Fans think they want for offseasons to be active, but really, what fans want is for offseasons to be entertaining. For an offseason to be entertaining, what it needs is the potential, the hope for activity. There need to be possibilities, rumors for people to think about, to keep them warm in the dark cold months before the warmer still shitty month and a half of spring training. As long as people can distract themselves with baseball, they'll be content. And if a promising offseason ends with very little activity, well, then there are actual games, which are distracting too. People want to think there are things to look forward to.
The Mariners have been involved in countless rumors so far this offseason, and it's been exhilarating in a way. But they didn't sign Nick Swisher, who seemed like a fit, and they didn't sign Josh Hamilton, who also could've been a fit. Other guys have landed elsewhere, too, and now the Mariners are in a position where they have money to spend but fewer potential players on whom to spend it. Some people have grown frustrated, and that's why it's a good thing that Justin Upton trade rumors have re-emerged.
The Diamondbacks, not long ago, added Cody Ross to an already crowded outfield, all but forcing them to look at making a trade. I couldn't possibly be less interested in Jason Kubel, he is very literally the thing in which I have the least interest in the whole known and theoretical universe, but I could be less interested in Justin Upton, because I am very interested in him. My interest level in Justin Upton is infinity times my interest level in Jason Kubel.
The Diamondbacks have put Upton on the trading block before, and now he's back there again. They could trade Kubel or someone else, but they could trade Upton, and all that stuff before about how the Diamondbacks were insistent on landing a big-league shortstop -- that doesn't apply anymore, since they acquired Didi Gregorius. I'm not the least bit convinced Gregorius is a long-term quality shortstop, but what's important is that the Diamondbacks are, meaning now they can think about trading Upton just for overall value, instead of value that's also position-specific. That makes the Mariners a better potential fit, because while the Mariners didn't have the shortstop the Diamondbacks wanted, they do have young talent at other positions. And because of the Gregorius deal, the Diamondbacks are also down one Trevor Bauer. If it's a pitching prospect they want, it's a pitching prospect they could get.
Think about what was out there. Think about the ways the Mariners could've tried to spend their money. Michael Bourn is still available, but there haven't been many strong links between him and Seattle of late, and he doesn't seem like the sort of player the Mariners want to add. There's the Andre Ethier stuff, and the Dodgers also have the starting pitching the Mariners seek, but Ethier isn't exciting and Jon Heyman recently reported the Mariners and Dodgers haven't spoken in weeks. What the Upton rumors do is provide an alternative. We can still think about Bourn and Ethier and other guys, but we can think about Upton, too, at least until he's dealt or pulled back off the market again.
And landing Justin Upton would be a blockbuster, and blockbusters are always exciting. Meaning the rumors of potential blockbusters are also always exciting, even if you realize you're making too much out of too little. You want the Mariners to make a splash, some sort of franchise-defining statement? They could satiate your cravings with a Justin Upton trade. Unlike Ethier and Bourn, Upton is young. Unlike Ethier and Bourn, Upton could conceivably still have his best days ahead of him.
Not that Justin Upton is a superstar. He's looked like a superstar for extended stretches before, and he got a lot of NL MVP support as recently as 2011, but in 2012 he slugged .430 with 17 dingers, and that was after slugging .529 with 31 dingers. Nothing about Justin Upton is guaranteed, aside from various scientific principles. But Upton was a first-overall draft pick, a second-overall prospect, and in the majors he's already been an MVP candidate. He's 25. Upton's extraordinary talent hints at future extraordinary results.
Upton's spent his whole big-league career with Arizona, and Arizona is a particularly hitter-friendly ballpark, so Upton's home/road splits are somewhat alarming. Dave just wrote today about how they're also somewhat misleading, so you should read that, if you're interested. Upton's not as good as his home numbers; Upton's not as mediocre as his road numbers. The whole idea behind trading for Justin Upton is that he'll be more than he's been, anyway. The idea is that Upton could and should still take another step or two forward, and maybe he'd do better with an organization that doesn't keep threatening to trade him.
Upton's under contract for three more years, for $9.75 million, $14.25 million, and $14.5 million. He has the Mariners on his limited no-trade list, which can't be ignored, but Upton presumably also wouldn't block a trade to Seattle if such a trade were agreed to by the front offices. The Mariners would just need to give Upton some reason to accept a deal, and those reasons tend to involve money. A sample conversation:
Mariners: Would you like to come play for us?
Mariners: We will pay you to say yes.
Upton: I mean yes
It's not always that simple -- maybe Upton genuinely just doesn't want to play for the Mariners -- but usually these aren't big stumbling blocks. Upton would probably welcome a trade to a team that doesn't want to keep trying to trade him.
What would it take for the Mariners to get Upton? Now that's the whole thing. I don't know, and obviously, the Diamondbacks are asking for a lot, because if they were asking for something more reasonable, Upton probably wouldn't be on the roster anymore. When you have a player like Upton who's been on the trading block repeatedly, and when he hasn't yet been traded, it's because the team with him has sought greater value than the teams that want him have been willing to offer. It's hard to tell how highly the Diamondbacks think of Upton. On one hand, they haven't traded him yet, and they were reportedly holding out for Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar from Texas. On the other hand, they keep making Justin Upton available. If the Diamondbacks truly thought of Upton as a franchise centerpiece, they would probably treat him differently.
The short and easy answer is that, for the Mariners to get Upton, they would have to give up a lot. There are a few teams that could trade for him, including the Rangers and Braves, and those teams have talent, too, and they're also closer to being championship contenders. The teams trying to trade for Upton see him as a potential superstar, who for the time being is a pretty good everyday outfielder. The Diamondbacks might be valuing Upton as if he's closer to being a superstar than he is, but stances can change, especially when you have an outfielder roster crunch. The Diamondbacks might cave. Alternatively, one of the suitors might cave. Or the Diamondbacks might just trade Jason fuckin Kubel. That might be the wiser move, for them, but holy hell would that ever be uninteresting from every perspective.
Here's what we know for sure: Justin Upton is not unavailable, the Mariners are almost desperately interested in adding another good hitter, the Mariners have a very solid farm system from which to deal, and the Diamondbacks don't need to find a long-term shortstop anymore. There's a fit between these two teams. Where there's a fit, there isn't always a deal, but there's the potential for a deal, and that's interesting. The Mariners' offseason is interesting, still. Appreciate this; this is not how it always is.