Gary Sheffield’s 1993 Trade and Justin Upton

Rumors have swirled around Justin Upton for some time now. The Diamondbacks are reportedly considering dealing the man once considered their franchise right fielder.

Upton, then 23, was a major player in last season’s Most Valuable Player award race. His .289/.369/.529 line (good for a 140 wRC+) earned him fourth place honors behind just Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Prince Fielder. This year, Upton’s line is down to .273/.353/.401 (a 97 wRC+), and the sound bites are piling up. The Diamondbacks “are not convinced that Upton is a winning player,” Ken Rosenthal reported on Thursday. The Arizona Republic’s Dan Bickley called for the Diamondbacks to trade Upton that same day.

If the Diamondbacks were to deal Upton, they would be traversing an overgrown path. Teams rarely trade players as young and talented as Upton. On Monday, Paul Swydan covered some historical comparables dating back to 1995. But it’s worth adding another name to the pile: the Gary Sheffield trade of 1993.

It’s a convenient comparison for one reason in particular: Both players were coming off tremendous age-23 seasons the year preceding the never-ending trade rumors.

Sheffield grabbed a third-place MVP finish by hitting .330/.385/.580 in 1992. Although Sheffield was a horrible third baseman, his 6.8 Wins Above Replacement score is comparable to Upton’s 6.4 figure from last season. Sheffield also struggled throughout the early part of the 1993 campaign. He carried a .262/.322/.446 line into June. Annoyed by the trade rumors, Sheffield complained publicly, as broadcast in the June 13 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel.

High-priced third baseman Gary Sheffield is angry about the San Diego Padres’ penny-pinching ways and about rumors that he is going to be traded.

“They cry about money and everything, so get rid of me,” the former Milwaukee Brewers player said Sunday after a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in San Diego. “I’m tired of hearing about trades. If you’re going to trade me, trade me.”

“Everybody knows I want to stay in San Diego. If they don’t want to keep me, what else can I do? I’m tired of playing for a team when I don’t know if I’ll be here today or tomorrow.”

Unsurprisingly, Sheffield’s comments quickened the Padres’ pace, as did a June 17 arrest (which sounds similar to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s recent run-in with Houston police). The Padres shipped Sheffield to the Florida Marlins a week later, acquiring a package of Andres Berumen, Jose Martinez and Trevor Hoffman, while also including Rich Rodriguez.

By all accounts, Upton’s character is not the issue Sheffield’s was. Upton owns a publicly-recognized work ethic, has not demanded a trade, and has not gotten himself dealt from another organization, as Sheffield had. Yet, one of the Diamondbacks owners, Ken Kendrick, made negative comments about Upton (as well as shortstop Stephen Drew) on XTRA 910 sports radio on June 5:

After acknowledging the thumb Upton injured in the first series of the season, Kendrick said on the radio, “He’s certainly not the Justin Upton that he has been in the past and that we would expect of him. He’s 24 years old, and it’s time for him to be a consistent performer and right now this year he’s not been that.”

The Padres’ return for Sheffield was not particularly exciting. Hoffman, of course, turned into one of the all-time greats. Nobody had a clue of his potential at the time. After all, Hoffman had a 3.28 ERA in his rookie year with the Marlins, and just a 26:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio—this after the Cincinnati Reds left him unprotected in the 1993 expansion draft.

Berumen was nothing exciting; a 27th-round draft pick snatched as the 45th pick of the expansion draft. He appeared in 37 games for the Padres in 1995 with a 5.48 ERA and 4.73 FIP, then appeared in three more in 1996 before never reaching the majors again.

Martinez, a right-handed pitcher, was supposed to be the jewel. Baseball America ranked him the game’s 68th-best prospect entering the 1993 season. He appeared in four games in 1994 for the Padres before washing out of professional baseball by 1995.

Here’s the rub for Arizona. It’s nowhere near out of the question that Upton turns things around. Sheffield did it by posting a 141 wRC+ in 1994 followed by seasons of a 182 wRC+ and 183 wRC+ in 1995 and 1996. But other teams will not pay Arizona for that superstar potential. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that Upton’s upside is greater than any prospect Arizona can receive in return. The necessary leverage just doesn’t exist — a team’s willingness to trade such a talented player simply raises too many questions.

What really speaks to the oddity of the situation is the extenuating circumstances around the Sheffield trade. Parting the mercurial outfielder’s outspokenness and legal issues could be justified. The Padres could point to Sheffield’s attitude and say, “Look, he’ll never reach his potential here by acting like that.” With Upton, there are no such signs outside of rumors about a degenerative shoulder condition.

