The Arizona Diamondbacks seem to be locked in to trading Justin Upton this winter. Hell, Upton might even be dealt by Thanksgiving at the rate rumors are heating up around him. This is absolutely infuriating to me as a baseball fan. Upton is 25-years old, a former top overall pick in the MLB Draft, and is signed through the next three seasons, making a total of roughly $39 million. At age 25, Upton has over 100 career homers, 80 stolen bases, and walks at an over 10% rate. Yet, the Diamondbacks are trying to trade him instead of building the franchise around him. I don't get it.
Upton came under fire from Arizona GM Kevin Towers and owner Ken Kendrick for his struggles last season and a few nagging injuries that he suffered. His 2012 reminded me a lot of Jason Heyward's 2011 season in Atlanta, where he came under fire for struggling and getting hurt. Of course, Heyward's 2012 season was incredible, and any talk about him not being a franchise player in Atlanta has ceased.
In shopping Upton, Towers is apparently looking for a third baseman or a shortstop. With Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel, and prospects Adam Eaton and AJ Pollock in the major league outfield, it makes some sense to deal from a strength to fill a hole. But while trading the best player will likely get you a better return, Upton isn't in his late-20s and approaching free agency. This is a young, experienced, cost-controlled franchise cornerstone, and the Diamondbacks are looking to deal him because Stephen Drew was underwhelming and the team hasn't had a solid third baseman in years, unless you're a big fan of Mark Reynolds and his Swiss cheese swing.
The Diamondbacks are also apparently down on Trevor Bauer, and looking to deal him as well. Bauer was the third overall pick in the draft just a year ago, and the team has apparently soured on him…but why? Because in his first full professional season, he had some command problems while learning how to pitch as a major leaguer? On a recent episode of ESPN's Baseball Today podcast, Keith Law said that Bauer's main problem was that he was trying to get hitters out by throwing pitches out of the strike zone, instead of challenging them. This is something that is easily fixable by any pitching coach or coordinator with a brain.
As currently constructed, the Arizona Diamondbacks are a team that is built to win right now. They won 94 games and the NL West title a year ago, and finished .500 this year. This isn't the last place team of 2009 and 2010 that needed major changes. Trading Upton (and Bauer for that matter) would be a step in the wrong direction for the Diamondbacks. While Eaton is projected to be a solid major leaguer, he doesn't have the ceiling of Upton. Hell, Eaton will be 24 next month…it's not as if he's years younger than Upton.
Essentially, the logic of Towers is "deal from a strength to fill a weakness". The problem is that he's dealing from the peak of his strength for what could wind up being a question mark. Upton is a guy that has topped out at 6.4 wins above replacement in a season over his career, and that is extremely tough to replicate, especially at an infield position. There were just five players in baseball last season to have a six win year on the left side of the infield, and the youngest was 28-year old Chase Headley. Going from Upton and a pair of lower tier players on the left side of the infield to a Profar/Andrus type player, Eaton, and another lower tier player would probably end up being a net loss. Maybe it would be in Arizona's best interest to not put so much faith into Eaton, who has a whopping two pro seasons under his belt.