What Does the Return the Diamondbacks Would Have Gotten for Justin Upton Tell Us About His Value?


Big news struck the baseball world over the last few days when the Arizona Diamondbacks agreed to a trade with the Seattle Mariners to send Justin Upton to the M’s only to see Upton veto the deal with his limited no-trade clause. At the end of the day, what could have been a major transaction turned into just a missed opportunity for all the parties involved. However, the saga of Upton potentially being traded is far from over. According to a source quoted by Scott Miller of CBS Sports, something is going to have to happen with Upton and it seems doubtful that Upton will still be in Arizona by the time spring training rolls around. And although the package of players that would have sent Upton to Seattle remains the Mariners’ property, those players can provide us with insight as to what the Diamondbacks could get for Upton when a deal really does come together.

In exchange for Upton, the Mariners were going to give up major league relievers Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor, top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, who spent 2012 at Double-A, and another good prospect, middle infielder Nick Franklin, who split 2012 between Double-A and Triple-A. Furbush, who will 27 in April, is a lefty reliever coming off a great season for the M’s, managing a 2.72 ERA, a 10.3 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 48 appearances and 46.1 innings pitched. He overpowered lefties to the tune of just a .147/.217/.187 line (27 sOPS+) against him, and he was also able to get righties out thanks to a low-90’s fastball, a sharp low-80’s slider, and an occasional changeup. He did miss from mid-July to mid-August, though, with a triceps strain in his throwing arm, adding risk to a relief profile that already carries risk in and of itself (especially since he’s a pitcher extremely dependent on his slider to miss bats and hitters may get a better read on it the more they see him). Pryor, 23, is a fireballing right-hander with a fastball in the upper-90’s and a potentially devastating slider in the low-90’s, but he managed just a 10.6 K/9, a 5.1 BB/9, and a 2.0 HR/9 in 26 appearances for the Mariners in 2012 thanks to his fastball straightening out and struggles commanding his pitches. Furbush and Pryor would have provided a pair of electric relievers for the Diamondbacks who come with risk but also have the stuff to dominate and would be under team control for the next several years. The more interesting pieces the Mariners were going to trade to Arizona, though, were the top prospects Walker and Franklin.

Walker, who turned just 20 years old in August, zoomed to Double-A after pitching at Low-A in 2011 and didn’t quite dominate but pitched OK and remains one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Walker went 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA, an 8.4 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 (4.04 FIP) in 25 starts and 126.2 innings pitched. Walker features a repertoire that gives him a chance to be an ace in the major leagues someday, consistently hitting the mid-90’s and touching 97 MPH with his fastball and pairing it with a curveball in the high-70’s to low-80’s with a tantalizing combination of depth and tight break and a changeup in the mid-to-high-80’s that shows potential with outstanding late fade. Walker can overpower hitters with all three of his pitches when he’s at his best, but he struggles to command all three of his pitches and has trouble getting the right arm angle on his secondary pitches to sell them as strikes. Nevertheless, Walker is extremely young- he was the youngest pitcher in the Double-A Southern League by nearly a year- and features the stuff to dominate and while he certainly features risk, his upside is as about as high as any pitching prospect in baseball. He’s a premium talent and the type of player general managers never want to trade knowing that he could blossom into an ace and make the organization that traded him look silly in a few years.

