Jul. 26, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton (10) during the game against the New York Mets at Chase Field. The Mets defeated the Diamondbacks 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

Would a Justin Upton Deal Be Worth the Cost for the Rays and Diamondbacks?

It started off sounding ridiculous. And now suddenly it could really happen. Ken Rosenthal has reported the Rays may now be the front-runner in the trade talks for the Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton, possessing the pitching and prospects needed to get the deal done. But is a deal worth the steep price the Rays will have to pay in order to get Upton to replace his brother B.J. Upton in a Rays uniform?

The Texas Rangers could have blown away the field in the pursuit of Upton by offering a package headlined by either starting shortstop Elvis Andrus or another shortstop who is arguably the top prospect baseball, Jurickson Profar. But the Rangers know what they have in those two players and have no qualms about keeping them both- Profar has already seen time at second base in the minors and majors- and both players are apparently off-limits in trades. That leaves the Rays, who can offer the Diamondbacks topflight pitching for Upton, and, as Rosenthal points out, a top shortstop prospect of their own in Hak-Ju Lee. The package the Rays would have to offer for Upton could be a little more or less than that, but that’s where a discussion will start. Do the Rays really want Upton that badly?

When teams look to trade for Justin Upton, they have to keep in mind that they don’t know exactly where they’re going to get. Upton, who turned 25 in August, has alternated between outstanding and simply solid seasons the past four years. In 2011, he finished fourth in the MVP voting after posting a .289/.369/.529 line (141 OPS+) with 39 doubles, 5 triples, 31 homers, 88 RBI, and 21 of 30 stolen bases in 159 games and 674 plate appearances. In 2011, however, he slipped to .280/.355/.430 (107 OPS+) with 24 doubles, 17 homers, 67 RBI, and 18 of 26 stolen bases in 150 games and 628 PA’s. Upton, like his brother B.J., has superstar ability, and unlike B.J., he has put together seasons that make you think “wow, he has really put it all together now” not once, but twice, in 2009 and 2011. But Upton’s 2012 decline was particularly concerning. Among the 21 MLB players who managed an OPS+ of 140 or higher in 2011, not a single player experienced as much of a drop in OPS+ as Upton did while staying healthy the entire season or close to it. Nevertheless, the Rays would love to get Upton in their lineup and see what he can do. His ability to hit for average and power, steal some bases, and play solid defense in right field would allow them to seamlessly replace B.J. and if Justin can return to his 2011 levels, suddenly the Rays’ outfield and maybe even their entire offense could be significantly improved next season. But in a potential trade, the Rays are trading for potential while keeping in mind that there’s a chance that Upton is not all that much more than an average player.

The other factor with Upton is his contract- he will make 9.75 million dollars in 2013 before seeing his salary jump to 14.25 million dollars in 2014 and 14.5 million dollars in 2015. The Rays would have trouble paying that contract and would likely need some money from the D-Backs in a possible trade in order to acquire him.

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for RF Justin Upton and 6 million dollars cash.

The Rays would be thrilled if a possible trade for Upton would be this simple. It won’t be. The Diamondbacks would love to get a topflight pitcher like Shields in a return for Upton, but that alone does not get the deal done. No matter how much GM Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks want to trade Upton, they recognize that Upton is a big part of their lineup and replacing him with speedy rookie Adam Eaton is no sure proposition. Even in the best-case scenario, Eaton has much less power than Upton and cannot deliver monster seasons like Upton has already done twice. An Upton for Shields trade would certainly improve the Diamondbacks rotation and a rotation of Shields, Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, and Tyler Skaggs, plus Daniel Hudson when he returns from Tommy John Surgery, would be quite formidable (and extremely changeup-dependent- everyone but Skaggs used a changeup as their primary secondary pitch in 2012). But factoring in Upton’s potential, this trade could be an enormous win for the Rays if Upton puts it all together, and if Upton plays at a high level over the length of the contract with the Rays, the Diamondbacks will regret trading Upton forever. The Diamondbacks run that risk no matter who they trade Upton for, but they still want more in return from him so they have a better chance of being an improved team without Upton even taking that possibility into account.

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP Jeremy Hellickson and SS Hak-Ju Lee to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for OF Justin Upton and 6 million dollars.