There’s no denying Upton’s season to date as a disappointment. But is it disappointing to the extent that Arizona is willing to sell low on the face of their franchise? Given the vote of confidence from Upton’s manager, Kirk Gibson, and his excellent personal reputation, it’s difficult to fathom. The rumors will continue, but Upton’s trade value might dip below the point of a reasonable return if they persist for too long.

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22 Responses to “Gary Sheffield’s 1993 Trade and Justin Upton”

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  1. LuckyStrikes says:

    “…a team’s willingness to trade such a talented player simply raises too many questions.” Exactly.

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense for AZ to move a young, affordable Upton, unless a) they believe he’s chronically injured and will never reach his potential, b) the owner just doesn’t like him for some reason, or c) they believe the little production they’ve gotten from him this season can be easily replaced in house by both calling up a few prospects and by trading him for other MLB or near-MLB ready pieces that still help AZ compete in 2012.
    Personally I think it’s a combo of a and b, but the real curious piece is why make all this known to the public? Why not pinpoint several organizations that have the players you want and call them behind the scenes to make Upton available? Seems like this would have been more effective than announcing it to the masses where everyone does exactly what is being done here – questioning the move, which does nothing but lower Upton’s “trade” value. Seems strange, especially just coming off an MVP-caliber season. With so little “power” available in MLB today (especially the NL), why not build around the very player most teams consider to have “best player in baseball” potential?

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    • Spike says:

      I’ve been questioning KT’s common sense as well. This has been pretty bizarre.

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      • nscheer says:

        i’m a season ticket holder in the desert and there have been rumblings for years about upton’s attitude (and relationship with gibby). mark reynolds was moved, in part, because the brain trust thought he was a bad influence on upton. everyone says the right things but there has been something brewing under the surface for a while here…

        also, i haven’t heard any of upton’s teammates rushing to the media to defend their guy (or question management for making him available) which makes me wonder how he is recieved in the locker room

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  2. Los says:

    Sadly Fielder finished 3rd. Upton 4th. Nice comp though.

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  3. dp says:

    Dear Mr. Jackie Peanuts:

    Your point in the third-to-last paragraph–that Arizona’s willingnes to trade him raises numerous red flags–is most especially true when one notes that he spent a large chunk of last season (a season in which he was excellent) on the trade block as well. If it’s not a question of work ethic, potential medical red flags, or off-field troubles, then why are they willing to part ways with such a gifted player? It’s baffling, and yet I’m so intrigued by the possibility of Justin Upton and Andrew McCutchen in the same outfield that I can’t wait for it to actually happen and wouldn’t care about the why and hows. The only other possibility that I think of is that he might be a hard-working, clean-nosed guy who’s also a colossal jerk to everyone. That’s the only possible explanation I can think, and yet that doesn’t justify being rid of him.

    Also: two proofreading points. There should be a comma following “work ethic” in the seventh paragraph, and I really wonder what a “degenerate” shoulder looks like (second to last paragraph). It would probably combine the inherent weakness and slack of Carson Cistulli and the uncontrolled mania of Dayn Perry during one of his dipsomaniacal episodes. A wholly unreliable shoulder, that.

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  4. Kinanik says:

    I wonder if the negative comments to the press actually can raise Upton’s trade value? Consider three reasons Arizona might want to trade Upton: 1) Excessive injury risk, 2) Low performance expectations, 3) Personal issues with management. 1) and 2) are things that will net Arizona less for him: If Arizona can make it seem like 3) is the case, then other clubs might weight the possibilities of 1) and 2) less, and Upton’s trade value might ultimately be higher, because a “change of scenery” really will change his value.

    Announcing that you want to trade Upton decreases his value, since who wants to trade a good cheap player, but running a PR campaign against him might offset some of the decrease in value from the announcement (as long as the PR campaign doesn’t highlight a lack of skills or injury risk).

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  5. Snowblind says:

    Get him over to Seattle! He can join Gutierrez on the “wildly talented but inconsistent and frequently injured” section of the disabled list.

    And then one more outfielder like that and we could have the best defensive DL in all of baseball.

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  6. caseyB says:

    There’s a huge gap between Upton’s home and road OPS splits over the course of his career. Seeing how he plays in a park where it’s easy to hit HR’s, any GM considering him should really investigate the hell out of that discrepancy. Most of it may be due to reasons other than the park, but if not, then it’s a big warning sign. It would be a waste to trade for him if you’re the Mariners, SF, or San Diego. On the other hand, he’d do real well with teams that play in a bandbox like the Yankees or Philadelphia. Buyer beware (depending on your home park!).

