But in this world, nothing can be certain except for death, taxes and winter-time rumors of Justin Upton’s departure from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
We’re still a couple of months away from crowning a World Series champion, but rumors as to young Mr. Upton’s availability this off season are already beginning to spread. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, rival executives once again expect the Diamondbacks to try to trade the right fielder at the conclusion of this season.
Upton has three years remaining on his contract, which covers what would’ve been his final year of arbitration and first two years of free agency, for which he’ll be paid $38.75 million. Considering the elements of risk present in this year’s free agent market, the 25-year-old might represent one of the safer bets available at such a cost even if his 2012 season has been largely disappointing. At the very least, he’ll act as wonderful Dodgers bait.
Of course, this is largely dependent on what the Diamondbacks will be asking for in return. There isn’t a whole lot of precedent for teams trading 25-year-old potential franchise players, so we’re in somewhat unfamiliar territory. I use the term somewhat because earlier this season Jack Moore of Fangraphs did an excellent job of comparing Gary Sheffield’s 1993 trade with a potential deal for Upton.
It wouldn’t merely be wishful thinking to imagine Arizona’s asking price to be on the decline. In addition to Upton’s struggles in 2012, this coming off season will mark the third time that rumors of the player’s availability have been widely spread since Kevin Towers took over as general manager. The Diamondbacks’ unwillingness to build around Upton offers us clues as to how the organization values him moving forward.
Adding to the likelihood of Upton being moved (possibly along with center fielder Chris Young, whom Buster Olney also mentions in his piece as being available) is the emergence of rookie Adam Eaton, whose accomplishments during his brief audition at the Major League level go quite well with the excellent numbers he put up in the Minor Leagues prior to his promotion. It also doesn’t hurt that last off season’s free agent acquisition, Jason Kubel, has seen his offensive production receive a boost in moving from Minnesota to the desert. Toss in an underrated Gerardo Parra, and the Diamondbacks have a fairly formidable outfield without help from Upton and Young.
Despite their depth in the outfield and holes elsewhere (at shortstop), I can’t get over the team’s seeming willingness to trade away Upton. It was less than a year ago that he put up a 6.5 WAR season and finished fourth in MVP voting. Detractors might point to his home/away splits as evidence that those numbers in 2011 benefited from an offensive friendly ballpark. However, his park neutral numbers suggest that such comparisons are overblown. And there’s another enormous factor that people seem to overlook when considering Upton.
Next year will be his sixth Major League season, and he’ll be 25-years-old. 25-years-old!
In looking for a comparison to Justin Upton from Major League Baseball’s past, I discovered a number of players who had put up similar numbers in their first five seasons. However, the majority of these players were three to seven years older than Upton at the time that they completed that five year span.
It’s one thing to pick up the back end of a free agent contract in a trade, and quite another to pick up the back end of a deal that bought out arbitration and the first couple years of free agency. Landing a player of Justin Upton’s caliber for three seasons of peak value should be every team’s goal this off season.