Franklin, meanwhile, is about to turn 22 and was the youngest position player in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League after making his way there in June of 2012. Franklin hit well at Double-A, managing a .322/.394/.502 line in 239 plate appearances, but he slipped to just a .243/.310/.416 in 296 PA’s in the PCL. Franklin got tentative once he got to Triple-A, losing his patience as his strikeout to walk ratio slipped to 68-24 compared to 38-24 at Double-A, but he still had a solid all-around year, hitting 39 doubles, 9 triples, and 11 homers and stealing 12 bases in 16 tries. Franklin is an interesting prospect as a switch-hitting middle infielder with solid power and speed to go along with enough defensive ability to play shortstop even though he may be better suited for second base. From the left side, Franklin features a quick stroke with good lift that gives him a chance to hit 20 home runs in the big leagues someday. However, from the right side he has never been able to generate the same type of bat speed consistently and may be forced to become solely a left-handed hitter even though he has logged 4 pro seasons already. From both sides of the plate, Franklin has some work to do with pitch recognition as he chases breaking pitches too often with two strikes, but he has the patience and bat speed to rectify that issue if he can figure out some way to hit left-handed pitching. On the basepaths, Franklin’s speed is just average, but he has good instincts that make him a threat to steal 15 bases at a good success rate moving forward. Defensively, though, Franklin’s lack of top-of-the-line speed is one of the things that gives him trouble as the combination of just passable range, decent hands, and a solid arm make it tough for him at times at shortstop. If Franklin can stick at short, his bat could make him an All-Star, but he should hit enough to play second base (although the Mariners have former number two overall pick Dustin Ackley there right now). Franklin seems more like an above-average regular than a potential star, but before he gets there, he will have to improve his approach at the plate, especially against lefties, and try to get consistent enough at shortstop to give him a chance to stay there. As a player whose floor is a platoon second baseman with some power and speed though, Franklin is a player with a good combination of upside and risk and should be a contributing big league player over the next couple of years.

In exchange for Justin Upton, the Mariners offered the Diamondbacks an elite pitching prospect, a good lefty middle reliever, a hard-throwing right-hander who struggles with inconsistency but also has closer potential, and a solid middle infield prospect. Some have said that it was a good thing that Upton vetoed the deal because the Mariners were giving up too much for Upton, but the Diamondbacks were giving up only one player with star potential in Walker and in return receiving a player who has put up monster numbers in the past in Upton. Upton, who turned just 25 in August, has alternated outstanding and mediocre seasons the last four years, finishing 4th in the NL MVP voting after putting up a .289/.369/.529 line (141 OPS+) with 31 homers and 21 stolen bases in 2011 but slipping to a .280/.355/.430 line (107 OPS+) with 17 homers and 18 stolen bases in 2012. If the Mariners believe that something is going to click for Upton as he enters his prime and he can produce numbers more in line with his 2011 marks moving forward, he’s certainly worth the package they gave up and if Walker doesn’t pan out, they may have even gotten a steal on their own. Of course, with the future much more cloudy for Upton, there’s no guarantee that he can be that consistent superstar type of player.

Now that we understand what exactly the trade that would have dealt Upton to the Mariners would have been, how does affect future trade proposals the Diamondbacks will field for Upton from teams like the Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Mets? Essentially the Diamondbacks were getting a player with extremely high upside and three players with high floors and some additional potential as well. If a team is willing to part with one of their 2 or 3 best prospects along with three other players who could contribute in the big leagues next season, that might be enough to yield Upton. If the Rays offered say Chris Archer, Tim Beckham, Alex Colome, and say Alexander Torres or Cesar Ramos, that would not be at the level of the Mariners’ proposal- Archer doesn’t have Walker’s upside even though he’s more likely to be a productive big leaguer, Beckham has more risk than Franklin, and Colome and Torres may have more potential than Furbush and Pryor but aren’t proven in the big leagues- but it would not be astronomically behind what Arizona agreed to either. Considering previous rumored deals for Upton surrounded players like the Rangers’ Jurickson Profar who is the best prospect in baseball or the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons, a defensive wizard at shortstop with some potential at the plate, the price for Upton has most certainly gone down.

On one hand, you could argue that Upton’s reduced price is all the more reason for the D-Backs to hold onto him knowing that he could give them more value either as a member of their team for the next three years or if they trade him after he reestablishes his value next season. However, Upton can’t be happy after being dangled in all these trade rumors, and as we saw above, a trade may be only a matter of time- and although the D-Backs will grit their teeth as they trade a player as talented as Upton for a package like they would have goten from the Mariners, opposing teams may see now as the perfect time to deal for Upton as his value may never get any lower than this. Until now, every proposed trade that would have sent Justin Upton out of Arizona was simply speculation. But after seeing the trade that the Diamondbacks had agreed to with the Mariners, we now have a firmer grasp of what it will take for a team to acquire Upton, and now we may finally see a deal fall into place.