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    • evil kevin towers says:

      career OPS @ Chase field: .924
      career OPS @ PETCO park: .906


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      • 39Bailey says:

        This is too easy: (1) Sample size: Upton’s had only 151 PA in Petco while nearly 1,400 in Chase Field. (2) The Padres, especially their pitchers, suck balls.

        To delve further, Upton hasn’t hit particularly well at Coors Field – his numbers in that launching pad are a bit south of his career numbers. And he’s been downright anemic in San Francisco – a club unlike San Diego that actually has taken advantage of their pitcher’s park by fielding a team with good pitchers. Chase Field is a pinball machine where balls carry well, with the best hitter’s background in the game. Upton’s home/road splits should be taken into consideration by any GM.

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      • shamus mcfitzy says:

        Colorado is a weird example because that can only suggest that his home/road splits aren’t necessarily about park factors. His 1400 PA away from Arizona are obviously a larger sample than his numbers in any one road park, but 1400 PA isn’t a huge sample either. It’s still very possible that we’re dealing with a Matt Holliday situation and that Upton’s home/road BABIPs will even out a bit and/or he is just a better player at home, no matter where that home is.

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      • BosoxBob says:

        “This is too easy: (1) Sample size: Upton’s had only 151 PA in Petco while nearly 1,400 in Chase Field. (2) The Padres, especially their pitchers, suck balls” – 39Bailey

        So you’re actually claiming that Upton’s success at Petco Park is due to Padres’ pitchers sucking? Really? Maybe you should look at the stats sometime. Here’s the OPS allowed for the Padres’ staff at Petco over the past six years, along with their ranking among NL teams at home, and the overall OPS allowed in the NL for that year:

        Year / OPS / Rank / NL OPS
        2007: .630 / 1 / .759
        2008: .679 / 2 / .750
        2009: .663 / 3 / .743
        2010: .639 / 1 / .726
        2011: .656 / 4 / .713
        2012: .672 / 5 / .722

        No other NL staff, not even the Giants, has ranked in the top 5 in OPS allowed at home in each of the past 6 years.

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  7. j cheatman says:

    Sheffield was a user of anabolic steroids. He trained with and was supplied by the same people as Barry Bonds. How is it possible for someone to write an article that discusses Gary Sheffield early in his career, imply that he was a very productive player but neglect to mention that he cheated? The fact that he cheated explains much of his performance and makes using him as a comparison impossible as it is unlikely that Upton will be able to get the same competitive advantage.
    WAKE UP! If you leave out the really important factors and use statistics (Upton’s vs. Sheffield’s WAR for instance) to analyze minutia you are not seeing the forest for the trees. This makes you a bad statistician. Use statistics and tell me what you think his career would look like without anabolic steroids and especially good ones gotten from Bond’s dealer?

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    • harperhill says:

      Oh this again? Yawn. You need to get over it and move on.

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      • j cheatman says:

        It might be boring but the point is that he might have been just another player who had one good year rather than a borderline hall of famer worth remembering and comparing to a promising young player like Upton. Mike Greenwell had one great year in 1988 and finished second in the MVP vote and never approached those numbers again. I rarely see articles written about him and his career. It would be a yawn and a bore to point out the MVP that year was Canseco. It is true that the point of the article was to discuss Arizona and their thought process on maybe moving Upton. Still Sheffield’s career being so wonderful suggests that it is a bad idea to move a promising young player like Upton but Greenwell’s career suggests that there was little elite production resembling his 1988 year.

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    • nickolai says:

      Sheffield took PEDs, yes, but how does that impact the comparison? The on-field performance was similar to where Upton is today. There’s no indication that Sheffield’s PED usage played any part in San Diego’s decision to move him, or the quality of the haul they received in return. Just like PEDs don’t seem to be a factor in Arizona’s considerations of whether to move Upton.

      You can argue the ‘validity’ of Sheffield’s performance then vs. Upton’s now, but that’s beside the point of the posting. The parallels in the actual, on-field results make the comparison interesting.

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  8. Brian MacKinney says:

    I do not believe they are going to trade him or are actively shopping him. I take Towers at his word. He will listen on everyone – it will help him know the value of his players, and if someone blows him away, he’ll bite. Basically if a team offers much more value than he believes Upton will deliver, he has to make the trade. I don’t think that is going to happen.

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  9. Patrick says:

    Trade him for Dwight Howard.

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  10. troybruno says:

    so how many years until Upton is a +6.0 WAR player like Sheff in 1996?

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