"The Mariners have shored up their outfield with the acquisition of the power-hitting Justin Upton, surrendering a trade package that includes top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker."
That is a sentence that could be true in a couple weeks, and it is also a sentence that was true two years ago when it actually happened. Except this time Upton may actually board that plane, and if his one remaining contractual season is going to cost as much as the Braves are insinuating it will, then the Mariners should think extra hard about pulling that trigger during the upcoming winter meetings.
Upton to Seattle has been an idea floating around the baseball world for the past few days, from ESPN's Dave Schoenfield, to Shannon Drayer, and finally to this morning's report that the Braves are "very much" shopping him from Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who quotes a rival executive with the lively and creative "Justin Upton will be moved" bit. And while it should be reiterated that nothing on this front has left the rumor stage, it seems a safe bet that the Mariners will be talking to Atlanta pretty heavily about Upton in the coming weeks.
All details aside, Upton is a great fit for the M's. Except, you know, you can't take the details out. With only a single season left on his contract, he could cost the Mariners valuable, cost-controlled pieces who could come back to haunt the team for years to come. But then again, it could be time to pull that trigger. Either way, this is something we are going to be hearing about until it's done and done. So what will he cost?
When Justin Upton rejected his trade to the Mariners in 2013, the baseball world looked a whole hell of a lot different than it does now, starting first and foremost with the Wedge-led, gutter-dwelling M's. There had yet to be serious calls for Jack Zduriencik's job at this point, but that was in part because it didn't seem like it was all his fault: Justin Smoak still had
promise possibility, Felix had just thrown a perfect game amidst extension talks, and the Mariners were sitting on one of the deepest farm systems in the game, knowing full well it was probably the only way they would ever acquire a marquee star to shore up the offense. And that's exactly what they did.
To get Upton from the Diamondbacks in 2013, the Mariners were ready to part with Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush, and Stephen Pryor. Arizona's return may have felt a little steep, but it made sense for the Mariners back then: the M's had an abundance of pitching prospects and no real right-handed bats. They were still a year or two out. Justin Upton was worth 6 wins in 2011, a veritable superstar. Three years of rejuvenation at the cost of one of your top three untested arms (plus some) made sense.
But Arizona was a pretty unique case. Many of us grew to love the Kevin Towers regime's seemingly monthly blunders, and the real reason they wanted to unload Upton had little to do with level-headed strategic decision making. Upton isn't going to cost what he did back then, and for a number of reasons. The first is simply that the Mariners are no longer desperate to make their splash move. The second is that even despite the single year on his contract, he isn't quite the superstar he was imagined to be with that 6.1 win 2011. 3.9 wins is hardly anything to laugh about, but Upton seems to be turning into a very specific kind of player--a high-strikeout, low-walk, power-first corner outfielder who struggles on defense despite scouting reports that say the opposite.
So what will Upton cost? Well, the Braves turned Jason Heyward over for four years of Shelby Miller and another Cardinals prospect, and Sherman claims that the Braves are expecting to get even more for Upton, simply because he hits dingers from the right side of the plate. They won't be interested in Brad Miller or Chris Taylor with the best defensive shortstop in all of baseball, and the Mariners probably aren't going to give up Zunino for anything short of a miracle. I'll just go ahead and go there, because I know you're all thinking it:
I asked Taijuan Walker about the trade rumors of him to Atlanta for JUpton he replied:"My heart is with Seattle and I want to be a #Mariner"— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) November 20, 2014
Now I want to make it clear that I'm not endorsing anything here, positive or negative. The Mariners are in an incredible position this offseason with a myriad of options to improve the roster, not only including trades, but also including payroll flexibility. Adding Upton and a free agent would be a pretty remarkable splash, but it could also open a pretty short window. The question we need to be asking is if a single year of Upton is the right way to add three or four wins to the 2015 Mariners. Take a look at this:
Player one will cost four years and about $70 million dollars, and may never reach these numbers again. Player two will probably cost Taijuan Walker and could leave after the end of the season. Which deal is riskier? Which trigger do you pull? Cruz or Upton?
Either way, it's going to be a lot of Walker-for-Upton rumors in the meantime, but it would do everyone a favor to remember that the Mariners have a bajillion different options before them in the coming weeks. But what about you? Do you feel comfortable with the M's sending Taijuan for Upton? Should they negotiate an extension beforehand? Center the package around someone else? Or say thank you and move on?