- Jim Bowden, ESPN Insider
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As early as two years ago the Arizona Diamondbacks had already made it public they were open to listening to offers for outfielder Justin Upton. They never got an offer they liked, so they held on to him. That decision paid off in 2011 when Upton hit .289 with 39 doubles, 31 home runs and helped lead the D-backs to an NL West championship while finishing fourth in the NL MVP voting.
However, that was then, this is now.
A year later, after Upton hit .280 with just 17 home runs, the club is back listening to offers. Although the team says it’ll listen on all players, the fact this has become as public as it has is no coincidence. The team has been aggressively trying to trade its 24-year-old talent and will surely be seeking a long-term solution at shortstop, third base and/or pitching help. While Arizona's ownership is now trying to downplay the likelihood of an Upton trade, we know the club is shopping him, and a deal should not surprise anyone.
Here is a look at five teams that might have the players that fit the Diamondbacks’ long-term needs. D-backs general manager Kevin Towers certainly should target them for an Upton trade.
Texas Rangers | Two trades
This is one scenario that is already making the rounds, although the Rangers have told the Diamondbacks that they will not move either Andrus or Profar in a deal for Upton. Towers will be patient and meticulously work on persuading Rangers GM Jon Daniels, because the only way the Rangers get Upton is to swap him for one of the talented middle infielders. If Josh Hamilton signs elsewhere, that might force Daniels to change his mind. However, my intel says the Rangers aren't going to change their minds.
If the Rangers really want Upton, they can try to convince Arizona to accept a package of Olt and Perez for Upton. This trade would work well for Texas because Adrian Beltre is signed long-term and with Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Yu Darvish, Perez is expendable. The problem is although Towers is a fan of Olt, he might not be good enough to be the centerpiece of an Upton deal. While it seems like Upton has been around forever, he is only a year older than Olt.
This is probably the best fit for Towers. Castellanos has the potential to be an impact bat who should develop into an average defender at third base, but he is blocked in the big leagues by the AL MVP, which is why the Tigers have tried him in the outfield, where he has less value. Garcia is a good athlete with bat control who should be an asset as a big league regular down the line.
The move would make the Diamondbacks younger and a high-ceiling player like Castellanos would fit their long-term plans. The Tigers, on the other hand, would have three above-average defenders in Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson and Upton and would have arguably the best lineup one through six in the American League with Jackson, Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Upton and Victor Martinez.
The Diamondbacks would like to get another proven starter and Hellickson is one of the better young pitchers in baseball. Hellickson, 25, has a career ERA of 3.06 and a 1.19 WHIP. Vettleson, 21, is a pure hitter with great plate discipline and the ability to use the whole field. His power finally showed up this year at low Class A Bowling Green when the 2010 supplemental first-rounder belted 24 doubles and 15 homers in 132 games.
The Indians need a complete makeover after they went 68-94 last year. They took a step in the right direction with the hiring of two-time world champion manager Terry Francona. However, the next step is to rebuild the starting rotation and the middle of the lineup. The team’s best prospect is 18-year old Francisco Lindor, who the Indians feel will be their long-term solution at shortstop.
This might allow them to think about moving Cabrera in the right deal. The Diamondbacks, desperate for a long-term solution of their own at shortstop, would have to at least entertain the thought of an Upton-Cabrera move. Upton would give the Indians a much-needed cleanup hitter and middle-of-the-order bat that could anchor the lineup for years. And with Shin-Soo Choo set to be a free agent next winter, Upton could occupy right field for Cleveland. Knowing that Towers hates making deals without getting a bullpen arm in return, he might as well also ask for Pestano in this major trade.
The Braves are set at shortstop for years to come with the exciting Andrelton Simmons. He is about as untouchable as any prospect in the organization, and that makes Ahmed expendable. (Word is the Rangers tried to use Olt to get Simmons in hopes of flipping him, Andrus or Profar for Upton, but the Braves wouldn't do it.)
Ahmed, 22, was the Braves' second-round selection in the 2011 draft and had a solid year at high Class A Lynchburg, both offensively and defensively while swiping 40 bases. Teheran remains the Braves’ top pitching prospect and once his command and control arrive, he should be a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter for years. For the Braves, Upton would fit nicely in left field while Martin Prado could be moved to third base to replace Chipper Jones. While the Braves are known for sticking to a strict payroll, they are taking Jones off the books this year, and Upton's contract would replace Jones' in the budget.
If I was in Towers' shoes I wouldn’t trade Justin Upton. I would rather spend time trying to sign his brother, B.J., who could play center field next to him, and use Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock as trade pieces and find lesser upgrades on the left side of the infield. I think both Uptons have the potential of playing at even a higher level than we’ve seen, especially if they are able to play together. Why not in Arizona?