Upton For Andrus: Who Wins?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before; the Diamondbacks are listening to offers for Justin Upton again. These aren’t even just courtesy phone calls to check in on his availability, or speculation from other teams about his availability – Kevin Towers flat out confirmed that he’s in trade negotiations with other teams about his star right fielder.

“I’m open-minded and I’m going to listen to what people have to say,” he said. “If a deal presents itself that makes the Diamondbacks better, I think I need to be open-minded. The last two years, there has not been a deal that we felt made us better. That’s why we’ve retained him and we’ve kept him.”

“He will not be an easy guy for us to move. I think we’ve said it’s probably unlikely we end up doing something with him, but if somebody is willing to step up and we think it’s a deal that’s going to make the Diamondbacks better next year and going forward, we’ll talk about trading him.”

When you keep making a player available every winter, the differentiation between “shopping” and “listening” becomes meaningless. And so, with Upton back on the market, the search for a logical trade partner has once again brought the Texas Rangers back into the rumor vortex.

In that same piece, Nick Piecoro notes that Upton is not going to be traded for prospects, and he’d want an everyday player or frontline pitcher back in return, and by everyday player, he basically means shortstop or third baseman, as the rest of the D’Backs line-up is full. The Rangers are probably the only team in baseball that has a surplus of Major League ready players at both SS and 3B, so they seem to be the most natural trading partners for the Diamondbacks. Texas isn’t moving Adrian Beltre or Jurickson Profar, so a deal with the Rangers would almost certainly have to be centered around Elvis Andrus.

So, let’s break down Andrus and Upton, and figure out whether this is a move that actually works for both sides.


Name Age Team Control AAV 10-’12 WAR
Justin Upton 25 3 13 12
Elvis Andrus 24 2 6 11

In terms of overall performance, they’re actually pretty similar, with both settling in as +3 to +4 win players, and both are young enough to have upside for more growth. It wouldn’t be a surprise if either became a legitimate +5 win player, though that’s probably a bit more likely for Upton, since Andrus’ defense is likely to get worse, not better, as he gets older. These are unquestionably two of the better young players in baseball, and it’s not clear that one is definitively better than the other right now. In terms of just straight up production, an Andrus for Upton swap is close to fair.

Of course, nothing is ever just straight up production. Contracts present an opportunity cost as well, and if the Rangers are watching their pennies, the extra $7 million per year could push the needle in Andrus’ favor. Of course, Upton also has an extra year of team control, which moves the needle back towards the middle. Since the gap in salaries between 3/38 and 2/11 is $27 million over the life of the contracts, its hard to say that Upton’s contract is a significant advantage. The extra year is nice, but so is keeping your financial flexibility in tact, especially if you’re looking at getting into a bidding war over Zack Greinke.

So, the contracts don’t provide a big advantage for one side or the other, the production is similar, and they’re at similar points in their career. For Arizona, the appeal of this move seems obvious. Even after acquiring Cliff Pennington, they believe they’re more in need of a shortstop than an outfielder, and swapping Upton for Andrus would essentially be a lateral move that reduced their payroll in the short term. Given that they’re apparently ready to move on from the Justin Upton era, getting a similarly valuable young player with a team friendly contract back at a position of need is about as good of a deal as they could hope for.

For Texas, though, it doesn’t make as much sense. Yes, they have Jurickson Profar ready to step into Andrus’ departed role if they make the trade, but Andrus isn’t blocking Profar in a way that makes it impossible for them to extract value from them both. They have the option of playing Profar at second base and moving Kinsler to the outfield, so the trade is more about who plays where then who plays at all.

Scouts have never liked Kinsler’s defense as much as defensive metrics, and at age 30, he’s likely to begin losing some of his defensive value pretty soon. Add in the career high 18 errors he made a year ago, and it probably wouldn’t be that tough of a sell to have Kinsler transfer to the OF. The Rangers can already give Profar a full-time job and fill their OF hole at the same time without having to make a trade to do it. If they believe that Kinsler could be a better defensive OF than 2B going forward, than they’d have to believe that Upton is going to significantly outperform Andrus in order to make the deal an actual upgrade.

If you think 2011 is the real Justin Upton, then this probably a deal Texas should make, as they’d be buying low on a potential superstar. However, he showed just average power in both 2010 and 2012, and average power from a corner outfielder who strikes out a decent amount isn’t usually the foundation for a true superstar. The flashes of greatness are tempting, and his ceiling is higher than Andrus’, but his floor is also lower and he comes with a higher price tag.

