Justin Upton’s Future Trade Value vs Gary Sheffield’s Career Trade Value

In writing about the Justin Upton situation last week, Keith Law made an excellent comparison. One possible reason why the Diamondbacks might trade Upton is because of his attitude, but it doesn’t appear to be too compelling a case. Wrote Law, “He’s not Milton Bradley, though, and if he’s Gary Sheffield, well, that one worked out OK.”

OK, indeed. In 2015 Sheffield will have a Hall of Fame case for the BBWAA to consider. Just see how he compares to 2007 inductee Tony Gwynn.

Before we get to the graphical comparison of Sheffield and Upton, some facts:

  • Both were first round picks…Upton first overall in 2005, Sheffield sixth overall in 1986;
  • Both debuted at age 19. Upton was 23 days short of his 20th birthday; Sheffield 76 days short of his;
  • Both broke camp in their age 20 seasons, but they also played in under 110 games. Upton had 417 PA, Sheffield 405.

But this tells the story a bit better.

To this point they’ve progressed similarly, though Upton appears a bit superior, which brings us to our next set of facts:

  • Sheffield was traded at age 23, while Upton, 23, has been the subject of trade rumors;
  • In his career Sheffield was traded five times;
  • In those trades Sheffield was packaged with six players, while his then-former teams received 14 players.

If Upton were to continue following Sheffield’s career path, what might we see? Which players would he fetch, if teams were inclined to act similarly? Here’s what each team got from Sheffield, and then in return for Sheffield.

NOTE: This is a for-fun thing and is not meant as serious, definitive analysis. Clearly more goes into a trade than what I’m examining here. It’s more curiosity than anything.

Trade No. 1

Padres get: Sheffield and Geoff Kellogg.
Brewers get: Ricky Bones, Matt Mieske, and Jose Valentin

The Brewers got four seasons out of Sheff, but they amounted to only 2.1 WAR, thanks to a poor 1991 season. From Bones they got 5.1 WAR in 4.5 seasons. Mieske stayed with the Brewers for five seasons, but produced just 1.1 WAR. In his career Valentin produced 32 WAR, but the Brewers saw only 11.3 of that in his eight seasons.

Brewers total (from Sheff & return): 19.5 WAR

Trade No. 2

Marlins get: Sheffield and Rich Rodriguez
Padres get: Andres Berumen, Trevor Hoffman, and Jose Martinez

The Padres traded Sheffield after just 1.5 seasons, but in that first season he was a monster with 6.8 WAR. He was at replacement level during his second season with the Padres. Berumen didn’t last even 50 innings in the majors, and finished with -0.3 WAR. Martinez had an even shorter career that ended with -0.1 WAR. Hoffman, of course, went on to become the all-time saves leader. In his 15.5 seasons with the Padres he produced 22.2 WAR.

Padres total: 28.6 WAR

Trade No. 3

Dodgers get: Sheffield, Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, and Charles Johnson
Marlins get: Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile

This one isn’t fair from the start, since the Marlins turned around and dealt Piazza to the Mets a week after getting him from the Dodgers. We’ll go with their return on Piazza, which was, sadly, Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson, and Ed Yarnall — plus Zeile of course. In Zeile the Marlins got something of a steal. He was with them from just mid-May through July 31, but in that time he produced 1.3 WAR, which is solid. But the two players the Marlins received for Zeile never played in the majors. Goetz never appeared in the majors, while Yarnall was replacement level in his 20 innings.

Wilson was terrible from the get-go, going 0.6 WAR into the red during his first season in Miami. But by the end of his nearly five-year stay, Wilson had produced 8.5 WAR. After the 2002 season the Marlins traded him for Mike Hampton and Juan Pierre, with whom they won a World Series in 2003. Let’s point and laugh at Preston Wilson.

In about five seasons, Sheffield was worth 14.9 WAR to the Marlins.

Marlins total: 24.7 WAR

Trade No. 4

Braves get: The man himself
Dodgers get: Andrew Brown, Brian Jordan, and Odalis Perez

Perez and Jordan turned out to be a good return, the former producing 10.2 WAR and the latter 4.3 while in a Dodgers uniform. For their end the Dodgers got 19.5 WAR during Sheffield’s 3.5 seasons.

Dodgers total: 34 WAR

Here Sheffield actually reached free agency, signing a three-year, $36 million contract for the Yankees. He missed most of that final season with a forearm injury, but the Yankees decided to pick up his option anyway with the intention of flipping him. But, before we get to the final trade of Sheff’s career, we should award points to the Braves.

