Justin Upton Rumors: Would Trading Prospects for Star RF Make Sense for Red Sox?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 27, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 29:  Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondback stands in the on-deck circle as he waits to bat against the Cincinnati Reds during a MLB game at Chase Field on August 29, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The Arizona Diamondbacks just signed a former Boston Red Sox outfielder. Might they now turn around and make room for him by sending an outfielder of their own to Boston?

Namely, a two-time All-Star who goes by the handle of Justin Upton?

Maybe, but first there are some dots that need to be connected here.

With Cody Ross joining a very crowded outfield in Arizona on a three-year deal this week, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote on Thursday what every baseball fan and their uncle is thinking: that it "appears a possible trade for Upton has become a reality again."

Heyman says it's going to be either Upton, Jason Kubel or Gerardo Parra who is dealt. He highlighted Kubel as the most likely to go earlier this week, but Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has heard that the Diamondbacks may not be able to get a great return for Kubel in a trade:

Kubel .910 OPS home, .757 road in '12. Also below-avg in LF per advanced metrics. "They wouldn't get a lot for him," exec says of #DBacks.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 27, 2012

If so, well, there's always Upton. He's been Arizona's most valuable trade chip all along, and the Diamondbacks have a perfect excuse to trade him now after the Ross signing.

It's either that, or trade somebody else for peanuts, hold on to Upton, and hope he isn't too disillusioned from all the trade rumors he's been a part of in the last few years. The Diamondbacks could end up regretting trusting that hope, as Upton's trade stock will be greatly diminished if he doesn't get his act together in 2013 after a rough 2012 season.

The Red Sox were reported to be interested in Upton earlier this offseason by Bob Nightengale of USA Today when the club's roster was still a shambles. It's since been fortified with short-term free-agent signings, but at least one pundit out there thinks the Red Sox might still swing a deal for Upton.

This would be ESPN's Jim Bowden, who conjured a potential deal for Upton in an ESPN Insider post. In it, the Red Sox would get Upton, and the Diamondbacks would get a trio of prospects: shortstop Xander Bogaerts, right-hander Matt Barnes and outfielder Brandon Jacobs.

The Diamondbacks could justify this trade. They'd be clearing a space for Ross to play right field, as well as a not-insignificant amount of space on their payroll. In addition, they'd be getting players whom Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has down as three of Boston's top seven prospects.

The D-Backs could move Bogaerts from shortstop to third base and plan on having him play next to Didi Gregorius in time, and they could also eventually add Barnes to their starting rotation and Jacobs to their outfield. They'd thus be set up for success both in the short term and in the long term.

The Red Sox could justify this trade too...but only to a degree. It would be fair deal in the short term, but ultimately a shortsighted deal.

The Red Sox would certainly be better right away, as they'd have a killer outfield lined up for 2013, with Upton alongside Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino. Upton could also form a dynamite middle-of-the-order tandem with David Ortiz and Mike Napoli (contract pending) lurking behind them.

The addition of Joel Hanrahan as their closer this week made the Red Sox, in my opinion, a potential 90-win team. If they were to add Upton to their outfield, they'd be a potential 95-win team with a legit crack at winning it all.

Not bad for a team that was a joke just a few short weeks ago.

The window for success, however, would be brief. It's likely that Boston's awesome outfield would be broken up next winter, as Ellsbury is a free-agent-to-be and will probably be on his way to another team by this time next year.

Barring another high-profile move, the Red Sox would then have an outfield of Upton, Victorino and Jonny Gomes, which is no better than the outfield of Gomes, Ellsbury and Victorino that the Red Sox currently have lined up for 2013.

Complicating matters is the reality that the team the Red Sox have put together this offseason is essentially a short-term contender. This would still be the case, seeing as how Upton has three years (and about $40 million) left on his current contract, but the club's future beyond the short term would look drastically different.

The three-year plan the Red Sox have put in place this winter looks custom designed to be a bridge to a superteam made out of homegrown players, and the idea of that team would evaporate completely if the Red Sox were to trade Bogaerts, Barnes and Jacobs—or any other combination of their top prospects, for that matter—for Upton.

Shipping a package of prospects to Arizona would make Boston's farm system a lot shallower, and the Red Sox would likely find themselves right back where they were earlier this offseason three years down the line: in search of quality free agents who could keep the fans happy long enough for the youngsters to arrive.

This is not a pattern the Red Sox want to fall into. They can look to their biggest rivals as a warning sign, as the New York Yankees have failed to mix in good young talent with their core of veterans over the last few seasons and now look like a superpower on the verge of a harsh collapse (which should sound like a familiar concept).

Infusing young talent with a core of veterans worked wonderfully for the Red Sox in 2007, when Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester established themselves in the company of Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and others.

The Red Sox will enjoy a similar experience if they stay on their current course. Bogaerts could one day line up at shortstop alongside Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks. Barnes could join Boston's rotation alongside Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront. Jacobs could join an outfield consisting of fellow youngsters Jackie Bradley and Bryce Brentz, or one of the two and a veteran acquired via free agency or a trade. And so on.

Since this plan would go Poof! if the Red Sox were to trade several of their best youngsters for Upton, they'd have to win right away in order to make the trade worth it. To borrow a phrase used by Theo Epstein, their "foundation for sustained success" would be gone.

Granted, trading for Upton and then signing him to an extension beyond the 2015 season would help ease some of the concern for the future, but not all of it. The Red Sox would still be lacking prospects to integrate down the line, and there's also the reality that signing Upton long term isn't a great idea at this juncture, given how up and down his career has been.

In short, the timing for the Red Sox to pursue a trade like this is downright awkward. It makes far more sense for a team like the Texas Rangers to pursue Upton, as their mix of veterans and young, up-and-coming players features several very valuable trade chips they can afford to part with. The young players in the mix are ready to contribute now as opposed to later.

The Rangers would thus be trading the present for the present if they were to deal for Upton, whereas the Red Sox would be mortgaging their future.

If the Red Sox are going to do that, it had better be for a player with a higher upside and more years of controllability than Upton. Such players do exist, but they belong to teams that have every reason not to trade them regardless of the price.

Well, except for maybe that one team in Miami that has that one guy.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and payroll information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

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