In this week’s edition of “As the Upton Waits”, the Mets and Braves inquire, while the Rangers continue to lurk in the periphery.
Maybe the Texas Rangers are employing a brilliant strategy of waiting out the Arizona Diamondbacks before swooping in and acquiring 25-year old Justin Upton. Or, maybe the Rangers lucked out when Upton rejected a trade to the Mariners for Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin and a pair of relievers. Regardless, the Rangers still find themselves in the best position to land the young right-fielder.
With the Mets, Rangers and Braves having teams in the South Atlantic League, I’ve had the opportunity to see most of their highly regarded prospects. Additionally, I’ve seen the two key pieces the Mariners were willing to deal.
Beyond already knowing what the Diamondbacks would have accepted from the Mariners, assessing organizational need and risk of failure is also important. For example, the Mets’ Wilmer Flores and the Mariners’ Nick Franklin both might be top-80 prospects on paper, but Franklin would have afforded the Diamondbacks both a cost-controlled second baseman to replace pending free agent Aaron Hill and a high floor talent.
Yes, Flores is penciled into the lineup at second base, but it would take a leap of faith to project him there. He’s undoubtedly a talented hitter, but it’s difficult to mentally add 20-speed and low walk totals resulting in a future star fueled by BABIP.
Additionally, motivation is a key factor in trades. An organization is unlikely to create a gaping hole at the big league level to fill another hole.
Living in Atlanta, I commend the Braves for testing the waters. However, I don’t perceive them as having the players to make a move unless they were willing to grow the deal and include Andrelton Simmons. For the Braves, this is likely a non-starter. However, an offer including Simmons, Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado, Sean Gilmartin or J.R. Graham and Christian Bethancourt or Edward Salcedo for Justin Upton and Didi Gregorius would work for both sides.
From Arizona’s perspective, they add starting pitching depth, an upgrade at shortstop and catching or third-base depth to the organization. This makes sense considering the Rangers already tried to acquire Simmons to flip to Arizona. Plus, one could argue the addition of two starting pitchers is more valuable than a better starting pitching prospect and two relievers. The catch might be the position prospect, but scouts I’ve spoken to are more bullish on Salcedo and Bethancourt than the prospect public.
For the Braves, they receive Upton (obviously) and a young shortstop to “replace” Simmons.
Excluding Zack Wheeler in any proposed Mets deal is a non-starter. With D’Arnaud being their future at catcher and the Diamondbacks having a solid catcher signed through 2017, he’s a poor fit.. Include Wheeler and maybe the other prospects fall into place. Would a package of Wheeler, Wilmer Flores, Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia work in exchange for Upton? It’s close, but contacts I’ve spoken to aren’t as excited about Flores as prospect followers are. Walker is also a better pitching prospect than Wheeler. If the Mets were willing to sweeten the pot with Domingo Tapia — a teenager with a fastball approaching triple digits — it might work.
Wheeler would be an excellent “get” for the Diamondbacks, but the other pieces are sexier on paper. Flores in the National League is a stretch, given his limited athleticism. Mejia and Familia have explosive fastballs but inconsistent track records. Tapia is a wild card whom one scout referred to as having “big (add expletive here).” However, his low arm slot forces a reliever projection at the moment.
The Mets add Upton, a potential cornerstone on a team whose best outfield prospect played in Brooklyn last year (Brandon Nimmo). Additionally, their projected outfield of Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Collin Cowgill and Andrew Brown platoon is built to make an impact — in Las Vegas. Does dealing five cost-controlled pieces strip the Mets of organizational depth? Yes, but the major league team is already full of cost-controlled players who have already surfaced.
This leaves the Texas Rangers, a team with the pieces to deal for Upton. Even without Jurickson Profar or Elvis Andrus, a package of Mike Olt, Martin Perez, Luis Sardinas and Roman Mendez would be a more competitive package than either the Mets or the Braves can offer. Olt and Perez are functional, if not quality major leaguers this season. Sardinas would compete with Gregorius for the title of best shortstop in the organization. As for Mendez, his inclusion as the fourth piece is based off of his 95-plus mph fastball having bullpen or rotation possibilities.
On paper, nothing is more attractive to a prospect follower than seeing a legitimate prospect at every organizational level. With Andrus, Profar, Leury Garcia and Sardinas, only the Boston Red Sox are able compete in terms of shortstop depth
But players like Garcia and Sardinas eventually become more valuable to other organizations than their own due to need. The Rangers are a lesser team today than when they fell short in 2011 and 2012. One can also argue every team in the American League West is stronger than at the end of 2012. A major move is needed and any conceivable Mike Stanton deal would have to include Profar.
One team to keep an eye on is the Red Sox. Maybe Xander Bogaerts is a non-starter during their pseudo-rebuild, but they have the pieces, and the outfield hole, to make it happen.
With about a month until pitchers and catchers report, time is slipping away from the Diamondbacks. With a team built to compete in the National League West, the distraction of having a discontented Upton might do more harm than good — even if the former franchise cornerstone produces at a high level.
Texas will compete with its current roster. But adding Upton would provide a solid answer for how to replace Josh Hamilton. The Rangers are playing coy, but it makes sense for them to strike before a another team swoops in and acquires the outfielder.
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