MLB Trade Deadline: BJ Upton and 7 Other Speedy Defenders Who Could Be Moved
As the MLB non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaches, there is always considerable focus on the big bats, starting pitchers and back of the bullpen arms.
Playoff contending teams in need of a boost to their roster scour the bottom feeding clubs in hopes of prying top talent from them in order to propel themselves onward down the pennant stretch.
While there are the Carlos Beltran-type trades and the frenzied discussion surrounding pitchers such as Ubaldo Jimenez or Heath Bell, not everyone call pull of a deal of this caliber. Nor is every team in need of such a maneuver.
Occasionally, only a supplemental deal is necessary; a role player to step in and fulfill a need for his new team can be instrumental in helping a ball-club achieve success in their quest for October baseball.
These aren't always the headline-grabbing transactions that we expect around this time of year. Think back to 2004, and David Roberts, who played a small, yet incredibly significant role for the Red Sox in their curse-lifting run to World Series glory.
Jerry Hairston Jr. played an integral part in helping the Yankees return to baseball's mountaintop in 2009, after nine years of falling short of their ultimate goal of World Series victory.
Just last season, although it was after the trading deadline, the World Champion San Francisco Giants made a move that would turn out to be invaluable during the postseason, acquiring outfielder Cody Ross from the Marlins in a trade that seemed minor at the time it occurred. Ross would go on to perform brilliantly in the playoffs, helping the Giants bring home their first title since moving to the West Coast from New York prior to the 1958 season.
This year, as teams clamor for the big names in the trading market, there are gems to be unearthed, potential role players that could push a team over the top.
With the deadline approaching in only a few days, I'm taking a look at some players that I feel should be moved for one reason or another. Some of these have been rumored, and if so, I will reference the sources in which they have been. Others are speculation, players that are in situations where they, or their team, might benefit from consummating a deal to send them elsewhere.
In this piece, we'll focus on players with a valuable combination of speed and defensive skills. Some will be role players of the type mentioned earlier, while others may fit into the category of marquee attractions or high-profile targets. One thing for certain though, they will all possess the attributes quickness, base-stealing ability and defensive prowess.
Without further adieu, let's take a look at eight players that should be moved ahead of this weekend's rapidly approaching trading deadline.
Coco Crisp: Oakland Athletics
Considering Oakland GM Billy Beane's penchant for quickly flipping players in exchange for prospects, I would expect Coco Crisp to be traded for at least a lower level prospect. Since he is a free agent following this season, and he doesn't project to net the A's a draft pick as a Type-A or B free agent, it wouldn't make sense to hold onto him just for the sake of doing so.
However, Beane has been quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser as stating, "We've accepted calls on players, but we made it clear we're not going to give these guys away. We don't have any monetary issues, and we're not looking to dump payroll. If we did anything, it would have to help us significantly moving forward, not some team's prospect No. 37."
That makes sense if you're talking about a player that potentially projects as Type-A or B free agent, however, when it refers to a player who could walk for nothing, it begins to sound more like posturing.
The Braves have been mentioned as one potential destination, by ESPN's Buster Olney.
Crisp, though not a star-caliber player, has loads of speed, and range in center field. With 27 stolen bases in 36 opportunities for a 75 percent rate, he is right near his career success rate of 77 percent.
Though his fielding metrics are poor this season, with a -6.3 UZR/150 games, last season his mark in CF was 15.5/150 and 20.8/150 games in 2009. As the regular center fielder for the Red Sox in 2007, he posted a career best UZR/150 of 25.3.
Michael Bourn: Houston Astros
At 34-70, the Houston Astros aren't going anywhere soon. In fact, it may be quite a while before they do.
Considering that fact, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify paying particular players earning significant salaries for 2011 and beyond.
Though much of the recent attention has been on rumored deals for Hunter Pence, Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated says that the Astros are interested in moving several of their more expensive players, such as Michael Bourn, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez.
Bourn, in the midst of a career year, is making $4.4 million this season, and is arbitration eligible prior to 2012, and likely due for a significant raise. He will be a free agent prior to the 2013 season.
Leading the NL in stolen bases for a third-consecutive season, he is also hitting a career-best .304, as well as posting career marks in OBP with .362, and OPS at .767. His 38 swipes in 45 attempts are good for an 84 percent rate of success.
Blessed with blazing speed and fantastic range, Bourn has seen the sabremetric evaluation of his defense suffer in 2011, posting a -6.3 UZR/150 games thus far. Last season however, he posted a spectacular 20.6 UZR/150, and marks of 4.0/150 in 2008, and 9.9/150 in 2009.