Braves total: 12.8 WAR

Trade No. 5

Tigers get: Just Sheff
Yankees get: Kevin Whelan, Humberto Sanchez, and Anthony Claggett

Of the three, only one remains in the Yankees system. Whelan has bounced around all levels, and at each he has had next to no control over his pitches. Sanchez didn’t do much during his two-inning cup of coffee, while Claggett was shelled in 2.2 innings, costing him 0.2 WAR, before the Yankees designated him for assignment. The Yankees did get some benefit from Sheff, though, but not much.

Yankees total: 6.2 WAR

And, of course we have the Tigers at 2.9 WAR and the Mets at 0.5 WAR, thus accounting for Sheffield’s career 65.8 WAR.


Using this imprecise — nay, downright inaccurate — method of tallying value for a trade, we can conclude that other than the Yankees, who traded the Sheff when he was 38, the Brewers got the least out of Sheff. They might have thought they had legitimate reasons for dealing him. But they ended up dealing a guy who would end up in the Hall of Fame conversation.

The point might be moot by now, since the trade rumors have dulled substantially. That’s probably because the Diamondbacks were never serious about trading Upton in the first place. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who traded the next Gary Sheffield.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

32 Responses to “Justin Upton’s Future Trade Value vs Gary Sheffield’s Career Trade Value”

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  1. pirate says:

    best. article. ever.

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  2. Trading Upton seems insane to me. The whole point of the amateur draft is to wind up with a player like Upton: a superstar who succeeds almost immediately and is under team control for the better part of a decade. There is virtually no way for the team to get a return on Upton remotely comparable to what he can produce for them. Unless his personality debilitates team chemistry to the point that they literally cannot win with him in the clubhouse, or someone makes an equally insane trade offer — e.g. Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran, and Randall Delgado — there’s simply no reason I can think of for the D-backs to trade him.

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    • BigNachos says:

      What about his shoulder problems? They’re eerily similar to his brother’s and very well could be a hereditary issue. They both lost about 100 points of slugging following their breakout years once their shoulders started affecting their performance, and B.J. still hasn’t recovered to his 2007 levels.

      I think Arizona is afraid Justin is on the way down B.J.’s career path, and that’s why they’re so open to trading him.

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      • Joey says:

        I completely agree about Justin Upton’s shoulder.

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      • pirate says:

        I love how your an expert on genetics now, hilarious

        -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • pft says:

        Funny how the analysts ignore this important point. His salary is quite reasonable for the next 3 years, after that it jumps to 14+ million. The Padres may fear that his torn labrum may reduce his performance over the next 3 years, before and after surgery (if needed). He recently saw Dr Andrews who said the torn labrum is no worse. He missed most of September and his power was sapped in the 2nd half.

        Right now, he looks like a young JD Drew to me. All kinds of potential, but his durability is a question mark, and attitude problems don’t help his market value

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    • Undocorkscrew says:

      [quote]or someone makes an equally insane trade offer — e.g. Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran, and Randall Delgado[/quote]

      That wouldn’t be ‘equally’ insane, that would be MUCH more insane. Unless you’re talking about all 3 individually.

      Heyward’s a decent bet to be one of the more productive outfielders in the game for years(and I personally think he’s going to be better than Upton). Teheran is probably a top 3 pitching prospect in all of baseball, and Delgado has some pretty good upside as well. I mean, that’s 2 of the Braves top 3 prospects, as well as Heyward. That’s just not worth Justin Upton, in my eyes. That’s not a fair trade, that’s a likely steal on the Dbacks part.

      Yes, it would be insane to offer that for Upton. Would be insane to offer that for any one player, regardless of how affordable and young the player is.

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  3. puffy says:

    Really good article. Nice work.

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  4. Mr Punch says:

    I agree with Alex, with one qualification. The Diamondbacks are a franchise that was on the verge of bankruptcy not so long ago, and I don’t know that we are fully aware of their current financial constraints. They have new ownership, and the overall financial status of baseball and its smaller-market teams is certainly better, but it’s not altogether impossible that they’d like to go cheaper than Upton for the right package from a club closer to contention.

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  5. Alireza says:

    I love those Sheffield-to-Gwynn comparison charts. Very different players (other than early career speed), but very similar results.

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  6. Andrew says:

    The Brewers dealt Sheffield because he sabotaged them on the field to get out of Milwaukee. He didn’t want to be a Brewer and purposely would make errors in an attempt to force his way out. So I would say they at least had a legitimate reason to deal him

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  7. Sixto_Lezcano says:

    “They might have thought they had legitimate reasons for dealing him.”