This trade looks like a pretty good match- the Diamondbacks receive a nice pitcher in Hellickson who has pitched well the last who seasons and made significant strides with his curveball in 2012 to give him a chance to be even better moving forward, and also fill a team need at shortstop with the slick-fielding Lee. There is risk on both sides in this trade, that Lee never hits enough to be a starting shortstop and that Upton plays more like he did in 2012 than he did in 2011 moving forward, but nevertheless the D-Backs would improve their rotation and at shortstop to compensate for the loss of Upton while having both Hellickson and Lee under team control for the next several years. However, this trade is not happening with money being the major factor. The earlier trade worked because the Rays were trading Shields, who is making 10.25 million dollars in 2012, for Upton, who is making 9.75 million, and the money in the trade would mean that the Rays would be saving money even while plugging a major hole in their outfield and their lineup with Upton. In this trade, the Rays would be in trouble. Hellickson and Lee are both pre-arbitration eligible players, with Hellickson making near the MLB minimum in 2013 and Lee scheduled to make the same once he breaks into the big leagues, and suddenly they would be adding 8 million dollars (factoring in the money the D-Backs send in the trade) to their payroll in 2012 and over 12 million dollars in 2013 and 2014. This trade would necessitate Shields being traded as well, either in a separate trade or a crazy 3-team deal. The Rays are not going to carry out a trade like this that forces them to not only trade Hellickson but also Shields. They have starting depth, but trading two of their top three starters would be taking it too far.

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields and SS Hak-Ju Lee to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for RF Justin Upton and 6 million dollars.

Now the money issue disappears and the Diamondbacks would do this trade as they receive a frontline starter and a shortstop that be contributing to their big league team at some point in 2013 in exchange for Upton. But now the Rays might back out, since they would be losing their most dependable starter and their shortstop of the future and unless Upton finally finds sustained success, this trade doesn’t look so good for them. Even though shortstop is a position of need for the Rays, they could absorb the blow better than most teams because of the presence of Ben Zobrist, which would allow them to be fine moving forward with Zobrist at shortstop and someone like Tim Beckham or Derek Dietrich at second base. But they still would like a shortstop back in this trade to even it out more.

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields and SS Hak-Ju Lee to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for RF Justin Upton, SS Chris Owings, and 6 million dollars.

If you divide this trade into a Shields for Upton swap and a Lee for Owings swap, the crazy thing would be that Lee and Owings both played at Double-A in 2012. How would that make any sense for Arizona? The answer is that Lee has Gold Glove potential defensively and shows the ability to hit for a decent average, get on base at solid clip, and steal quite a few bases while Owings is much more rough around the edges in his game. He has a chance to be an above-average if not plus defender at shortstop but remains erratic, and offensively he has more upside than Lee, hitting for much more power to go along with some speed, but his major flaw is a complete lack of patience that puts his entire offensive game into question. Owings will almost assuredly take longer to make the big leagues than Lee and has much more risk- Lee’s absolute floor is a defense-first utility player while Owings could very well completely flame out. Now we’re talking a package that makes some sense, but while we’re talking about a shortstop swap, the Rays would also like recoup a little pitching value in this trade. Your first thought has to be to Trevor Bauer, but while the Diamondbacks are considering trading their top pitching prospect Bauer because of concerns with his work ethic and drop in fastball velocity, a trade of Shields and Lee for Upton and Bauer, let alone Upton, Bauer, and Owings, is not something the Diamondbacks would be willing to do. The second pitcher the Rays would ask about would be Tyler Skaggs, but he’s in line for a rotation spot for the D-Backs in 2013 and has considerable upside, also putting his value too high to be the final piece in this trade. The pitcher that makes most sense is lefty Patrick Corbin.

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields and SS Hak-Ju Lee to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for RF Justin Upton, SS Chris Owings, LHP Patrick Corbin, and 4.5 million dollars.

Corbin, 23, appears to be the odd man out in the D-Backs’ rotation plans if they acquire a starting pitcher like Shields, and with no need for him in their strong bullpen, Arizona would no qualms putting him into this deal to make it happen. Corbin struggled to a 4.54 ERA in 107 innings for the D-Backs in 2012, but he shows flashes with a sinker, curveball, and a changeup, albeit while struggling with command, and he could be a pitcher that the Rays try out of the bullpen in a Wade Davis-esque role with the possibility of returning him to the rotation later on.

