the majors each of the past two seasons and could be a long-term replacement for Upton.
Lower-level guys like catcher Jorge Alfaro and infielder Christian Villanueva could also be used to round out the deal.
Point being: if the Rangers are willing to move Olt, they should have no trouble building a deep enough package around him to entice the Diamondbacks.
Adding Upton to the lineup this season would make an already stacked Rangers lineup even better, as their starting nine could look something like this once Mitch Moreland returns from a hamstring injury:
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
CF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Michael Young
LF Justin Upton
RF Nelson Cruz
C Mike Napoli
1B Mitch Moreland
It remains purely speculation at this point, but it seems as though a Rangers' trade for Upton would be beneficial for both teams, and—if they aren't already—would make the Rangers the odds on favorite to win the AL pennant.
This will be one of the more interesting situations to watch moving forward, and we'll see if the two sides can work something out before the July 31 deadline.