    Get your history right. The Brewers had no choice but to trade Sheffield. He demanded to be traded, berated the organization and accused the team of being racist, and deliberately played poor to sabotage the team…

    To compare Sheffield’s actions in Milwaukee to Justin Upton or even Milton Bradley is ludicrous, and it probably doesn’t make sense to criticize the Brewers for not getting the optimal return from a guy they and everybody else knew they had no choice but to unload. I’d say Bones/Valentin alone was a pretty decent return, considering the circumstances.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I honestly and genuinely wonder if it has ever occurred to Gary that it could be possible for people not to like him, and have it be because of his personality and not because of his skin/ethnicity.

      I never hear him say, “Hey sometimes I’m not easy to get along with.”


      Another similarity, both have family that made a BIG splash before they made it to MLB.

      Sheffield is Doc Gooden’s nephew.

      Justin is BJ’s younger brother.

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    • pirate says:

      the team was racist in their dealings, baseball still is very racist

      -14 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Locke says:

    As Joepaw critic, I enjoyed this piece very much.

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  9. Noxage says:

    Great read. Nice breakdown. Thanks!

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    The DBacks were likely try to see just what they could get.

    If he could bring 3-4 prospects (i.e., young players that are MLB ready), you’d have to consider it.

    The Dbacks aren’t “right on the step” of being competitive, they need some more pieces, and they just lost (decisively) their former Ace SP.

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    • towering82 says:

      “just lost”…

      just lost who? Brandon Webb was our only Ace since RJ, and he hasn’t been an Ace since 2008… if you’re referring to Dan Haren, it may humor you to know that he was the 5th best pitcher the D-Backs started in 2010, the only starter not to best Haren’s 4.60 ERA was Rodrigo Lopez.

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  11. jGreen says:

    This is one of those articles that’s right on line between FanGraphs and NotGraphs material, and I personally think the offseason needs more of them. Just reading “Team X offers arbitration to Player Y” bores me to tears sometimes.

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  12. Fred says:

    Outstanding Article

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  13. dorian says:

    I don’t understand your conclusion.

    Even setting aside the, um… character issues, that forced the Brewers to trade him, how was it a bad return when they ended up getting more WAR out of Bones/Mieske/Valentin than they would have gotten keeping Sheffield before he would have become a free agent? He definitely wasn’t signing an extension with Milwaukee, so it seems kind of irrelevant to point out his Hall of Fame-worthy career as if he would have been a Brewer for life if not traded.

    I’m guessing Upton has enough of a strained relationship with the Diamondbacks at this point that he won’t be eager to sign a long extension, so even if he becomes a Hall of Fame player you can only really value the remaining years he’ll be in Arizona when discussing any trade returns.

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    • pft says:

      He already signed an extension and is locked up for the next 5 years, the last 2 years at over 14 million per year, and he has shoulder problems that may eventually require surgery.

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    • teetoewa says:

      he didn’t say it was necessarily a bad return. just the worst return of various younger sheff trades.

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  14. Harold Jenkins says:

    When the point of professional baseball is to win games and make money, I have a hard time understanding why it is accused of institutional racism. Seems to me that if a player can help a team win it doesn’t matter to management if he is purple.

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    • AdamM says:

      You’re a grapist!

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    • B N says:

      I tend to think that too, though definitely in the old days that wasn’t the case. Part of the reason the Red Sox sucked through some of the early years of desegregation was that Yawkey was a huge racist. Can you imagine the number of titles they would have won with Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson together in the outfield? It’s incredible to even think that one could have the chance at not one but BOTH players and turn them away. But they did.

      People just plain do funny things sometimes, and not ha ha funny. While certainly, that era of racism is over there are certainly elements of stereotyping and biases that influence roster building. No more so than anything else though, in my opinion. So I too am confused by the institutional racism accusation. It’s no more racist than the average big corporation in the US and no more racist than running for office.

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      • Bill says:

        I’m pretty sure the racist comments were simply trolling, but yeah, baseball is too competitive for racism to last long. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still some racial stereotypes when it comes to playing ability among some talent evaluators and the like, but advanced statistical techniques will eventually weed these out. Sports are a great equalizer. Even ignorant people put winning first.

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  15. Cyrus Chan says:

    Sheffield is dang good with his eye and bat speed. Justin Upton has nothing on him BUT SPEED. Please don’t be hasty for you assumptions!

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