MLB Trade Speculation: 6 Struggling Teams in the BJ Upton Sweepstakes

William JohnsonCorrespondent IIIJune 17, 2011

MLB Trade Speculation: 6 Struggling Teams in the BJ Upton Sweepstakes

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    *All stats are as of 6/15/11 before the day's games.

    Trade speculation, whether grounded in realism or thought up from the ether of a sleeper's dreamscape, is always fun to talk about.

    And trade speculation, sometimes dubbed a sweepstakes even, is building around sometimes troubled but immensely talented Rays outfielder BJ Upton.

    A player with immense value in terms of his potential, but with major drawbacks due to his production, Upton is perfect trade bait. You take a risk, maybe, but some of the time you'll be rewarded because for every four-strikeout, petulant-Upton game, you'll get a great-diving-catch, two-homer/two-steal Upton game.

    For a guy batting .213 this year with a bad .299 OBP and 65 K's (compared to only 28 BBs), the term All-Star still applies. That's what Upton has inside of him but chooses not to show.

    So while he may seem like the last person anyone would want, he is, ironically, someone a lot of people would love. He's got upside, as those Prospectus fellows would say, and people love upside, even if it only exists in faith and not in the tangible world.

    It's not like Upton hasn't shown brilliance before, and the lifetime Ray still offers a lot to Tampa. But the patience is getting thin, and it may be time to cash in on the aura of Upton before the actuality of Upton hits the buyers.

    Here is my look at what teams may want to grab Upton and what they'd be willing to give up.

    *I'm looking at the major parts of the trade here. All (or most) baseball trades come with numerous ancillary bench players, prospects or draft picks. Here I'll be looking at the MAJOR piece the Rays may or might go after or the other team may or might give up in return.

    Also, I'm simply going off of my own interpretations of what the Rays need and what other teams need and what they have to offer. This is not based on any word of mouth or rumors going on in the market.

What the Rays Need

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    A catcher: John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach are solid defensive catchers but a more consistent hitter is needed. Jaso is batting .230 while Shoppach is hitting a paltry .181. This would be fine (or tolerable) from the catchers, but well, see my next point.

    More consistent hitters: While Joe Maddon uses all sorts of lineups, the bottom usually consists, from No. 7 to No. 9 (in any order), of Jaso or Shoppach (.230/.181), Sean Rodriguez (.211) or Felipe Lopez (.216), and Elliot Johnson (.233) or Reid Brignac (.174). 

    That's ugly. The Rays are hitting .246, which ranks 11th in the AL and is eight points below the AL average.

    Patience: The Rays are 10th of 14th in AL BBs but third in K's. Their walk rate is about average for AL teams, but their strikeout rate is off the charts (in a bad way).

    Their OBP is 10 points below the AL average, and a lot of that can be contributed to the fact that the Rays have struck out 273 times more than they've walked (the average difference is 226).

    Another starting pitcher: Shields is making a case for being the Rays co-ace beside David Price while Jeremy Hellickson, tasting his first rough spell, is a solid rookie starter for years to come. However, the rest of the lineup relies on a terrible Wade Davis and rookie Alex Cobb (not a bad pitcher but a brand new one so you never know).

    A true slugger: While the Rays are one of the AL leaders in triples and doubles and hit the league average in homers, they are well below the league average in total hits and OPB. Ben Zobrist, Upton, Rodriguez, Lopez, Sam Fuld, Matt Joyce, John Jaso, Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon are known to hit the occasional extra-base hit and power shot into the stands, but they never do it at a consistent level.

    Only Evan Longoria seems to hit for power numbers at a consistent rate. A true slugger might lift the Rays out of the low scoring doldrums they constantly find themselves in.

What BJ Upton Offers

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    Sporadic but solid power: Every 162 games (on average and not counting this season), Upton blasts 17 homers, 35 doubles and three triples. He's also good for about 150-plus hits a year.

    And don't forget about that glorious 2008 postseason where BJ hit seven homers in 16 games. He's off to a good start in 2011 with eight long balls and 11 doubles. 

    RBI, both cumulative and timely: Upton has always had a solid showing when his teammates are on base. While Upton's RBI rate has gone up and down for the last few seasons, he still brings in about 71 on average every 162 games, and he usually drives in a few teammates more then he drives in himself.

