The possibility that the Arizona Diamondbacks may trade star right fielder Justin Upton this offseason is now more of a prophecy than a possibility.
The latest man beating the Upton trade drum is Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. Here's what he wrote in an article published on Thursday:
The Diamondbacks have listened to Upton trade proposals on two separate occasions in the past two years, and the industry fully expects them to do so again during the off-season.
The tricky question is what kind of return the Diamondbacks will be able to get for Upton. He hasn't had a great season, but that doesn't mean that the D-Backs are going to dump him on the first team they come across without getting a significant package of players in return. They won't let him go for peanuts.
One potential trade partner pops up in Upton rumors more than any other, and that's the Texas Rangers. More specifically, the one player most often linked to Upton is Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. In Piecoro's words, it's the "one speculative trade rumor going around baseball circles makes a ton of sense."
Heck, why not? Here are eight reasons why an Upton-for-Andrus swap is perfect for both the D-Backs and the Rangers.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Willie Bloomquist is a good player, but he's not the kind of guy you want playing short every day.
The D-Backs have had a revolving door at shortstop all season long. Willie Bloomquist has logged more time at short than any other player, and players like John McDonald, Jake Elmore and the recently traded Stephen Drew have all played short for Kirk Gibson at some time or another this season.
Considering the cast of characters that the Diamondbacks have used at shortstop this season, things could be worse. Per FanGraphs, D-Backs shortstops rank in the middle of the pack in MLB in weighted on-base average. They haven't been great defensively, but they're not in the same company as teams like the Dodgers and Yankees when it comes to defensive awfulness as measured by the advanced stats.
However, the Diamondbacks can't use all of this to rationalize their situation at shortstop. They basically have a black hole at the position, and matters are made worse by the fact that they don't have a long-term solution ready to take over anytime soon.
Enter Elvis Andrus into the equation, and the problem would be solved.
Andrus is not a superstar player by any stretch of the imagination, but it's hard to find a shortstop more well-rounded than he is. He's a career .275 hitter who's getting a little better at the plate (career-high .736 OPS this season) every year, he can steal bases, and he can play excellent defense. FanGraphs has his UZR at 7.5 and his DRS (defensive runs saved) at plus-five, above-average numbers for his position.
Andrus only has two years left on his contract after this season, but at a reasonable total at just over $11 million. Even if he puts himself in line for a pay raise over the next two years, it's not a given that he'll price himself beyond Arizona's range.
As for why the Rangers would be willing to deal Andrus...well, that's the easy part.
Jurickson Profar is the Rangers' shortstop of the future.
Andrus has been a good player for the Rangers ever since he broke into the league in 2009. He's given them good defense at short and solid production at the plate, and he's been a part of two AL championship teams. Not a bad list of accomplishments for a guy who's still only 24 years old.
But despite his young age, Andrus is not Texas' shortstop of the future. Jurickson Profar is.
By all accounts, Profar is one of the very best prospects in the majors. Baseball America, for example, had Profar ranked as the No. 2 prospect in baseball after Dylan Bundy in its midseason rankings of the top 50 prospects in baseball. He made good on that ranking by finishing the year with a .281/.368/.452 triple-slash line in 126 games at Double-A before getting the call to the majors.
Though he's still only 19, Profar's bag of tricks goes deeper than Andrus' own bag of tricks. He's a very good defensive shortstop with a patient approach at the plate, and he already has more power than Andrus does. He's not going to be as much of a base-stealing threat as Andrus, but his speed should allow him to steal as many as 20 bags a year.
Profar is with the Rangers at the major league level right now, and indications are that the Rangers mean to make him their starting shortstop as soon as soon as Opening Day next season. He has little left to prove down in the minors, and using him as a bench player at the major league level next year would make little sense.
The Rangers could move Andrus in order to accommodate Profar, but it won't be easy as long as Ian Kinsler is at second base and Adrian Beltre is at third base. The most logical thing to do is to trade him for a part that they require.
A slugging outfielder like Upton isn't a part they require now, but it's a part that they could require very soon.
Josh Hamilton is an excellent player, but he's not cheap and he's not getting any younger.
Aside from a few bumps along the road, things have gone pretty much exactly according to plan for Josh Hamilton this season.
