One of the biggest names on the trading block at this year's Winter Meetings is the Atlanta Braves Justin Upton. Reporters, coaches, front office people; everyone is talking about him. Everyone, it seems, except for the Orioles vice president of baseball operation Dan Duquette. We learned a few days ago that the O's are more likely to sign a free agent to help in the outfield rather than make a trade for someone like Upton, but it is still fun to imagine the possibilities.
The major drawback is obvious. Upton is 27 years old, entering the prime of his career, and about to begin the final year of his contract. Any agent worth his salt will tell his client to hit the market and get as much money as possible. For Upton, that number is likely to be extortionate. That makes this quite possibly just a rental. But it is the exact type of bat the Orioles need to plug into their lineup.
The cost of doing business
Just about every trade rumor that includes the Orioles ends with the phrase "and then the team asked about Bundy and Gausman." The Orioles seem to be asking for a fortune in order to part with either one of their prized young arms. It looked likely that a deal to get Upton would almost certainly have to include one of the two. That isn't happening.
However, reports surfaced that the Braves were switching things up. They will trade Upton for a lesser return if the team they swap with also takes on the contract of Chris Johnson.
The 30-year-old Johnson is signed through 2017, making $6 million, $7.5 million and $9 million over each of the next three seasons. On top of that he has a $10 million option for 2018 with a $1 million buyout. Altogether, that is $23.5 million in guaranteed money that the Orioles, or any other team that wants Upton, may have to take on.
If I'm Duquette, that has me on the phone with Atlanta asking them what they are looking for now. Although, it seems the Braves themselves are confused as to what they are doing. They shipped off Jason Heyward and then signed Nick Markakis. Either way, it is worth a call.
If not a top young arm than maybe you just move down the prospect list. Christian Walker doesn't seem to be a match with Freddie Freeman entrenched there. Hunter Harvey is coming off of an injury and may not have hte most value at this moment. Jonathan Schoop would be a name they may ask about as the Braves have no real notable second baseman. So, while Bundy and Gausman may be off the table, it could still be a steep price.
On the field
I don't really need to tell you how good Upton is, but I will anyway. He is pretty darn good. He was a 3.9 WAR player, according to Fangraphs. Baseball Reference had him a bit lower at a 3.3. And let's be honest, the player he would really be replacing is Nelson Cruz. The newly-minted Mariner was also anointed a 3.9 WAR player by Fangraphs, although BR liked him more at a 4.7, his career high. It isn't ridiculous to think Upton could receive a bump playing in smaller parks like Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium on a regular basis.
Not to mention, Upton is coming off a year in which he put up a career high in RBI with 102 on a Braves team that scored the second fewest runs in baseball. He was their offense, leading the team in home runs as well and finishing second in doubles.
In the field, it is more of an adventure with Upton. He has played both corner outfield positions in his Major League career, but last year saw him spend all 1319.2 innings in left field for the Braves.
Fangraphs credited him with saving 2.8 runs with his range there. However, his arm cost the team 2.1 runs. His ultimate zone rating per 150 games was -1.1. Shockingly, Cruz actually registered a UZR/150 of 3.8 in 2014. Yes, a positive number. So, the O's would be losing a good chunk there, provided that he is the full-time left fielder.
A modest proposal
To sum his plate presence up, his 162-game average looks like this: 26 home runs, 84 RBI, 33 doubles, .274/.354/.476. That is some offense the O's could seriously use.
However, compare those numbers to the 2014 season had by another trade target the O's are said to be interested in: 25 home runs, 85 RBI, 28 doubles, .264/.312/.445. Obviously, the on-base percentage is a decent amount lower, but everything else stacks up pretty close.
That second set of numbers belongs to the Philadelphia Philles Marlon Byrd. In order to nab Byrd's services, you will likely have to give up a lot less as he is 37 years old and the Phillies seem like they just want to trim anything that won't be a part of the future.
Byrd is only signed through 2015 but does have a possible team option for 2016 that could vest based on the number of times he comes to the plate next year.
For what it's worth, Fangraphs gave Byrd a WAR of 1.9 in 2014 and BR issued a 2.6 WAR. The average worth of 1.0 WAR is considered to be $6 million, making both Byrd's $8 million and Upton's $14.5 million salaries a bargain to a certain extent. Of course, those values change just about every day.
Is Upton the right fit, right now?
It is pretty clear that Upton would be a good fit for the Orioles. He doesn't have any history of serious injury and would slot right into the middle of the order for the offense-hungry Birds.
But it doesn't seem smart to bring in another valuable talent heading into free agency when the team will also see Chris Davis and Matt Wieters have their contracts expire at the season's end as well.
If the trade is made, the Orioles could be looking at making three qualifying offers and getting three draft picks back as compensation. As useful as those could be down the road, it doesn't help with the "win-now" mentality that players like Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy likely have at this point in their careers.
It makes even less sense if the team has to part with someone like Schoop to get it done. The farm system for the Orioles is not exactly frothing with talented hitters. They need to hold onto the ones that have proven to be a valuable commodity. If both Wieters and Davis do leave after 2015, the runs will have to come from somewhere.
It makes more sense for the O's to trade for someone like Byrd if they are to pursue that track. And don't forget about Cabrera. Some want to write him off for Baltimore, but he was a 3.1 WAR player last year who made just $8 million. Though, his performance-enhancing past may scare off a few teams.
Steer clear, Baltimore. You can find the value elsewhere for a smaller cost. And you could always go after Upton next off-season...right?