clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A discussion about the Braves, Justin Upton, and trade value

The Braves just dealt Jason Heyward for Shelby Miller, and there may be little point to keeping Justin Upton around for 2015. If the Mariners decide to tango with Upton again, he makes some sense as a rental, but will probably be too expensive to support.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

We've gotten spoiled by Twitter. Most deals occur, so to speak, well before they actually do -- reporters with their ear to the ground usually break major free agent signings or trades well before they're officially announced by the team. At the rate information is now consumed, that lead time can be days, hours, or even minutes. That's why I love it when a team just drops a bomb out of nowhere, like the Mariners have done a few times. Today, it's a blockbuster from St. Louis and Atlanta.

Twitter explosion. Some anger from Mariners fans as well, who have pointed towards at Atlanta for a possible outfield upgrade all summer. Shelby Miller and his 2014 0.2 fWAR don't seem like much of a return, but it is only for a single year of Heyward. And MLB front offices don't evaluate players like we do -- Miller was once a blue chip prospect who has posted great/good ERAs over the past two seasons.

Justin Upton only has a year of control left himself, and the Braves might very well be on their way to blowing things up after also trading away their starting second baseman, Tommy La Stella.

As Zach Sanders points out, there's really no reason for Atlanta to hold on to Justin Upton for a single year if the Braves aren't going to contend, and after certainly making an already-iffy team worse with the loss of Ervin Santana (free agency) and Heyward, it might be full fire sale time. The Braves are shifting around upper management, but haven't been hesitant to be one of the more active teams early in the offseason, especially with this blockbuster. They're open for business. Future business.

There's some potential matches between the Mariners and Braves. Not only have the M's been linked to Justin Upton multiple times, but many have also placed Evan Gattis as a logical OF/1B/DH type in Seattle. The Braves would have to crater out their outfield to trade both Upton and Gattis, but it's a long offseason, and at the least trading Upton makes sense for Atlanta.

We've discussed Upton a lot, and had they traded Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin for him back in January of 2013, they might have been a playoff team by now. They also might not have signed Robinson Cano. Whatever. What's done is done, but Upton can't reject a deal to Seattle anymore, as he presumably a) saw the club's 2014 turnaround b) decided he really liked sleeping on planes. Either way, the Mariners aren't on his no-trade list anymore, so the player they've always wanted can come to Seattle without any say. And we know how the Mariners like to force people to Seattle, whether they like it or not.

So let's talk about Justin Upton.

The Profile

Justin Upton as an idea remains better than Upton, the player. As a former #1 pick who was often compared to Griffey, he's failed to fully deliver on his once-immense hype. He's still very good, posting a 3.9 WAR in 2014, but WARs of 3.1 and 2.1 in 2013 and 2012, respectively, give some pause. Dustin Ackley just put up a 2.1 win season himself, and Michael Saunders was on pace for a 4-win season if he wasn't hurt and benched. Still, Upton has been far more consistent and accomplished, especially on offense.

Upton's profile is a familiar one, especially to the Mariners. Right-handed corner outfielder with lots of power (.221 ISO), lots of strikeouts (26.7%) and questionable defense. While Upton's defense used to be an asset, he hasn't posted a positive UZR in three years, and his DRS is negative over that time as well (-4). At only 27 years old, Upton isn't likely to be in serious defensive decline yet, and his D can safely be rated as averege-ish. It is worth noting that Upton has said he feels more comfortable in right field, which is where he posted far better defensive ratings while in Arizona. Has the defense sagged because of the switch or some decline in ability? It's speculation, but there's hope.

Upton is due $14.5 million for 2015, after which he'll be a free agent. If the Mariners trade for him before the season starts, they'll be able to slap him with a qualifying offer.

The Projection

2015 Steamer Projection
0.262 0.344 0.460 0.198 0.353 126 3.2

It's time to let go of the idea that Justin Upton is some superstar waiting to happen. Even if he is -- after all, he's still only 27 -- the window for him to be evaluated as such from the Mariners perspective is gone. The projections are south of Upton's 2014, and moving him into Safeco Field won't help either, though Upton has monster, no-doubt power that can easily cut through the marine layer *yawn*.

The Cost

Here's where it gets tricky. So we've established that I think Justin Upton is probably a little overrated, but as a rental, the cost won't be nearly as prohibitive as it once was, two offseasons ago. Then again, a return of Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jennkins for Jason Heyward gives us a pretty good idea of what Upton might cost. Miller was once ranked very similarly to Taijuan Walker in terms of prospect status, but he's a few years older. He's had a semi-shiny ERA for the past two years, including a 3.01 ERA in 2013. Though those ERAs are marred by fairly average peripherals -- 4.47 xFIP in 2014 -- that's still not exactly cheap for St. Louis.

Heyward is better than Upton, but that's based on an advanced approach. Upton is the better hitter, but Heyward crushes him defensively. Do other franchises evaluate like we do, in which Heyward is better in a SABR-nerd world? Or will they demand even more for Upton based on his superior offense? Either way, giving up Taijuan Walker or James Paxton for Upton would be crazy.

However, the Braves do have a hole at 2nd base that needs to be filled. While Jose Peraza may be the future at second (recently rated the Braves #1 prospect by John Sickels), he's still a ways away, and has much to prove at the higher levels of the minors. Brad Miller or Chris Taylor could fill that gap until Peraza is ready, giving them an MLB-ready piece in exchange for a year of Upton's services. Roenis Elias could also be a match, as could various minor league pieces, namely D.J. Peterson.

There's also Dustin Ackley. If the Braves believe Ackley can still play second base, he can stick there full time, or move into the outfield if they decide to also deal Evan Gattis. Ackley for Upton, with some other minor pieces included -- perhaps on both sides -- does potentially make sense for Atlanta. The Mariners could then hold onto Michael Saunders, though I'm not convinced they will, or trade for another outfielder without concern of taking away ABs from Ackley.

The Fit

Upton is an obvious fit if the Mariners choose to rent. They've got a gaping hole in a corner outfield spot, and even if Michael Saunders isn't dealt there's a spot for Upton's bat in the lineup every single day. He'd instantly upgrade the offense, and perhaps give them the push they need to get over the top. But they'll likely have to do so by trading away some MLB talent, and sacrificing that depth or giving up on untapped potential is a risky manuever.

I'll admit that I'm fairly risk-adverse when it comes to rentals, and that the idea of trading for a single year is still foreign to me, as the Mariners haven't been in this position for a long time. Upton makes sense, but there's still a mental red flag that he's going to cost more than he's worth.

Ackley for Upton makes sense on paper, but if Ackley's second half is real, there's a very real chance the swap could be lateral, and then the Mariners would be sacrificing the extra years of Ackley's control in exchange for one of Upton. If it isn't real, then it may be a missed opportunity to sell high on him. This is generally why I prefer the Mariners use Chris Taylor and his inflated BABIP to find an upgrade in the outfield, and then make another addition near the 2015 trade deadline if Dustin Ackley busts once again. Hopefully it isn't too late.

So this isn't really a recommendation for Upton, though there's clearly a fit to be had between the two teams if the Braves decide to trade more outfielders. Evan Gattis probably makes more sense, but that's a separate post and less likely now that Heyward is gone. If Upton comes for pieces that don't take away from the 2015 Mariners as they currently stand, then it could be worth it. If he comes for Chris Taylor, that's something I'm comfortable with. But based on the return they got for Heyward, it doesn't seem feasible.