If Arizona wants to sweeten the deal a little bit, sending back a guy like Pennington as well to restock the team’s middle infield depth, then this is probably a trade that starts to make sense for Texas. But if Kevin Towers wants Andrus straight up, or even Andrus+, I think Texas is better off standing pat. They don’t need Upton to fill out their outfield, and they don’t need to trade Andrus to create a job for Jurickson Profar. They’re the ones with leverage here. Andrus for Upton+ is worth thinking about. Less than that, though, and they should probably pass.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


60 Responses to “Upton For Andrus: Who Wins?”

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  1. Mr Punch says:

    What on earth is Towers up to? He keeps dangling Upton but never seems to make clear how serious he is about making a trade or what he’s really looking for in return. Then he’s surprised that Upton doesn’t seem as enthusiastic and productive as he used to be. This is beginning to seem like utter ineptitude.

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  2. suicide squeeze says:

    Re the title of the article, I think Dave wins, because he won’t have to respond to Upton trade offers in his chats anymore.

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  3. Tomcat says:

    Is 2011 Justin Upton the one who hit.333/.411/.622 1.033OPS at Chase or the one who hit .246/.328/.439 .767OPS on the road?

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    • YanksFanInBeantown says:

      Yeah, because we all know what a tough offensive environment Texas is…

      And that .332 road wOBA would be Andrus’ career high by a significant amount.

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      • Tomcat says:

        Andrus is a SS where league average wOBA was .300 and then only if you include “SS” Like Zobrist, while RF league average wOBA was .334 in 2011.

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      • Tomcat says:

        BJ Upton Career
        Road .258/.335/.422
        Justin Upton Career
        Road .250/.325/.406

        One is an elite CF who spent his career in the AL East he is older but who knows what they would do in a different environment.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        The majority of Justin Upton’s road games take place in three of the 5 worst hitting parks in the game. The great majority of BJ’s road games are in positive hitting parks.

        And again, Chris Young is the only reason Upton isn’t a CF.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        And you failed to address the fact that Texas is a better hitting environment than Arizona, meaning that, if anything, Upton’s numbers should improve.

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      • Jack says:

        The majority of Justin Upton’s road games take place in three of the 5 worst hitting parks in the game.

        This is true, but he’s raked in Petco, so doesn’t that hurt this argument?

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    • philosofool says:

      Rememb how Matt Holliday was going to suck once he left Coors?

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    • WS says:

      Oh, home/road splits. How conclusive.

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      • Tomcat says:

        not conclusive by a long shot, but a two hundred point split isn’t something you totally throw out either.

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      • Kampfer says:

        Matt Holiday used to have a larger split in Rockies uniform

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      • Paul says:

        Hitters hit worse on the road than at home

        Hitter with a good/great home hitting ballpark will be expected to hit even more worse on the road than at home (because they don’t get road stats at their great home ballpark)

        Hitters with a good/great home hitting ballpark who play lots of road games @ SF, SD & LAD will be expected to hit very much worse on the road than at home

        Not saying JUP would be a superstar away from ARI, but FFS the H?R splits is a crappy argument to hang him with.

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      • Tomcat says:

        Who is hanging him? I pointed out that in a more neutral environments(on average) his CF brother has better numbers all I am saying is that he has some question marks

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      • Tomcat says:

        For the three years before he signed his FA contract with STL Matt Holliday had a road line of .303/.385/.475 but of course he was 3-4 years older than Upton

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  4. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    Yeah, Andrus will in all likelihood never have a season comparable to Upton’s 2011. He is a below average hitter and an excellent defensive shortstop. At his peak he might be able to hit like Upton did this past year, albeit with fewer walks and less power.

    When Upton’s dealing with a nagging injury he’s an above average hitter and a good OF. When Justin Upton’s healthy he’s an MVP candidate. If Texas can get Upton for Andrus straight up they’ll take it without blinking.

    Also, Chris Young is the only reason Upton hasn’t been playing Center for the past 4 years, so it’s a little disingenuous to call him strictly a corner OF. Unless he’s bulked up significantly in the past few years, which would be surprising considering that his SB totals and baserunning have held steady, Keith Law had him as an above-average CF.