At the end of the day, the Rays are trading a dependable number two starter in Shields and a outstanding defensive shortstop with the ability to break into the big leagues later this season in Lee in exchange for Upton, who would fill a gaping hole in the Rays’ lineup and outfield with superstar potential but also the risk of being little better than average, a shortstop prospect in Owings with upside although considerable risk that would make the Rays more comfortable trading Lee, and a pitcher apparently out the Diamondbacks’ plans in Corbin that would allow the Rays to recover some pitching depth. The Diamondbacks get considerable improvements at starting pitcher and shortstop while trading away a talented but enigmatic player who has driven them completely insane in Upton along with two secondary pieces to even out the deal. The Diamondbacks seem unlikely to get the package of their dreams for Upton, but they get two players that could play crucial role for them over the next few seasons as they battle for NL West supremacy. The Rays, meanwhile, trade two players they would rather not trade but make an enormous upside play for Upton and to a lesser extent for Owings and Corbin.

Will the Diamondbacks deal Justin Upton now or hold onto him until the 2013 trade deadline hoping he can reestablish his value and command an even bigger return? Over the next few days and weeks, we will find out the answer to that question. If Arizona does deal Upton to the Rays in a trade like this, it could become one of the most-talked about trades in baseball for a very long time.

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Tags: Arizona Diamondbacks Hak-Ju Lee James Shields Justin Upton Tampa Bay Rays

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  • Julian Toepfer

    An interesting and extremely Rays slanted article. As a Diamondbacks fan, the Rays are dreaming if they think their getting their hands on Bauer or Skaggs in any scenario. Owings and Corbin are also out of the question, Owings in particular. He’s the only MINF in our minorleague system who has star potential, and the reason Upton might be traded is because we are dealing from positions of strength, not weaking the weakest areas of our organization. The Diamondbacks will not be dealing any prospects along with Upton. At least not for any combination of trade possiblities mentioned above.

    The only trade mentioned in the article the Dbacks do is Hellikson and Lee for Upton straight up, and not with less 6 million thrown in. 4 is closer. Your trades are seriously overvaluing Sheilds who is very solid pitcher, but nothing more than a decent #2. The Dbacks already have #2′s. They need an ace. Fortunately, the Rays have 3 other pitchers who can fill that criteria. Here are some packages that make a bit more sense.

    1) Hellikson and Lee for Upton and 4 million

    2) Moore and Beckham for Upton, Corbin and 2 million

    3) Price for Upton, Owings and Corbin and a PTBN no cash exchanged

    • Robbie_Knopf

      Quick thoughts on those scenarios: 1) Like I said in the article, the Rays aren’t doing that trade 2) Moore’s not going anywhere 3) I can’t see them trading Price, and if they do it will be for a whole lot more than that.

      If I’m being Rays-slanted, you’re being Diamondbacks-slanted- but it will be very hard to find common ground when trying to come up for in a blockbuster like this.

      • Julian Toepfer

        I really don’t think I’m being very slanted. I realize Upton is coming off a down year, and he still would have been the best bat in TB’s lineup last year. Corbin is a potential #2 starter, #4 at worst. Hak-Ju Lee is an all glove no hit SS, and Sheilds is a #2. What would you rather have: a 24 year old #3 hitter with a team friendly long term contract and a 22 year old lefthanded pitcher with #2 potential, or a #2 starter with 2 years left on a somewhat expensive contract and a SS with a AA BA of .249… Thats lopsided in the Rays favor anyway you look at it, and its gonna take alot more from Friedmans side.

        • Robbie_Knopf

          Corbin is not a number four at worst, maybe a number 3 or 4 at best. You’re calling Upton’s contract affordable and Shields’ expensive while Upton is making more. Upton would have been the 5th best player in the Rays’ lineup minimum 400 PA’s per OPS+, and that’s leaving out Longoria- you have to account for the difference between an extreme hitter’s ballpark in Chase Field and an extreme pitcher’s ballpark in the Trop. You’re quoting Lee’s Double-A batting average when he hit .292 the year before clearly has more room to grow offensively. I don’t think the D-Backs would possibly do the trade now because they want Upton to recoup his value, but unless some team is crazy for him, the D-Backs won’t get a better offer than that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Selgy Rob Selg

    Tampa Bay sends David Price


    Arizona for CF – Adam Eaton, 1B – Paul Goldschmidt and SP Tyler Skaggs

    This would fill the Rays needs at First and CF for many years with young talent who both seem to be the the cusp of being very good MLB players. In addition it gives the Rays a MLB ready Lefty starter who can fight for the 5th rotation spot.