Sam Fuld: Tampa Bay Rays
While Sam Fuld would certainly not be a season-changing acquisition for most clubs, he has been a tremendous asset for Tampa Bay's outfield in 2011, making some of the most spectacular we've seen all year.
Though he's only hitting .240 with a .658 OPS, he has 18 stolen bases in 26 attempts, and is capable of doing the "small things," such as bunting and moving a runner over.
In 2011, his 6.3 UZR, according to Fangraphs, ranks him at No. 11 among all qualified outfielders, and his UZR/150 games is 14.5, or sixth in baseball.
Like I said, definitely not a marquee name, but not all late-season acquisitions will be.
He's not a financial burden to the Rays, currently making only $418,000, but at 29, he doesn't likely fit into the Rays' long-term plans. With three of the organization's top ten prospects playing in the outfield, he will soon be only a role player there too. If he could be flipped for a decent young arm, he could serve the Rays well into the future.
Ichiro: Seattle Mariners
While this deal is unlikely, considering Ichiro's strong connection to the Mariners organization, and the mutual respect between the legendary hitter and Seattle's absentee owner, Hiroshi Yamauchi, the time might be right for both parties to consider parting ways.
Seattle has a strong foundation for future success, with young aces in Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, as well as future stars such as Dustin Ackley within their ranks.
However, the time is not yet, and while the Mariners showed glimpses of hope early in 2011, they just suffered through a devastating 17-game losing streak which saw them plummet to last place, and 14.5 games off the AL West lead.
Ichiro has been a face of the franchise for a decade, and is oft-touted as a future Hall of Famer, but paying a 37-year-old singles-hitting right-fielder $17,000,000 a year doesn't make a lot of sense for a franchise looking toward the future.
It's true that his trade value is likely at its lowest, considering his thus far career-worst season, but the question remains; how much value does Ichiro hold for the Mariners going forward?
He is a marquee name, but how many fans are coming to Safeco simply to see him? The Mariners are currently 23rd in attendance in MLB, and with them suddenly playing their way out of contention, that figure is likely to fall down the stretch.
Currently, Ichiro is only hitting .272 with a meager .640 OPS, both far from his career marks of .328 and .796, so questions linger regarding his sudden demise. However, as we have seen throughout his career, he is the type of hitter who is capable of hitting .400 for the remainder of the season, drastically improving his numbers by the end of the campaign.
Despite his lackluster hitting numbers, the speedy Japanese master still has stolen 28 bases in 33 attempts, as he is still a thief of the highest order.
Strangely, the man generally regarded as a defensive wizard in right field, has seen his sabremetric rating decrease significantly, as Fangraphs rates his UZR at only -8.4, or -16.2/150 games. This is an interesting development for a player that posted a 15.1 UZR last season, and is often among the top-rated right-fielders in the game.
Like I stated, I find it unlikely that he would be moved, considering his iconic status in Seattle, and the $17 million left on his contract for next year. However, it is possible that he has simply grown weary after the last few seasons of losing in the Pacific Northwest, and could benefit from a change of scenery and insertion into a contending lineup.
Emilio Bonifacio: Florida Marlins
Like Fuld, Emilio Bonifacio is not a financial burden to his team by any means. However, with his value at an all-time high, the Florida Marlins could very well cash in on their versatile, utility-man and turn him into something of greater value to them for the future.
Currently starting at third and leading off for the Marlins, Bonifacio has seen time at all three outfield positions, as well as second base and short in 2011.
While he's not technically a defensive whiz at any particular position, his versatility earned him a spot here. Though rated below average at his infield positions, at least according to UZR, he has played well in the outfield, posting an 8.1 UZR/150 games as an outfielder.
Though not likely a starter on a contender, he's certainly capable of being a highly-valuable utility-player, capable of regularly filling in at a variety of positions.
Florida's top prospect, Matt Dominguez, is recovered from a fractured elbow, and is progressing at triple-A New Orleans, and projects to be the Marlins' starting third baseman in the very near future.
Baseball America contends that Florida's system has been left bare due to promoting so many prospects recently, and they might do well to turn over Bonifacio for a young player of value while his value is peaking.
Jeff Francouer: Kansas City Royals
I still hold out hope for Jeff Francoeur becoming the type of player he hinted at earlier in his career with the Braves. Though he struggled for a few seasons after his early success in Atlanta, he seems to have rediscovered his game in Kansas City.
