Sunday, November 28, 2010

Do the Red Sox Have to Trade for Upton?

Over the last few weeks, there's been a lot of discussion in both the traditional media and the blogosphere regarding the availability of Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton.  When a 23 year old former first round pick with seemingly unlimited potential becomes available, every seems to have an opinion as to whether (insert your favorite team here) should take the plunge and acquire him.

Even here at BBIMH, both Josh and I have expressed differing opinions on the subject.  To me, Upton is a five tool player with tremendous power potential, good speed, and above average defensive skills.  At 23 years of age, Upton is only beginning to realize his potential.  His best seasons are clearly ahead of him. Players like Upton come along very rarely.  It'd be foolish for any team to not explore the idea.*  Josh, on the other hand, sees Upton as a player who's hype far outweighs his current and likely future production; therefore, a risky trade proposition.  As evidence, he pointed to Upton's high career strikeout rate, and low home run rate despite playing in one of the more home run friendly parks in baseball.  While I understand his reasoning, I respectfully disagree.  

*Please note that I used the term "explore".  As with any free agent signing or trade, the benefits of acquiring a player needs to equal or exceed the costs.  I am by no means suggesting that a team should acquire Upton's services at any cost.

A few days ago, Christopher Gasper of the Boston Globe offered his opinion on the prospects of a Justin Upton trade, and what'd it mean for the Red Sox. 
"It's early in the offseason to panic. However, yesterday's news that Victor Martinez is like the Patriots -- Motown-bound -- was greeted with groans and gripes because this third-place team needs to add impact pieces, not subtract them. The virulent reaction to Martinez's four-year, $50 million deal with Detroit from a frustrated fan base showed that this has the potential to be the offseason of our discontent on Yawkey Way. It's probably going to get worse before it gets better on the free agency front with third baseman Adrian Beltre viewed as being likely to bid the Hub adieu too.
That's why it's imperative that the Red Sox make the Upton move. It's bold, it's proactive and it will move the needle for a club that desperately needs some positive spin to sell to a now suspicious fan base. More importantly it could help the team in both the short term and the long term on the field. Yes, the asking price is very high, as the smoke signals from the Hot Stove indicate it would take both Ellsbury and Bard, plus another piece to make it happen. But so is Upton's ceiling."
Yes, the Red Sox need to add impact pieces, but how would retaining Victor Martinez long-term help the Red Sox?  As I've mentioned before, signing a soon-to-be 32 year old catcher to a long-term deal is usually a losing proposition.  If we were talking about a one or two year deal, I would be able to understand his point.  We're not though.  We're talking about tying up four years at $50M for a catcher who's best seasons are behind him.

Oh, did I mention that VMart isn't even going to be the Tigers primary catcher?  On Friday, the Globe's Steve Silva reported the Tigers are only planning on playing Martinez at catcher for 60 games with remainder of his starts coming at DH.  Using Bill James's projection that Martinez plays 134 games in 2011 (60 at catcher and 74 at DH), he projects to lose 1.0 WAR in positional value alone.   Although, Martinez projects to make up some of that lost value due to improvements in offensive production and replacement level value, he will still lose about 0.5 WAR (making him a 3.5 WAR player in 2011).  While this is enough to justify his 2011 salary, we shouldn't expect this trend to continue over the life of his four year contract. 

As for his opinion on Upton...  While I agree that a player of Upton's caliber could help the Red Sox in both the short and long-term, I reject the notion that "it's imperative" for the Red Sox to make a deal.  Furthermore, I reject the idea of making a move merely to placate a fan base that's irrationally suspicious or angry.  It's a terrible idea.  The second you make a move based on either of the above two reasons, you're making a huge mistake.  Decisions like these need to be made based on objective analysis, not the overly emotional cries of the fans or media. 

Is it in the Red Sox best interests to make a few upgrades?  Sure.  Do they have to trade for Upton in particular?  No.  Further down in the article, Gasper mentions that Upton will be cheaper over the next five seasons than either Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth.  While this is technically true, it's somewhat misleading.  Crawford and Werth are free agents.  If the Red Sox were to sign one of the two outfielders, they would have give up a first round draft pick to the losing team as compensation.  (Note that they're already receiving a better first round pick from Detroit for signing VMart.)  This is, of course, in addition to paying said player's annual salary.

With Upton, the Red Sox would not only have to take on Upton's salary ($49.5M through 2015), but also trade away valuable major league players and/or prospects in return.  If reports are true, the Red Sox would be giving up three relatively cheap (albeit arbitration) seasons for Jacoby Ellsbury, and five cost controllable seasons for closer in waiting Daniel Bard for Upton.  And that's before we discuss the two to three additional prospects that will be required to complete the deal.  Depending on the prospects the Diamondbacks ask for (Casey Kelly?), the overall cost of the deal could become prohibitive.

Despite what Gasper leads the reader to believe, a trade for Upton is not as cut and dry as it appears.  There is a significant cost to making a trade.  If the Red Sox were to overpay for Upton, it could hamper their ability to trade for an important piece at the July 31st trading deadline.  Furthermore, trading away four or five talented major league caliber players and prospects could have a long-term affect on the team's ability to maintain maximum payroll flexibility.  

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