Plenty of MLB teams are looking for outfield help this offseason.
But for those clubs that either don't want to or can't afford to get into bidding for top free agents like Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and Torii Hunter, the trade market is a preferable path to finding a player who can provide some offense from the outfield position.
Perhaps the top trade target this winter is Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton. The 25-year-old is under contract for three more seasons at a total cost of $38.5 million, according to Cot's Contracts. An annual salary of less than $12 million is less than a team would likely have to pay in free agency for a player of similar talent and upside.
One team that needs a corner outfielder—especially if Hamilton leaves via free agency—is the Texas Rangers. Getting Upton to play in right field, and moving Nelson Cruz to left, would allow the Rangers to get away with a lesser offensive player like Leonys Martin in center.
With MLB general managers getting together for their annual meetings this week (Nov. 7-9) in California, D-Backs GM Kevin Towers has an excellent opportunity to deal his prized right fielder—or at least lay the groundwork for a trade that can be completed during the winter meetings in early December.
According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Rangers are doing their best to take advantage of the moment and have shown strong interest in Upton. But Towers is making Texas GM Jon Daniels pump his brakes by asking for one of the Rangers' young shortstops—Elvis Andrus or top prospect Jurickson Profar—in return.
This scenario creates a dilemma for Daniels. Are the Rangers better with Upton in right field and Profar at shortstop? Is a lineup of Andrus at shortstop, Profar playing second base and Ian Kinsler moved to the outfield the way for Texas to go?
Another question to consider is whether Towers would settle for an Upton-for-Andrus deal straight-up or if he'd ask for other players in return. If so, would that be a deal-breaker for Daniels?
Trading Upton for Andrus would certainly save the D-Backs some money. Andrus is signed through 2014 for a cost of $11.3 million.
Andrus isn't the strongest hitter, batting .286 with a .727 OPS this season. But that's better production than the D-Backs got from the trio of Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald and Stephen Drew. which combined to hit .262 with a .692 OPS.
Additionally, Andrus brings speed to the Arizona lineup. His 21 stolen bases are more than any Diamondbacks player accumulated this year. If the goal is to create a faster, more athletic team with Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock in the outfield, creating offense on the basepaths, then Andrus would fit in well with that philosophy.
The D-Backs' defense would also get a significant upgrade with Andrus at shortstop. Collectively, Arizona's shortstops ranked 21st out of 30 MLB teams in FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. They allowed four more runs than the league average and surrendered eight defensive runs saved.
Andrus is rated as the sixth-best defensive shortstop in baseball, according to UZR. He saved nearly nine runs more than a replacement-level player at the position, while being credited with eight defensive runs saved. He would be a major asset on the field for Arizona.
Though Upton presumably provides more power and run production, he's coming off a bad season during which he hit 17 home runs with 67 RBI and a .785 OPS. Andrus had 62 RBI in 2012, though he hit in a much better, deeper lineup in Texas.
Upton is also typically a strong defensive outfielder, though he had an off-year. But the D-Backs have the players to replace—and arguably improve—Upton in right field. There's no one in the organization—and few throughout MLB—that can play shortstop as well as Andrus does.
Another team looking to trade for Upton would surely have to give up more players in a trade.
ESPN's Jim Bowden passed along a rumor saying the Detroit Tigers were interested in Upton for a package that would include top prospect Nick Castellanos, pitcher Drew Smyly and outfielder Avisail Garcia. However, Arizona would surely have to include another player to make that work.
In that scenario, Detroit would be trading potential for proven production. Texas has the proven player with Andrus, and the D-Backs would have him under club control for two seasons. Perhaps Towers would push for another prospect to be included in a trade since Upton is signed for three more years. But Daniels shouldn't have to include more a fringe prospect.
Andrus is younger than Upton and plays a premium position in baseball. Towers could shop around for another shortstop, but wouldn't find as good a fit.
The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers speculates that the Chicago Cubs could dangle Starlin Castro for Upton because they have Javier Baez to take over at shortstop. But Castro would likely cost more because he's younger, is a stronger offensive player and is signed through 2019.
The D-Backs aren't going to find a better shortstop than Andrus in exchange for Upton. And the Rangers could find another corner outfielder in free agency if they didn't decide to move Kinsler out there.
Daniels enjoys the rare luxury of having a talented shortstop that is arguably expendable. Because of that, he should stand his ground with Towers. The Rangers have the leverage here.
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