On the surface, trading for Justin Upton makes superficial sense for all the reasons that basically every decision made by Ruben Amaro over the past two years has not. If you are not familiar with Amaro’s work, please stop reading this entry and immediately go to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. If you can view the contract numbers for Lidge, Ibanez, or Howard without giggling, please stop reading this blog as we are obviously not intended for you. The previous few years have seen teams place greater value on their younger players, as more general managers have become conscious of the fact that a deep pool of young, cost-controlled talent is the basis for being a successful organization. Several years may pass before a player of Upton’s perceived caliber is placed on the trading block again. However, it is my position that this trade is untenable for two significant reasons. Justin Upton’s uncertain future production and the price and opportunity cost of the prospects necessary to make this trade.
If we look deep down beneath the mountain of hype that is Justin Upton, we see that he is just not a very good hitter. Upton’s Career wRC+ of 115 places him in the hallowed company of players such as George Bell, Greg Vaughn, and Geoff Jenkins. His career K% has him sharing a neighborhood with Pete Inciviglia and Brad Wilkerson. The high K rate is most likely related to a contact% that finds him sandwiched between Weeks and LaRoche. High strikeout rates such as these are often found on power hitters whose 3 True Outcomes focus leads to the feast or famine results synonymous with Adam Dunn or Jack Cust. However, Upton has managed to hit only 43 home runs in his past two seasons. This is particularly disappointing given that he plays half of his games in Kelly Johnson Resurrection Field. If you would like to argue that I cherry picked metrics that portray Upton in a negative light, go ahead and do so. Afterwards, post a comment showing the metrics that portray him positively. Through his first few years, Upton has been little more than a slightly above average hitter and has shown very little to support any evolution into an elite level batsman at the major league level. Upton does rate as an above average fielder, more or less so depending on the metric used. However, as a total package, the propaganda has outweighed the production.
The second and most important issue with this trade is found in the price hanging over Upton’s head. Kevin Towers has not officially announced trade parameters so any assumption on exactly what it will take to acquire Upton remains supposition. However, a variety of media sources has suggested that it will take 3 to 5 major league ready players and prospects to complete the deal. Dave Cameron, using Victor Wang’s estimate of prospect value, argued that a team would need to give up a top-10 hitting and pitching prospect in order to acquire Upton. I happen to root for the Red Sox and the closest thing we could assemble to such a package would most likely involve several of the following players: Daniel Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury, Casey Kelly, Ryan Kalish, Jed Lowrie, and Anthony Rizzo. I did not list Buchholz because I assume he is off the board in any but the most ridiculous of trades; i.e., heads up for Pujols or King Felix. The loss of this many prospects and young player would cripple the Red Sox’s already flailing farm system. In addition, the wholesale movement of these players would prevent the team from improving itself in any further trades. While I could do a separate post on why I would rather Theo trade for A-Gon than Upton, suffice it to say that I would much rather acquire the better player at the lower price.
Justin Upton remains a young player with unknown potential. I happen to believe that it is less than prudent to pay for that potential, especially when one examines Upton’s hitting flaws and the cost of the trade both now and in the future. I would rather save the prospects in the hopes that Dayton Moore loses his last functioning neuron and begins a fire sale of the Kansas City Royals’ admirably stocked farm system.