What a fine catch it would be if the Mariners could reel in Justin Upton.
The outfielder hit .273 with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases last season. Not great numbers, right? Here’s the catch: At just 23, he is one of the young rising superstars in baseball right now.
Unfortunately, it was reported by Ken Rosenthal on Monday that Upton had listed four teams on his no-trade clause, essentially blocking a deal that would send him to one of those four teams. The Mariners were one of those four.
But you can’t blame Upton for making that decision; the D-Backs were putrid last season, but the Mariners were even worse. For Upton, a deal between the two would be like jumping from a frying pan into the fire.
As unlikely as a trade would be, any further interest by any team in Upton was frustrated on Tuesday when the Arizona front office stated that Upton would play for them in 2011 unless they were “overwhelmed in a deal.”
What would that overwhelming deal look like for the M’s? Surely something involving top prospects Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Michael Pineda, and those familiar with the M’s rebuilding effort know the importance of those players in the future.
A deal likely involving two of those players would be difficult to swallow, as the Mariners can’t afford to play whack-a-mole with all the holes they have at so many positions.
Now that a deal for the young outfielder is all but hopeless and insurmountable, what does the outfield look like for 2011 and beyond?
Franklin Gutierrez is locked up for another three years and Ichiro will play for at least two more, withstanding trades of course. But with Gutierrez looking like a Gold Glove-caliber stud with every brilliant play he makes, it’ll be tough to pay for him beyond that. So it’s obvious; the M’s really have to win in the next couple of years.
The good news is that center and right field are locked up for now, but what about left field? Proven veterans like Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford are out there, but with the penny-pinching tendencies of Chuck Armstrong, Howard Lincoln and the rest of the front office, it’s doubtful that the Mariners would beat out other teams for their huge contract demands.
Who else should it be? Can we take another chance with Michael Saunders, holding out hope that he can become a fixture in left field? After the Milton Bradley experiment failed miserably last season, it was back into left field for Saunders. He showed some potential, but not what you’d like to see out of an everyday outfielder, hitting just .211 with 84 strikeouts in 289 at-bats.
“Michael showed some flashes this year of the player that he can be, but he just wasn't consistent,” said Alonzo Powell, Mariners hitting coach. “It's very, very difficult to break a player down and change things during the year when a kid is fighting for his career.”
With this in mind, Saunders has been absolutely slaving over his swing one-on-one with Powell since mid-October, just barely after the season had ended. And to put what he’s learned into action, he’ll be playing winter ball in Venezuela.
Not only is that promising for Saunders’ offensive game next season, it’s also a great sign of the time and dedication the young player is putting in to fight for his starting job.
But for now, left field is the blemish in an outfield that is dominated by two Gold-Glovers in Gutierrez and Ichiro.
Who is the long-term answer at this position? A player who will be productive offensively and defensively when the Mariners finally seem to be in contention?
Is it Saunders, hoping that the extra time he’s put in will pay off? Is it Greg Halman, who had a short stint with the majors last season, with his tremendous speed and power? Is it Colby Rasmus, who according to Mariners insider Shannon Drayer the Cardinals are shopping in exchange for middle infielders?
Update: Upton's agency reported Tuesday that "Contrary to prior reports, the Seattle Mariners are NOT on Justin Upton's No Trade List." Still, the hefty price the D-Backs are asking would make a trade extremely difficult for the Mariners.