- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The Arizona Diamondbacks are waiting for the right offer for Justin Upton, and GM Kevin Towers has expressed doubt about whether some team will forward the right proposal. But some of Towers' peers are convinced that he is going to move the 24-year-old two-time All-Star in the last 19 days before the trade deadline.
But there probably isn't going to be a high volume of serious suitors -- much in the same way that the Colorado Rockies were essentially limited to dealing with the Cleveland Indians for Ubaldo Jimenez last summer, with lesser interest from the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Everybody is wondering why the Diamondbacks are prepared to deal a young, talented player, in the same way everybody wondered why the Rockies pushed to move Jimenez last year.
The Toronto Blue Jays could use Upton and might be attracted by the cost certainty. He's making $6.75 million this year and is set to make $9.75 million in 2013, $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015. But the Blue Jays don't need an offensive player as much as they need pitching.
The Pittsburgh Pirates could use Upton, but they aren't necessarily in position to part with the major league talent that the Diamondbacks want -- and while Towers is an aggressive deal-maker, Pirates GM Neal Huntington has a reputation for being careful. The GMs may not be a good fit to make a deal of this magnitude in-season.
There are a couple of other teams that might be able to get an Upton deal done if they wanted to:
Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton's free agency is looming and the idea of adding a young, developing slugger who is under contract for 3.5 more years could be really attractive now -- and give the Rangers protection in the event that Hamilton were to walk away as a free agent. The Rangers certainly have enough organizational depth to put together a package for Upton, with minor league third baseman Mike Olt as an intriguing piece. (Arizona has a good third base prospect in Double-A, Matt Davidson, but that wouldn't preclude the Diamondbacks from adding another prospect at the position, at a time when young third basemen are extremely marketable.)
Detroit Tigers: The addition of Upton would give the Tigers another basher in the middle of their lineup to go along with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, and Upton might benefit from a change of scenery. Nick Castellanos, the Tigers' elite third base prospect, is blocked at the big league level by Cabrera and could fill the Diamondbacks' desire to add an infielder who could play third base in the majors right now.
Atlanta Braves: This is a franchise with a limited payroll and looming contract issues all over the place. Chipper Jones is set to retire, Michael Bourn is eligible for free agency after this season, and Martin Prado and Brian McCann can become free agents after next season. The Braves could theoretically put together an offer for Upton with Prado and pitching prospects. Prado would fill the Diamondbacks' need for someone who can play third base in 2012, and he would give Arizona positional flexibility moving ahead. And Atlanta could play Upton in left field this year and set itself up for a future with this lineup core:
2. SS -- Andrelton Simmons, age 22
3. RF -- Jason Heyward, age 22
4. LF -- Upton, age 24
5. 1B -- Freddie Freeman, age 22
6. 2B -- Dan Uggla, age 32
Other theoretical possibilities:
Seattle Mariners: They would have to part with top young players but also believe that Upton would be happy playing in their ballpark.
Cleveland: The Indians could offer prospects and have Upton take over Travis Hafner's salary slot.
New York Mets: It's hard to imagine that New York could make an Upton deal without surrendering either Zack Wheeler or Matt Harvey; New York could provide Daniel Murphy as temporary third base relief for Arizona.
Cincinnati Reds: They probably couldn't make a deal for Upton without surrendering dynamic minor league prospect Billy Hamilton as part of their offer.
As reported here yesterday, Upton has limited no-trade protection and can block deals to a handful of big-market teams, including the Yankees.
• In about two weeks, the Tampa Bay Rays will have more information available to decide what they want to do before the July 31 trade deadline. They've got 13 games between now and then -- the first 10 at home against the Red Sox (three), Indians (four) and Los Angeles Angels, before starting their next trip in Baltimore.
By then, they'll have more knowledge about these factors:
1. How close Evan Longoria is to returning.
2. How much of a chance Matt Joyce has to be productive.
3. Where they stand in the playoff chases.
They'll also have a better sense of whether Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and B.J. Upton -- three of their highest-paid players -- might bounce back from their first-half troubles. Upton has a .679 OPS, his lowest since 2006, while Pena and Scott have combined for a .202 batting average and 161 strikeouts in 519 at-bats.
The bottom line for the Rays is this: With Longoria out, Tampa Bay has basically no chance to have a functional offense if Pena, Scott and Upton don't hit. Since May 4, Tampa Bay is 26-33, and the Rays are trending down.
• Best early free-agent speculation I've heard this summer: Bourn would be a great match for the Washington Nationals this winter. His agent, Scott Boras, has a bunch of clients with the Nats, who have been looking for a permanent center field solution for years.
Second-half notes from ESPN Stats and Info
Mike Trout could be the third player to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season, joining Boston's Fred Lynn in 1975 and Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. Lynn hit .331 with 21 homers, 105 RBIs and a .967 OPS. Ichiro hit .350 with eight homers, 69 RBIs and a .838 OPS.
What's so good about Mike Trout?
Trout is just the fifth American League rookie to hit .340 with 10 home runs before the All-Star break. He's the first to do it and make the All-Star team since Lynn in 1975. Others to do that since the All-Star Game began in '33: Walt Dropo of the Red Sox in '50 and Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees in '36.
Pirates atop the NL Central
The Pirates are 48-37 (.565), for their best winning percentage at the All-Star Break since being 48-31 (.608) in 1991.
What do the Pirates do well?
The Pirates can pitch -- their top two starters, James McDonald and A.J. Burnett, are a combined 19-5 with a 2.97 ERA. Their bullpen has the best ERA (2.59) in the majors and a 14-6 record (.700 win percentage is second-best in MLB). But in recent weeks, they've also started to hit. And it's been more than just Andrew McCutchen swinging a good bat. Since June 1, the Pirates rank first in baseball in slugging percentage (.480), second in batting average (.282), OPS (.818) and record (23-12) and third in homers (51).
How good is McCutchen?
McCutchen is hitting .362 with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs. The last player to hit those three plateaus before the All-Star Break was Derrek Lee for the 2005 Cubs. No Pirate had previously had those numbers heading into the All-Star break. McCutchen also has 58 runs, tied for third in the NL.
What's so good about Cole Hamels?
Hamels has a history of success. He posted a 3.31 ERA in 2007-11, with an ERA below 3.5 in four of those five seasons. He's also been good in the postseason -- 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 postseason starts. Hamels succeeds because he can get right-handed hitters out with great effectiveness, using a variety of offspeed pitches. Righties are hitting .239 with a .283 on-base percentage against him this season.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. For the Red Sox, a blockbuster is unlikely, writes Brian MacPherson.
4. Trade talks should heat up.
5. The trade market is very tight, says Dave Dombrowski.
6. Paul Hoynes addresses the question of whether the Indians can add before the deadline.
Dings and dents
• It could be tough for Boston to turn it around, writes Peter Abraham.
• Washington's pitchers might be the freshest in the big leagues, writes Thomas Boswell.
• The Rays' first half has been a roller-coaster ride.
• The Tigers are a hit on TV.
• Heyward's return to form has been very important for the Braves.
• The Diamondbacks won't be taken lightly, writes Nick Piecoro.
• Geoff Baker writes about the Mariners' struggling young hitters.
• The Padres' youngsters are like yo-yos.
• The Angels are poised for a strong second half, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• Oakland provides reason for hope, writes Susan Slusser.
• There is plenty of baseball drama to come, writes Bruce Jenkins.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Teams are still trying to figure out why exactly Arizona is considering trading Justin Upton, but if the Diamondbacks do intend to deal him, which teams are the best trade fits? Buster Olney runs through his list.