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    • tbjfan says:

      With Elvis Andrus, the only offensive value I see in him is
      1) He might fit as a leadoff hitter
      2) His wRC+ is above the SS average

      Even then, I’m not convinced in his bat.

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  5. JT Grace says:

    Trading Upton will be tricky. At his best he is an MVP caliber player. At his worst he is an average player. The DBacks will want to trade him expecting a return for an MVP-ish player. The opposing teams will want to buy low, given his struggles last year AND the persistent rumors of his having a bad shoulder.

    If I am a GM Upton would have a giant “buyer beware” signing hanging around him. I could see a team trading prospects for him, but I don’t see any team giving up their all-star/gold glove caliber starting shortstop for him.

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  6. makeitRayn says:

    Upton has more value.

    This analysis fails to mention the inflation soon to come for WAR/$.

    Say by the end of year 3, Justin has produced 12WAR over those 3 years compared to 8 WAR for Andrus. In that third year, the price of 1 WAR should be greater than 5.5 mil/WAR. And it only needs to inflate to 6.75 mil/WAR, if Upton gets 4WAR that year, to match the difference in value. It could work out even better if you envision Upton’s WAR increasing going into his prime.

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  7. colin says:

    It’s a roughly even swap IMO. War expectation is probably similar at this point. Upton plays a less premium position but has greater upside. Andrus has been more consistent. Team control favors Upton. Overall, I would say Upton is slightly more valuable in terms of a trade.

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  8. deezy333 says:

    Dave,

    Aside from the blockbuster Price trade you suggested recently, what is another potential trade that could be made between Rays and Dbacks? What about Hellickson for Upton with the Dbacks covering a few mil

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    • Bill says:

      The Rays have systematically eliminated all of the ‘bad fruit’ in the wagon, starting with Delmon Young a few years ago, then that other OF I can’t even recall who is out of baseball, Garza never had the best attitude, crawford was ok but a little selfish, now upton is gone and I for one am not too sad, we got all we could out of him but he’s a little lazy.

      No way the Rays even think of bringing on someone for that amount of $$ without a good attitude, forget it.

      In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if secretly the Rays look to move Longoria after this next season before it comes out exactly how much of a prima donna loose cannon he is too…

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  9. Phantom Stranger says:

    I would take Upton in a heartbeat, simply because of the upside. At his best Upton is a HOF talent. Andrus is a solid SS with a well-rounded game, but he is never going to put up a HOF-caliber season. He already appears to be putting on weight which has slowed him down on the bases and his defense is mildly overrated because of his erratic lapses in crucial situations.

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    • Radivel says:

      This was going to be my comment as well. Upton, and don’t look back.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      I keep hearing that Upton is a HOF talent. Is this really true? His 2011 was around 6 WAR. Yes if he did that for 10 years in a row that’s a HOF prime, but hardly anyone has exactly 6 WAR for 10 years in a row, and if that’s his best year, and he settles in at 4-5 WAR/year for 10 years that’s not really a HOF. He’s a HOF only if his 2011 is a mere preview on his really great years to come. Now Mike Trout…..that’s a HOF talent.

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      • WS says:

        I think your argument there is that HOF talent is unusual, which doesn’t address anything about Upton. The whole point in fact is that he is unusual. That 6 WAR season was not viewed as his ceiling.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        Do you know what “talent” means?

        I don’t think that you do…

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      • Ivan Grushenko says:

        “Do you know what “talent” means?
        I don’t think that you do…”

        I think I do, but I think you don’t think I do. Do you think you do? Do you think I think you do? Do you think I think you think you do? Do you?

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      • Ivan Grushenko says:

        “That 6 WAR season was not viewed as his ceiling.”

        Maybe not, but almost all the comments here supporting him point to the 6 WAR season as evidence of his HOF ability. The point is that 6 WAR seasons are excellent, but not so fantastic that just because someone has one at Age 24 that it means that they’re a HOF talent. Are Jason Heyward and Andrew McCutchen HOF talents? How about Ryan Zimmerman? Hanley Ramirez? 6 WAR seasons by young players aren’t that unusual.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        Again, are we talking about results or talent? Because you’re talking about results, not talent. 2009 and 2011 ARE supposed to be mere previews of his really great years to come.