He's currently hitting .271 with a .779 OPS, 61 RBI and a 117 OPS+. While he'll always be a free-swinging, low OBP hitter, he has pop in his bat, is athletic, plays a solid right field and possesses a cannon for an arm. Overall, he owns a 7.4 UZR/150 games in right.
Never a speedster like several others on this list, Francoeur has discovered the ability to steal bases this year, swiping 16 bags in 20 attempts, for an 80 percent success rate.
There has been discussion of a potential deal that could move Francoeur to the Red Sox, and he commented about the rumor himself. Speaking with WEEI.com, Francoeur stated, "It would be neat,” when asked about potentially playing with the Red Sox. “From a standpoint where my dad took a train with my grandpa for tons of games to Fenway. I was in high school and had a Boston Red Sox credit card. But I’m happy here (in KC), and I would like to play here."
“I enjoy Kansas City and I’ve told [Royals general manager] Dayton [Moore] I would like to stay there. I would like to be a part of it. But at the end of the day, you know how these things work and you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
There is a mutual $4 million option in Francoeur's contract for next season, and with the way he's playing, Kansas City might be inclined to pick it up. However, with a young roster still seemingly a few years away from developing into contenders, they may be inclined to trade him for a prospect or two from another organization in order to save themselves a few million dollars in the short-term.
B.J. Upton: Tampa Bay Rays
There are those in the baseball world that still believe there is a potential superstar trapped within the frustratingly underachieving body of B.J. Upton.
Once upon a time, at the tender age of 22, Upton burst upon the scene with a spectacular first full season in the big leagues. In 548 plate appearances, the elder of the Upton brothers hit .300 with an .894 OPS, slugging 24 home runs, driving in 82 runs, while stealing 22 bases. The one-time infielder, converted into a center fielder, displayed spectacular range and rocket for an arm, tantalizing mightily with his wide array of skills on the baseball diamond.
With the sky as the limit for the wiry, young, star in the making, Upon hurt his shoulder in 2008, was sapped of his power that year, and has been in a downward spiral since.
After hitting only nine home runs all season during 2008, he rebounded superbly in the Rays' first-ever playoff appearance, hitting seven home runs with 18 RBI through three rounds of playoffs that eventually culminated in a loss to the Phillies in the World Series.
Upton has yet to recover that magic however, as he endured a miserable 2009, in which he hit .241 with a meager OPS of .686. The Rays' center fielder continued to underachieve since, as he has struggled to recreate that magical 2007 season. Since hitting .300 that year, his batting average has dropped each season, to a career-low .227 currently. Though he has 15 home runs and 53 RBI, there are many that still feel he is performing well below the level he is truly capable of.
Defensively, Upton peaked in 2008, posting a UZR/150 games of 8.4, but has regressed in every year since, all the way to a -1.9/150 this season. While not a natural outfielder, the athletically-gifted Upton is fast, and has range, prompting many to think that he is simply uninspired in Tampa, and has taken that attitude to the outfield with him.
Several teams have been rumored to be interested in the enigmatic center fielder, including the Phillies, Nationals, Indians,Pirates, Reds and Braves. The Giants had been mentioned also, prior to their trade for Carlos Beltran.
Since he made $4.8 million this season, and will be arbitration eligible following the year, and a free agent after 2012, the Rays might be inclined to move him now, while there is significant interest in the player. After failing to unlock his vast potential, the Rays may be tired of waiting for that to develop, and could turn to top-prospect, Desmond Jennings, to replace him in center.
Upton was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times, on July 28, as saying, "Nobody else needs a center-fielder, everybody that needed a center-fielder just got one,'' Upton said. "I just don't see it happening. ... I still don't think I'm going anywhere."
I'm not quite as certain regarding his assessment of the situation as he is.
Denard Span: Minnesota Twins
The rangy center-fielder has played fantastic defense in 2011, posting a UZR/150 of 23.0. He was at 4.5/150 last season according to Fangraphs, and has been a defensive asset for the Twins over the last few seasons.
He hasn't utilized his base-stealing ability much in 2011, only swiping four bases in five attempts. However, last year, he was successful on 26-of-30 attempts, and is 71-for-93 over his career, for a very solid 76 percent success rate.
Minnesota's center-fielder hasn't played since June 3, when he suffered a concussion as a result of a collision at home with Kansas City's catcher, Bryan Pena.
If the Twins were to consider moving Span, they'd require significant value in return, and have been interested in acquiring Washington's closer, Drew Storen. The Nationals have shown a reluctance to part with their young reliever, potentially killing a possible deal.