With all of the trade talk surrounding the Diamonbacks and their star player, right fielder Justin Upton, I'm wondering just what GM Kevin Towers is trying to build out in the desert. You can say what you want about Upton, about how he hasn't lived up to his enormous potential, and how he's extremely inconsistent, but he's the best offensive building block that the Diamondbacks have right now. If the team deals Upton…what direction are they heading in long-term?
Obviously, a trade for Upton would result in a substantial amount of prospects coming back to Arizona. But looking at the current roster and upper minors, I'm really not sure what they're aiming to do. Arizona's offense is largely made up of veterans and players whose contracts are expiring soon. The only real exceptions are Paul Goldschmidt at first base (still in pre-arb), and Miguel Montero behind the plate (signed through 2017). Center fielder Chris Young is under contract until next year, with an option for 2014. Shortstop Stephen Drew has an option for 2013 that will likely be declined due to his injury issues. Second baseman Aaron Hill is only signed until next year.
Of course, none of those players have the ceiling of Upton, whose contract runs through 2015 and totaled 14.2 fWAR from 2009-2011 at ages 21-23. He's still just 24 right now, and won't turn 25 until the end of this August. This is not a Jeff Francoeur situation in Atlanta, where the player had a fatal flaw that was preventing him from ever being the player that many expected. A better comparison would be Jason Heyward, the prodigal son who was devastated by injuries and a change in approach at the plate. The Braves held to their guns and didn't make a move with Heyward last year, and sure enough, he's back to being one of the best players in the league this year.
Looking at everything going on in Arizona, it's clear that Towers is going for a pitching-based approach, with guys like Ian Kennedy and Wade Miley succeeding in the majors, and the trinity of Trevor Bauer, Pat Corbin, and Tyler Skaggs dominating the minors (and in the case of Bauer and Corbin, earning promotions to the majors). Then there was last winter's trade for Trevor Cahill, which signifies an attempt to win now in dealing away top prospect Jarrod Parker and others for the veteran Cahill, a move that Towers probably wishes he could do over considering Parker's success this year (not to mention Ryan Cook's dominance in the bullpen for the A's).
Arizona also doesn't have a depth of offensive prospects like they do with pitchers. There's Matt Davidson, who has a skillset very similar to Goldschmidt, and AJ Pollock, who has struggled this year….and not much else in the way of top shelf talent. Now obviously, as I mentioned in the intro, a trade for Upton would likely result in top shelf offensive talent headed towards Arizona. But how many players out there really have the ceiling of Upton?
In summary, a trade of Justin Upton wouldn't help improve the Diamondbacks in the short-term, and as a team in the weak NL West that's just 6.5 games out of the division lead today, they shouldn't punt on their year. Also, trading Upton would set the franchise back in the long-term as well. I really don't understand why Towers would consider dealing his star player, especially after giving up such a hefty package for Cahill in the offseason in a move intended to help the team win now. This isn't the Phillies, 14 games out of first place with an old, expensive roster. Trading Upton just sends Arizona in the wrong direction long-term.
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