MLB Trade Speculation: Why Diamondbacks Should Deal Justin Upton This Winter

Jack OwensCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2017

MLB Trade Speculation: Why Diamondbacks Should Deal Justin Upton This Winter

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    A year removed from a 94-win season and a National League West title, the Diamondbacks are in a bit of flux as the 2012 season heads into its closing months.

    With a record of 64-65 after four straight losses, Arizona stands in the middle of the pack at No. 16 in Joel Reuter's most recent Bleacher Report MLB power rankings .

    While this is a solid position, and the Diamondbacks are still alive in the National League at 7.5 games back in the NL West and 7.5 games behind the wild-card leading Atlanta Braves, the team has appeared more like sellers than buyers in the waning days of summer. 

    Their 2012 transactions via Espn.com show a lot of activity, as the Diamondbacks recently sent Joe Saunders to the Orioles for reliever Matt Lindstrom on August 26.

    Another recent move involved sending long-time shortstop Stephen Drew to the Oakland A's for minor leaguer Sean Jamieson, which occurred on August 20 (via Sarah McLellan at azcentral.com).

    Before these two big moves, the Diamondbacks lost their beloved "Tat Man" on July 25. A versatile infielder, Ryan Roberts went to the Rays in exchange for minor league second basemen Tyler Bortnick.

    Many changes have occurred out in the desert, including seven different third basemen to start for Arizona. Despite this adversity, manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers have the team playing .500 ball in the ultra-competitive NL West (via Jim McLellan of azsnakepit.com).

    Third baseman Chris Johnson was acquired from the Houston Astros to fill this infield void, but many more moves will be required for the Diamondbacks to match the new powerhouse in Los Angeles and the always competitive San Francisco Giants.

    One of those moves is shopping around all-star right fielder Justin Upton, who has been the source of trade talk since the trade-deadline in July (azcentral.com).

    Here’s how the Diamondbacks can improve their chances in the NL West by trading Upton this winter, if they do not do so before then.

Reload to Face the Dodgers

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    In case you have been living under a rock and missed one of the most ridiculous blockbuster trades in MLB history, the Dodgers recently became very good.

    In acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto for a few high-end minor league prospects and 1B James Loney, the Dodgers' lineup became a force to be reckoned with after once being the weak point of the team.

    With Matt Kemp and Gonzalez in the middle of their lineup and an outfield in 2013 that will include Carl Crawford, Kemp, and long-time Dodger Andre Ethier, the Dodgers are the most dangerous team in the National League.

    All this paired with an excellent pitching staff, they will be tough to beat.

    Even so, Josh Beckett remains as unpredictable as any starter in the MLB. He has struggled in his past eight starts and many point to his behavior as the reason the Boston Red Sox struggled so mightily in 2012 and at the end of the 2011 season.

    If Becket continues his shenanigans, the Dodgers could become another highly talented team that underperforms because of problems in the clubhouse. 

    But how would dealing Upton, the player with the most talent and upside on the Diamondbacks, help Arizona beat the most talented team in their division?

    For one, the Diamondbacks still have several holes they could fill by dealing Upton, and two, the fact that he was ever involved in trade talks in early July indicate he, like Beckett, may be a problem in the clubhouse.

    If the Baltimore Orioles proved anything this season, it is that overwhelming talent, and namely the talent seen on the Red Sox in 2012, can be beaten by solid team chemistry and respect for your team's manager.

    The D-Backs have a great manager in Kirk Gibson and solid management all-around, but they also have a few areas of concern that trading Upton could help to solve.

Upton Is a Clubhouse Cancer

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    Over a year ago, an article by Bleacher Report's Dan Tylicki pointing out the biggest clubhouse cancers in every team’s history came out, with Upton being labelled Arizona’s despite a lot of promise heading into the 2011 season.

    Arizona began as an expansion franchise in only 1998, but nonetheless, over a decade is enough time for competition for the title of "biggest clubhouse cancer in team history" to exist. 

    Upton still had an impressive 2011 campaign after Tylicki's article was written, registering career-highs in at-bats, hits, RBI, home runs, stolen bases, doubles, and runs scored.

    He finished with 31 home runs and a .288 batting average, as the Diamondbacks cruised behind him and strong offensive seasons from Gerardo Parra, Miguel Montero, Stephen Drew, and Ryan Roberts en route to a surprising division title.

    Now nearing September of the 2012 campaign, Upton is hitting .276 with 53 RBI and just 11 home runs. His on-base and slugging percentages have dipped considerably, with .357 and .410 marks respectively.

    No reason can be given for this drop besides an inability to live up to the pressure of being a star or factors in the clubhouse that are taking away from Upton's play on the field.

    Though Upton has picked it up a bit of late, concerns from GM Kevin Towers and the fact that the Diamondbacks have considered shopping around the young outfielder for quite some time certainly contribute to intense analysis of his numbers and high expectations for Justin Upton.

    The team's focus seems to be on developing their young pitching, which is certainly a method for staying competitive in the major leagues regardless of offensive talent.

Trade Upton for More Young Pitching

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    All the recent Arizona activity, and an article by Scott Bordow of azcentral.com, is making it clear that the Diamondbacks pitching staff is built for the future.

    With Ian Kennedy being the oldest starter at 27 years old, this is a young staff.

    Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA during the Diamondbacks 2011 run, an impressive season for the starter who in 2012 has returned to a much more normal 11-11 record and an ERA over four.

    The one-time Oakland A Trevor Cahill is a talented pitcher that forms a solid 1-2 punch with Kennedy at the top of the D-Backs rotation.

    After Cahill, there is some uncertainty, though a lot of promise has been shown from Arizona's youngsters Wade Miley (25), Patrick Corbin (23), and Tyler Skaggs (21).

    All have been pleasant surprises. Add to that Daniel Hudson's upcoming return from Tommy John surgery and the No. 3 overall pick in 2012 Trevor Bauer, and this rotation could already be very strong in spite of the loss of Joe Saunders.

    If development goes well for these young pitchers, who are all in or around their prime, another addition may not be necessary. Depth is always crucial in the major leagues, and with the attractiveness of Upton to teams like the Texas Rangers (via National Writer at Sports Day DFW and dallasnews.com), the D-Backs could get great return for trading Upton.

    Whether that be for a top of the rotation guy like Colby Lewis or one of the many good positional players on the Rangers like Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, or even veteran Michael Young is hard to say, but teams as good as the Rangers are always better trading partners than lower-tier squads.

Trade Upton for a Proven Positional Player

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    Though the Diamondbacks would still have good offensive players if they lose Upton, like first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, catcher Miguel Montero, and left fielder Jason Kubel, they would miss the outfielder's bat considerably.

    They would not miss the negative attention he brings to the team most nights, but the team has holes to fill, particularly at shortstop.

    Elvis Andrus is a very attractive option and replacement for Stephen Drew, as Andrus brings the ability to hit leadoff as well as strong defensive skills and base-running.

    Upton was the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, thus he will command a quality player or two if a team is serious about acquiring his talents.

    Many contending teams will be interested in the outfielder and it is in the best interests of the Arizona Diamondbacks going forward to listen to what these teams have to offer.