As I'm sitting here writing this, Hamilton is sitting on an MLB-high 42 home runs and 123 RBI. Just as important, he's in line to play in 150 games for just the second time in his career.
With free agency looming this offseason, all of these numbers couldn't come at a better time.
The universal consensus is that the best fit for Hamilton is in Texas. But the more expensive he gets, the harder it is to see the Rangers retaining him. As it is, Buster Olney of ESPN.com wrote that Hamilton's price tag is already in the $20-25 million area. If he goes on to become a postseason hero, his price will skyrocket even further.
The Rangers could commit a ton of money to Hamilton. Their attendance is generating plenty of revenue, and The Dallas Morning News has reported that the team's TV deal is worth around $80 million per year. If they really think he's worth it, the Rangers could find a way to fit Hamilton into their budget.
The "if they really think he's worth it" part is what's tricky. Hamilton is a great player, but he's not the most consistent player under the sun and he comes with plenty of off-the-field baggage. Plus, he's going to turn 32 next May. He's tip-toeing into that age group where hitters start to break down.
A player like Upton would be a perfect Plan B for the Rangers if they decide to cut ties with Hamilton. He's young, he's talented and he's still relatively cheap. There are three years left on his contract, which will max out at $14.5 million in 2014.
That explains why the Rangers would be willing to trade for Upton. As for why the D-Backs should be willing to trade him at all...well, let's just say it's complicated.
Justin Upton's standing in Arizona isn't great.
For a player who's only 25 years old, Upton's career resume is already very impressive. He's been an All-Star twice, and last year he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting on the strength of a season that saw him hit .289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs.
Because he's young, talented and, most important of all, controllable for a few more years, why on earth would the D-Backs consider trading Upton?
It has a lot to do with just how inconsistent he is. Upton was great in 2009 only to regress in 2010, and his near-MVP season in 2011 has been followed by a highly disappointing showing this year. His OPS has fallen more than 100 points from .898 to .782, and he's only hit 15 home runs all season.
And then there's the drama. It's really hard to tell how much stock should be put into all the various reports that have come out of Arizona about there being a feud between Upton and the Diamondbacks, but there's enough smoke to suggest that the reports shouldn't be written off completely.
Case in point, there was a kerfuffle back in June that involved managing general partner Ken Kendrick calling Upton an "enigma" during a radio interview (The Arizona Republic has the quotes), and his comments happened to come right around a time when Upton had just been benched by Kirk Gibson.
That mess played a big role in developing a sort of culture of negativity between Upton and the Diamondbacks, and an article published by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com in early August made it sound like the bridge between Upton and the powers that be in Arizona has been burned for good.
If so, Upton could use a fresh start. And at this point, the Diamondbacks can use their frustration with his production as grounds to trade him, and they won't miss him if indeed there is a rift between the two sides.
The Rangers would obviously be rolling the dice with a trade for Upton if there is a rift between him and the Diamondbacks, as they'd essentially be trading for a fallen star who's disgruntled.
But it's worth the risk for them anyway because of what they would stand to gain.
Upton's potential is through the roof.
Trading for Upton would be worth the risk for the Rangers because Upton still has a ton of untapped potential.
We know from what Upton did in 2011 that his 2012 season is not a true measure of his talent. When he's right, Upton is a near-.300 hitter with 30-home run power. He also has the athleticism to be a Gold Glove-caliber player in right field.
The Rangers will gladly take a .300 average, 30 homers and excellent defense from Upton if they do end up trading for him. What's scary, though, is that he has the talent to do a lot better than that.
Piecoro (see intro link) spoke to one executive who said that Upton has the potential to post a 1.000 OPS or better in a season. That's something that only one player is doing right now, and that one player is Miguel Cabrera.
A move to Texas could, in theory, help Upton reach such great heights. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is one of the best hitters' parks in the majors, and he would be surrounded by a lineup much deeper than the one he's used to hitting in with the Diamondbacks.
He'd also be joining one of the best clubhouses in the majors. Ron Washington cultivated a winning culture in Texas several years ago, and it's clear now that it's still as strong as ever. Seemingly every player who puts on a Rangers uniform is infected by it.
