- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Some rival executives are convinced that the Diamondbacks want to trade Justin Upton, despite the assertions to the contrary from Arizona general manager Kevin Towers.
They believe that when managing partner Ken Kendrick said recently that he expected Upton would open 2013 with the team, he was just attempting to tamp down the perception that Arizona was in a rush to make a deal, and hold up the D-Backs' trade leverage for as long as possible.
No matter what Arizona's true intention right now, Towers and Kendrick have to know that a trade of Upton has a chance of paying off, and also blowing up in a big way, like the Cubs' 1964 trade of a young outfielder named Lou Brock.
The Diamondbacks are at a crossroads with Upton.
"There's no doubt he has the talent to be a big star," said a rival GM. "You're talking about a guy who can go on and win MVP Awards, and he's what, 24, 25 years old?"
Upton turned 25 in August, and this is what his resume already includes: 108 career homers, an OPS+ of 117, two All-Star appearances, and a fourth-place finish for NL MVP in 2011.
But it's apparent the Diamondbacks have concerns about Upton, voiced by Kendrick in June in a radio interview. Kendrick said, "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."
Upton played 150 games last season and finished with 17 homers, 67 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .430, which ranked 80th among 141 qualified hitters.
Scouts were taken aback by how Upton tended to take a lot of called strikes, and how poor at-bats early in a game seemed to fester for him in subsequent at-bats; the frustration over a disputed called strike sometimes carried over, some of them thought.
A lot of the data about Upton's at-bats -- the percentage of times he swings at pitches out of the strike zone, his strikeouts, his walks -- have generally been consistent. There has been one major change: The percentage of four-seam fastballs thrown to Upton has changed significantly during his time in the big leagues, according to FanGraphs. Check out the rate, year by year, as a percentage of pitches thrown:
Is his slide last season somehow related to that? The Diamondbacks presumably have a strong collective opinion about that, in going through their internal evaluations.
Uptin is owed $38.5 million over the next three seasons, under the terms of a long-term deal that he signed just 2.5 years ago. If he has another subpar season in 2013 like last year, his trade value -- still very high -- would plummet dramatically. There is risk in keeping him.
There is risk in trading him, as well, if he goes elsewhere and blossoms. And unless the Rangers completely change their stance and decide to trade Jurickson Profar -- which seems very unlikely -- there probably isn't a perfect Upton deal for the Diamondbacks to make. Their preference is to get an elite young shortstop or third baseman, but there aren't a lot of those available. They could get pitching from the Rays, whether it be Jeremy Hellickson or James Shields. They could follow up on the discussions they had with the Cubs near the July 31 trade deadline about Starlin Castro. They could focus on young prospects in a Red Sox deal. They could revisit the talks they had with Seattle last winter, when the Mariners had the best offer on the table for Upton. They could talk to the Tigers about young third baseman Nick Castellanos, and others.
For the readers: If you were running the Diamondbacks, and sitting in Kevin Towers's seat, what would you do?
Nick Piecoro tries to make some sense of the Upton trade rumors.
The Rangers have options with Jurickson Profar, writes Jeff Wilson.
• Yasmani Grandal was an important piece in the trade that San Diego made with Cincinnati last winter, when they swapped Mat Latos for a group of Reds' prospects. Grandal was a first-round pick in 2010 and had an excellent run in the minors before being called up and mashing two homers in his first start. All along, he has looked like a player a franchise could build around.
The problem for the Padres now -- the problem for all teams who have players suddenly revealed as PED users -- is that they really don't know what they have, which is part of the reason why there was such anger in the organization after Grandal was suspended. How much of his success on the field was built on PEDs?
Is a he player with marginal major league talent who was lifted into a higher tier by drug use?
If Grandal, who now faces a 100-game suspension with his next violation, stops taking performance-enhancing drugs, can he be the same player he was?
There's no way for the Padres to know the answers to any of these questions, as they plan their future.
• Sandy Alderson joked about his team, writes Andrew Keh. From the story:
- One reporter asked Alderson for his assessment of the Mets' outfield, which presently resembles a wasteland, without a single everyday player.
"What outfield?" Alderson replied, spurring a burst of laughter from those gathered around him.
That quickly led to another quip. "We're going to bring those fences in another 150 feet," he said, playing off the fact that a season ago he shortened the dimensions of spacious Citi Field in a bid to help the team's power hitters.
Two jokes are a lot for a general manager speaking on the record, but Alderson was just getting started.
Asked from where the team's new outfielders would be acquired, he grinned. The reporters waited. "A cardboard box?" he said, finally.
Kevin Towers and the Arizona Diamondbacks are at a crossroads with Justin Upton. Trade now and they may get maximum return. Hold him and he may bounce back, or continue to struggle.