Would Teaming Justin Upton with Brother B.J. Lead to Breakout Seasons for Both?
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Will Justin Upton be traded or won't he be traded? That is the question.
Just when it appeared that Upton trade rumors had flatlined, reports that the Arizona Diamondbacks are still interested in dealing away their 25-year-old right fielder again have a pulse, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi.
D-Backs general manager Kevin Towers wanted a young shortstop included in any trade package for Upton. He focused on the Texas Rangers, who seem to have a surplus at the position with Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar. Yet Rangers GM Jon Daniels doesn't want to deal either player. The Atlanta Braves weren't keen on trading Andrelton Simmons either.
However, once Towers got his man in Didi Gregorius through a three-team deal with the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, it looked like the D-Backs were finally done with trying to trade Upton. The team and player could both move on and prepare for the upcoming season.
But then Arizona made one of the most puzzling signings of the offseason, inking outfielder Cody Ross to a three-year, $26 million deal. Suddenly, the D-Backs have more outfielders than they can put in the lineup at the same time. Towers now has to make a trade.
The initial thought was that Arizona would try to deal away Jason Kubel in something of a sell-high move. Kubel is coming off a season in which he hit 30 home runs with 90 RBI, but only batted .253 and is a defensive liability. He would be a fine addition to any team looking for left-handed outfield pop.
Besides, the D-Backs were no longer interested in trading Upton, right?
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But according to the Fox Sports report and ESPN's Buster Olney, Arizona is open to the idea again. Perhaps it's because Towers has discovered that he can't get much in return for Kubel, who's affordable at $7.5 million but may have had a career year last season.
Additionally, MLB teams seem more interested in versatile, athletic outfielders these days and Kubel doesn't really fulfill those criteria. Ultimately, he might be best utilized as a designated hitter, which severely reduces his market.
That's not a problem with Upton, however.
At 25, he's young enough to still improve significantly and has already shown himself capable of putting up MVP-caliber numbers. He also has a club-friendly contract, due $38.5 million over the next three years. No MLB team could get a player like Upton at those terms on the open market.
The two teams that could have the best chance of landing Upton, according to Rosenthal and Morosi, are the Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves. Personally, I think the Texas Rangers would have to be in the mix as well, since they haven't landed an impact hitter to replace Josh Hamilton.
Seattle has to trade for a power hitter because the past two years have demonstrated pretty clearly that free-agent sluggers aren't going to sign with the Mariners. Maybe after seeing how Safeco Field's new outfield distances play, that could change. But Upton has the M's listed on his no-trade clause and presumably has no interest in playing in the Northwest.
The Braves are a different story, Atlanta isn't as isolated from the rest of MLB as Seattle is. The team is a playoff contender and made it to the postseason last year as a Wild Card. Perhaps most importantly, B.J. Upton—Justin's brother—just signed a five-year, $75 million contract to play with the Braves.
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Could the brothers Upton play side-by-side in the Atlanta outfield? As you might expect, it's a subject the two siblings have discussed in the past.
"It's been a big conversation of ours," B.J. Upton said to MLB.com's Mark Bowman. "Obviously, he's got another three years [before he's a free agent]. Is it a possibility? Yes. Is it going to happen? We don't know. But it's definitely something that we are going to talk about."
Maybe the Uptons are talking about it now, with rumblings that Justin is available on the trade market again.
Regardless of where he goes, Justin is surely weary of the frequent trade rumors. He said as much on Twitter, calling the most recent trade buzz "nonsense." For whatever reason—whether it's how he plays, a perceived attitude or the opportunity to get a load of prospects in return—Towers doesn't seem interested in keeping Upton.
Playing alongside his brother, along with a change of scenery in Atlanta, could be what Upton needs as well. He suffered a regression in his performance last season, batting .280 with a .785 OPS, 17 home runs and 67 RBI. Those are not MVP numbers. However, a thumb injury surely contributed to the dip in production.
If playing together is something the Uptons have always talked about, the two would presumably be happy on the same team.
Would that make B.J. get on base more? His on-base percentage was .298 last year. Getting to play with his brother probably couldn't make that much worse. But Martin Prado hitting in front of him, with Jason Heyward batting behind him will likely help more with that.
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If Justin were able to hit between Heyward and Freddie Freeman as the Braves' cleanup hitter, that could have a positive effect on his game. Yet Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt both had fine seasons for the D-Backs and Upton struggled batting between those two.
Both Justin and B.J. Upton struggled on defense last season, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. Playing next to each other could help both of them improve, as they've shown excellent defensive range in the past.
But would Justin play right field or left field? He's never played anywhere but right field before, yet Heyward had an elite year defensively at the position, saving 23 runs more than the average right fielder. Do the Braves really want to mess with that? Or, is Heyward versatile enough that he can be moved to left, giving Atlanta three strong defenders in the outfield?
Two brothers in the same lineup would certainly be a fun story to follow. It would be like watching Bill and Cal Ripken, Jr. play together with the Baltimore Orioles. OK, maybe it wouldn't be exactly like that. Actually, it could be much better, considering how young both Upton brothers are and their potential to both hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases.
Does Braves GM Frank Wren have the resources to make a deal like this happen? Can he build a package around Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado? Would he have to include both pitchers? That seems unlikely. But for another powerful right-handed outfield bat, Wren might consider parting with those prospects.
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