There may be no team in the majors better suited to the task of getting Upton to realize his potential than the Rangers. For their part, the Diamondbacks wouldn't have to worry all that much about making anyone realize their potential if they were to trade for Andrus.
Andrus' ceiling doesn't go much higher, but his floor doesn't go any lower.
Elvis Andrus is worth the risk for the Diamondbacks because he basically wouldn't come with any risk. He's one of the safest players in the majors.
Andrus basically is what he is. He's gotten a little better as a hitter each year, but he doesn't have the look of a guy who's going to win a batting title in the near future. Similarly, he'll hit a few home runs here and there, but he's not about to provide upward of 20 bombs in a given season.
What Andrus is going to do is get on base at a respectable rate, take a few extra bases with his legs, and then go out and vacuum up every ground ball hit in his general direction. There's not a whole lot of upside left to discover where he's concerned, but plenty of young shortstops out there would love to have Andrus' floor.
It's true that the D-Backs would be watching a ton of upside go out the door if they were to trade Upton for Andrus, but they'd also be ridding themselves of one big headache. They'd no longer have to worry about whether or not Upton will ever be as good as his talent says he should be, and one gets the sense that this worry is pretty high on the organization's list of worries at the moment.
They wouldn't have to worry about Andrus. He's a rock, and he would also take care of the headache that is the team's shortstop conundrum.
The big question either way, of course, is whether the D-Backs would be able to win games with Andrus in the fold instead of Upton.
They most certainly could.
The D-Backs have had a disappointing year, but it's not due to a lack of talent.
It's looking increasingly unlikely that the D-Backs won't be going back to the playoffs this year. If they do miss out, however, it won't be because of a lack of talent.
Arizona is a well-balanced team. Its team ERA of 3.93 ranks right in the middle of the pack of MLB, and the Diamondbacks also rank in the middle of the pack in MLB in runs scored. They may be 74-75 on the season, but they have a Pythagorean record that says they should be 78-71, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
The D-Backs aren't going to get to where they were in 2011 in large part because they're just not getting the same kind of performances as they were in 2011. In addition to Upton, guys like Ian Kennedy, Chris Young and J.J. Putz have regressed. Daniel Hudson was lost for the season early on in the year.
The bright side for the D-Backs is that they'll be returning a lot of talent in 2013. Their pitching staff, in particular, looks like it's going to be in good shape. Hudson will be back sometime early in the 2013 season, and he'll join a rotation that will include Kennedy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and one of Arizona's several young guns (Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, et al).
With that pitching staff, the D-Backs will be able to win games with a pitching-and-defense formula, and that's where Andrus can help. If they pair him with Aaron Hill in the middle of their infield with Young in center and Miguel Montero catching, they'll be very, very strong up the middle of the field. A lot stronger than they are now, anyway.
They'd also be able to stash Andrus at the top of a lineup that would feature underrated sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Jason Kubel in the middle. And with Upton out of the equation, Kubel could slide over to right field to make room for 2011 Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra to play left field on a regular basis.
That's a strong team. One that, I'll wager, could easily make some noise in the NL West.
If the Rangers end up letting Hamilton go and replacing him with Upton, they'd stand to lose some offensive firepower. In fact, the only way they'd be able to avoid any kind of dropoff is if Upton were to make good on his 1.000-OPS potential.
But even if the Rangers were to lose a little offense by replacing Hamilton with Upton, they'd still have more than enough of it. They're not leading baseball in runs scored just because Hamilton is having a great season. Their lineup is loaded with above-average hitters.
One thing that's for sure is that the Rangers would be upgrading their defense if they were to trade Andrus for Upton while waving goodbye to Hamilton. If the scouting reports are correct, the Rangers wouldn't be losing anything defensively at shortstop with Profar there instead of Andrus. In the outfield, Upton is a big upgrade over Nelson Cruz (who could DH on a full-time basis), and he would be playing alongside Craig Gentry.
Per FanGraphs, Gentry leads all major leaguers with at least 600 innings logged in the field with a UZR/150 of 31.2. If he were to play center field on an everyday basis, he'd win a Gold Glove.
Marginal offensive dropoff. Better defense. Still the Rangers.
Yeah, the Rangers would still be a really good team.
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