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  10. Andy says:

    @YanksFanInBeantown:
    Elvis is a decent hitter for a SS. His wRC+ and wOBA were roughly in the middle of qualified hitters this year, but his OBP was near the top (behind Zobrist and Jeter). That said, obviously he won’t have a season like Upton’s 2011. Shortstops never do (except probably A-Rod).

    If they trade straight up, the Snakes probably win. Elvis is more likely to provide better bang for the buck over the durations of their respective contracts. That’s why a straight up trade probably won’t happen.

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  11. Krog says:

    What about Mike Olt instead of Andrus? Would a deal centered around Olt be acceptable to the Dbacks?

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    • Brendan says:

      I’m wondering about Olt too since the DBacks are looking for a 3rd baseman. I’m curious if something centered around an Andrus/Olt for Upton/Bauer would be a possibility.

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      • Kyle says:

        Man, Bauer in Arlington would almost have to be a train wreck though if he insists on continuing to work so high in the zone.

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    • Robbie G. says:

      I completely agree that the Diamondbacks are more likely going to wind up with Mike Olt here than with Elvis Andrus. Why trade away Chris Young for Cliff Pennington if you don’t view Pennington as your starting SS? Makes more sense to trade for Olt and an OF, maybe Nelson Cruz since I doubt Texas plans on re-signing him when he becomes a free agent next winter.

      Texas keeps Adrian Beltre at 3B, hands Jurickson either the everyday SS or 2B job, runs with Jurickson and Andrus at 2B and SS (not sure who plays where but I’m guessing Jurickson is your 2B), moves Ian Kinsler to LF, obviously starts Justin Upton in CF, and sticks with Nelson Cruz in RF, unless Cruz is th guy packaged with Olt, in which case I suppose you run with a Craig Gentry-David Murphy platoon.

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  12. Michael Scarn says:

    I think you are drastically underestimating Upton’s ceiling here. While Andrus is a nice player, Upton had a 6.5 win season at age 24, combined with an excellent scouting and prospect pedigree. Upton has the possibility of turning into a consistent 7 win franchise cornerstone, Andrus does not.

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  13. st says:

    Middlebrooks and Buchholz for Upton. who says no?

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  14. Matt says:

    Castro and Soriano for Upton and a top prospect (someone like Archie Bradley) Who says no?

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  15. Petetown Matt says:

    You gotta take Upton in a one for one. For the Rangers it looks like:

    (2013/14 Profar production- 2013/2014 Andrus production) + 3 years of Upton versus 2013/14 Andrus – 2013/14 Profar production.

    No brainer to me

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Why can’t Profar play in 2013/14 with Andrus? It could be that Michael Young is the odd man out if Kinsler moves to LF or DH.

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  16. LeeTro says:

    Upton for Medlen, Venters, and Juan Francisco. Who hangs up first?

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    • Josh says:

      More like Delgado/Teheran, Francisco, Ahmed, La Stella.

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      • LeeTro says:

        The quote says that the trade would have to make Arizona would be better for next year and the future. As Dave wrote, that means they want a current frontline starter or a good starting SS/3B. The Braves don’t have the surplus position player, and Medlen is their only current high-end pitcher. I really don’t know if either team could pull the trigger on my proposal.

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  17. RoundHeadedKid says:

    What if AZ throws in one of their 3 SP prospects and TX throws in Olt?

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  18. shoewizard says:

    This is really very simple.

    In a straight evaluation of what has happened IN TOTAL, it appears to be an even swap. However Upton already has seasons of 4.8 WAR at age 21 and 6.4 WAR at age 23. I don’t know how to search by age at fangraphs, but those seasons must rank within the top 1-2% of seasons for players of that age.

    Also, since when is 3.0 WAR and 2.5 WAR “average”. Amongst all players that is well above average. And 2010 he was hampered by oblique injury and of course 2012 he had the thumb injury.

    Upton’s upside is much higher than Andrus, but Andrus is the steadier player in terms of defensive value, so he appears the equal of Upton when looking at the last 3-4 years in aggregate.

    But he’s not equal. Andrus is never going to put up a 7-8 WAR season. Upton must have at least a reasonable chance, 10%-20% of putting up one or two such season in the next 3 years.

    Even if he doesn’t quite reach that peak, he is a very good bet to put up a couple of 5-6 WAR seasons……the odds on that have to be much higher than Andrus.

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