    His '11 season is off to a solid start with 31 RBI in 63 games.

    Stolen bases: BJ Upton has stolen 179 bases in seven seasons, not going below 42 since becoming a full-time player with the Rays. He's got 14 this year in 18 attempts. His career success rate is 76 percent.

    Defense: Upton's arm is immense. He can throw from deep in center and prevent runs from scoring. He's also extremely athletic so he can make that extra catch others can't. The only thing keeping him back from being an amazing fielder is his lack of aggression at times.

    His infamous tirade with Evan Longoria last season had to do with Upton's nonchalant attitude in the outfield. If it was a one-time problem that's one thing, and while not chronic, Upton's lack of effort sometimes is his undoing. But, regardless, he has the skill set inside him.

Oakland A's

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    What They Need that BJ Offers: All

    What They Have That the Rays Need: 

    • Catcher
    • Patience
    • Starting Pitcher

    Analysis: The Oakland A's are struggling pretty badly right now, and there is no doubt that BJ's services could help them as they are lacking in all the categories BJ is strong in. 

    The A's are 10th (out of 14) in doubles, 14th in homers, 13th in total hits and 13th in slugging. BJ seems like he could inject something into their team lineup though his low batting average and high strikeout rate would only add to the A's mediocrity.

    Upton would certainly be the biggest part of the trade so the Rays may have to look at specific needs, not necessarily stars, in return. So who could the A's give up that would help the Rays?

    • Kurt Suzuki, C: A fabulous defensive catcher with solid patience (19 BB compared to 29 K's) and solid power. The batting average wouldn't be an improvement over Shoppach or Jaso, but Suzuki adds better defense and a more consistent provider of RBI.
    • Josh Outman, SP: While the Rays would be adding another young, inexperienced pitcher the rotation (lifetime 7-4 record), Outman, at best, could be a solid rotation guy for the future (and the Rays love young players) and at worst, arbitration eligible (thus releasable) come next season. In a short career he has a 3.62 ERA and 84 K's.

    Fair Trade/Likelihood?: I'd say yes though it certainly favors the A's. The Rays would get more of the same with Suzuki with a bit more power and good defense, and Outman is an uncertainty. This trade could happen.

Minnesota Twins

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    What They Need that BJ Offers: All

    What They Have That the Rays Need:

    • Consistent Hitters
    • Patience
    • Slugger

    Analysis: Another former contender having a rough year, the Twins might need a bit of Upton to salvage the season and life morale. Not appearing higher then 10th in ANY AL offensive category, the Twins need an injection of something. BJ's batting average won't necessarily help that, but his ability to steal bases and create runs, plus the additional power, could help them immensely.

    But what can the Twins give the Rays in return. Not much, at least in terms of the team's star players and the Rays needs (so no, the Rays won't be getting Joe Mauer).

    • Michael Cuddyer, RF, INF: The lifelong Twin is not likely to be on the management's expendable list, but he is a free agent in 2012, so if he indicates he'll exercise that option, the Twins might want to get something for him. He's hitting .278 this season with a healthy 22 walks and nine HR/2B.
    • Jason Kubel, UT: Currently on the DL, Kubel has been one of the Twins most consistent hitters this year, averaging .310 and leading the team in slugging percentage. For a struggling team, Kubel is not the kind of guy you want to lose if a season is salvageable. He's not very patient (14 BB to 44 Ks) but the Rays would gladly accept that as a wash if they could get more power and more consistency.

    Fair Trade?/Likelihood: Fair if it was straight up one for one? Cuddyer for Upton, probably not. Kubel for Upton? Likely the same. I also don't see the trade happening as both Cuddyer and Kubel are lifelong Twins who have consistently performed for them most of their time there.

    Only their upcoming free agency status determine the increased likelihood of the trade.

Chicago White Sox

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    What They Need that BJ offers: Stolen Bases, Defense

    What They Have That the Rays Need:

    • Slugger
    • Starting Pitcher

    Analysis: The White Sox are suffering, mainly because Adam Dunn, one of their big time signings, has failed to deliver anything but K's. His reputation as a slugger earns him lots and lots of walks, which the Rays might need, but he'll come with double (or more) the K's. Plus he is hitting at an average lower than the Earth's Mantle.