    Shields, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer, Davis, Skaggs

    • James Attwood

      Goldschmidt is one of two virually untouchable position players in Arizona, while Skaggs is looked at by many to be the future ace of the Dbacks franchise, being a lefty with an incredibly high cieling. That sort of trade does absolutely nothing for the Diamondbacks.
      I’d say there is just no way this sort of deal could ever happen, but then I look at the trade Toronto just pulled off so…
      Rays fans can always wistfully dream though.

      • Robbie_Knopf

        I still don’t think the Rays do that trade because they’re not trading Price right now (maybe take out Eaton and put in Upton), but exchange say Shields and Lee for Price and the Rays would accept that package in a heartbeat.

        • Julian Toepfer

          Now I know you’re joking…

  • James Attwood

    This is one of those rare scenarios where a player (Price) being good enough to win a major award may have actually hurt his team. Before Price won the Cy Young, either Pirce or Hellickson could have been traded to the Dbacks in an Upton deal. Now, there’s no way Tampa can justify moving Price – it just isn’t happening.

    Shields is a nice piece, but he would be going to the Dbacks for all of one season, 2013, before he would become a FA, and be too expensive for the Dbacks to re-sign. That significantly drops his value in the deal. Unlike Julian, I disagree that Owings is untouchable. If HJL is part of the trade, then Owings could possibly be moved, either to Tampa, or to another team.

    You have a strong point that moving Hellickson and taking on Upton would necessitate moving Shields somehow as well. That’s why, I can almost envision a second blockbuster deal. However, in this case, both teams would be upgrading and addressing needs. I envision something along these lines:

    Upton/Corbin/Owings (probably no money, but if I am KT I consider up to $3 MM)


    That trade brings in Upton to adress needs for Tampa AND clears Shields, while still bringing back a solid, but not stellar, starter in Corbin (last year was his low performance expectation) and would also fill the loss of Lee with Owings. If the Dbacks kick in $3 MM, they have only increased payroll for the 2013 season by $4 MM, and they’ve already saved well over that by moving Chris Young.

    • Julian Toepfer

      I didnt say owings was untouchable, only that the dbacks value him alot due to their lack of middle infield depth and that he wouldnt be included in any of the trades proposed in the article. I even included him in one of my trade proposals. As for your trade idea, i by far makes the most sense of any ideas so far. I think we have a deal.

      • Robbie_Knopf

        There’s no chance the Rays would trade Shields and Hellickson together in a trade. Shields actually has two years left on his contract counting a 2014 option, so I don’t think I’m overvaluing him very much- he is a lock for 200 innings each season and has been absolutely lights out for all of 2011 and the second half of 2012. Put him in the NL West and he won’t be a true ace but he’ll pitch like one quite often.

        If the D-Backs value Owings that much (although I think they’d be more confident trading him knowing they’re acquiring Lee), there has to be some prospect to add some luster to the Upton/Corbin package so the Rays would trade Shields and Lee.

        • Julian Toepfer

          The point is that the Dbacks would want Hellikson, not Sheilds. I realize you n or the Rays organization wants to part with him, but he is infinately more attractive than Shields as far as the Dbacks are concerned, and is going to have to be included in a deal. As I said, I think a package of Hellikson and Lee to the Dbacks for Upton and a couple million would get it done. If the Rays want Owings/Corbin/some other prospect, then TB is the team thats going to have to sweeten the pot.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            A Hellickson for Upton trade could never work out with the money. Unless the Diamondbacks want Shields (which they definitely would if not as much as a player with years left under team control like Hellickson), there’s no chance this trade is happening. But the bottom line in a trade like this is that the way Upton’s value stands now, the D-Backs would have to settle for a package below his potential, and the fact that Upton’s value is so low right now is what has the D-Backs likely to refrain from trading Upton until at least this year’s trade deadline.

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