    That said, the possibility of Dunn shaking out of his funk would give the Rays hope but the Sox pause. Enough for a trade. If not, there is another option on the horizon.

    • Adam Dunn, 1B: See above
    • Edwin Jackson, SP: The former DBack and Ray is cemented in Rays history for tossing a 1,000-pitch no-hitter against them last year. And while Jackson's number might not be too much different then Wade Davis', Jackson is a)much better then he was when first on the Rays and b)instills more confidence in Sox fans then Davis does in Rays fans.

    Fair Trade/Likelihood: In terms of the money, the expectations and the Sox having to eat crow, it isn't fair to give up Upton for Dunn. But, based on numbers at this point in time, the Sox might be getting a steal (in more ways then one).

    As for Jackson, he's performed well for them since arriving in the Windy City but it seems that boosting the bats might be a priority over the pitching. The likelihood is much stronger with Jackson then it is with Dunn.

San Diego Padres

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    What They Need that BJ offers: Defense, Power, RBI

    What They Have That the Rays Need:

    • Patience
    • Consistent Hitters

    Analysis/Fair Trade?/Likelihood: The Padres are dead last in the NL in RBI, doubles and homers. They're good on stolen bases, so an addition of BJ might just add to an already flourishing product, but BJ's steady flow of doubles, RBI, and to an extent, homers can only help a squad struggling for runs.

    That said, the only reasonable trade I can see with the Padres is Chase Headley, 3B/RF. You'd be swapping defense and doubles with the two, but the Rays would certainly benefit from Headley's higher batting average and excellent patience (36 walks to 50 K's).

    In the end, it might all balance out. Upton hits for more power overall and steals more bases. But the Rays could really use the walks and consistency and can sacrifice giving away one it's most gifted runners and defenseman.

    Fair, I say yea. Likelihood, I say meh to yea.

Washington Nationals

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    What They Need that BJ Offers: Defense, RBI, Power

    What They Have That the Rays Need:

    • Consistent Hitters
    • Patience
    • Catcher

    Analysis: The Nationals have shown signs of improvement but still rank close to dead last in the NL in nearly every offensive category save stolen bases. They could definitely use some of BJ's skills to boost the sagging offense but they'd have to give something up in return.

    • Laynce Nix, OF: The former Ranger/Brewer/Red has played sporadically since 2003 but seems to be having a breakout (yet quiet) year in 2011 as a National, hitting close to .300 with 10 homers (his season high is 15). Capitalizing on his recent success in a trade might prove useful.
    • Wilson Ramos, C: This young catcher has shown enough upside in his short two-year career to, in my opinion, help the Rays where they hurt, being a catcher who hits fairly consistently and shows a decent, if not tremendous, amount of patience.

    Fair Trade?/Likelihood: I'd say it's fair with the advantage to the Nationals as Nix and Ramos are unproven assets over time. I'd say if the Nationals are on the market for players (rumor has it they are looking at the Dodgers), then this trade could happen.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    What They Need that BJ offers: All

    What They Have That the Rays Need:

    • Patience
    • Starting Pitcher

    Analysis: For a Dodgers team suffering off the field turmoil, on-field failure is not making things better. A 'star' injection wouldn't be anything new for Los Angeles, especially the Dodgers, but the addition of Upton might help the Dodgers NL 15th ranked double output, 10th ranked homer output and 11th ranked stolen base output.

    But Upton, while struggling, may demand another struggling star in return:

    • James Loney, 1B: Loney is having a fair to average season, hitting .253 with a low amount of power shots but a decent amount of RBI. Loney's patience at the plate, solid average and excellent RBI reputation (90-plus in multiple seasons), plus the fact that he is the subject of trade discussion, make him a viable candidate in the Upton sweepstakes.
    • John Garland, SP: Garland has a rough 1-5 record this year but most of his losses have come from lack of run support. Their might not be a culture change with the Rays, a team that struggles with scoring at times, but Garland's defensive pitching could help the Rays when they need opponents to score at a low rate.

    Fair Trade?/Likelihood: Loney is a trade target this season so I can see this trade, with additional pieces, happening and being fair to boot. Garland would be fair as well. Don't know if that is necessarily where the Rays are looking in regards to pitchers though.