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justin uptonDiamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton has been on the trade market for about three years now. He was the hot rumor of the day a couple months ago, but the Diamondbacks couldn’t seem to find the right deal, and the rumors have receded.

Well, they’re back. From Jon Heyman:

Has Arizona’s surprise signing of Cody Ross put Justin Upton back into play as a viable trade candidate?

Depends who you ask, but it appears a possible trade for Upton has become a reality again.

If the Diamondbacks thought they were strong in the outfield before they signed Ross to a $26-million, three year free-agent contract — and they did — they have to believe they are absolutely stacked in the outfield now.

They will surely be entertaining offers, and as one person familiar with their thinking put it, flat out, “Someone will go.”

That means either Upton, the wunderkind who spends a lot of time on the trading block, Jason Kubel or Gerardo Parra is likely to be dealt. And since it’s not too likely that it’ll be Parra, who the D-Backs want to keep for his defense, Upton is now one of two prime candidates to be traded.

Arizona owner Ken Kendrick remains a big fan of Upton’s, as he suggested in this space a few weeks back. He is such a big fan sources suggest he’ll need to be convinced any potential Upton trade is is something they need to do.

On that last piece, by the way, there were indications in mid-2012 that Kendrick was the very person considering Upton’s ouster, so I’m not sure how much I buy that he’s “a big fan” and would need to be “convinced” about a trade. I think he’s probably already on board.

Setting aside the outfield trade market implications – an outfielder trade obviously affects the market for Alfonso Soriano, but I doubt too many teams view Upton and Soriano as overlapping options – the obvious talking point here is …

Are the Cubs even relevant to these rumors?

Well, on the one hand, the Cubs aren’t really in a position to be unloading prospects to pick up big league pieces in an effort to “win now.” They aren’t a Justin Upton away from being a legitimate threat to win 90 games.

On the other hand, Upton is just 25, and is under control for three more seasons. In that light, he’s certainly a fit for a team that increasingly looks to be pushing for a competitive core by 2014. And, Upton has enough upside that adding him to the mix could make 2013 a “stranger things have happened” kind of season. His production has been uneven, but no one doubts that he could explode at any moment (and, even in his “down” years, he’s still been a valuable player).

Those three years of control don’t come too cheaply, though – $9.75 million in 2013, $14.25 million in 2014, and $14.5 million in 2015. Less than he’d get on the open market, to be sure, but his real value to a trading team comes primarily in the form of his upside. If he becomes a superstar, you’d take him at almost any contract price, because there are a limited number of superstars in the game, and a limited number of spots on your roster.

Is the contract sufficiently high that his cost in trade might surprise us? That is to say, might he not offer enough surplus value to net a tip-top package of prospects? I suppose it’s possible. Indeed, it’s possible that the reason the Rangers and Diamondbacks couldn’t come to an agreement the first time Upton was on the market this Winter was because the Rangers were unwilling to deal their very best prospects.

But, on the face of things, it’s hard to see the Cubs managing to land Upton (assuming they aren’t on his no-trade list or that he’s willing to waive to come to the Cubs) short of a deal that includes top prospect Javier Baez. (Albert Almora and Jorge Soler are not eligible to be traded until a year after they signed, and teams are loathe to include big-time prospects as PTBNLs, because you’ve got to keep playing them in your own system (subject to injury risk) until they’re officially eligible to be traded.) Is a package of Baez and more a good deal for the Cubs? It could be, depending on the “more.” I’m not really one to start throwing up fantasy trade packages, because there are so many variables that it becomes a wild goose chase. But, suffice it to say, there are combinations of players the Cubs could deal to the Diamondbacks that might make sense for both sides.

In Upton, the Cubs would get a 25-year-old piece to add to a present-day core that could include Starlin Castro (23 in March), Anthony Rizzo (23), as well as Darwin Barney (27), Welington Castillo (25), and Brett Jackson (23), depending on how things go with those three in the near term. Assuming there aren’t deep-seeded issues with Upton that a change of scenery can’t resolve (he sure has been on the block a lot), maybe this is something the Cubs really should take a look at.

In the end, I think the Diamondbacks wind up keeping Upton, and deal Jason Kubel or Gerardo Parra instead. But it’s a discussion.

  • the sandman

    The only players in baseball worth trading Castro for are named Giancarlo Stanton or David Price. Forget any overrated OF(J Upton) or even a late 20s star who will fade in a few years(ala Joey Votto). Castro is a 23yo who has a solid BA, developing power and imnproving defense at a key position. It would take a Stanton or Price to even consider moving Castro, n ot J Upton.

    • JR

      Well Price is about to get REAL expensive. I would only trade Castro for Trout or Harper, and probably Stanton.

      • Timmy

        All great players of course, but I would definitely trade Castro for Upton as well.

        • Marc

          Heck no.

  • Big Joe

    Trading Baez will be remembered in horror…for decades. I have a gut feeling that he ends up as a once in a generation player. The guy that signs off on that trade, well, becomes Chicago’s next billy goat. Don’t do it, Theo. Just my two cents.

    • Kevin B

      Dont worry about it. Theo and Jed are too smart to trade Baez for Justin Upton and his 3 years of control. Its just chatter on the blogs here.

      And no way I trade Castro either. Heck the Rangers would not even trade Profar or Andrus for Upton, they are not offering a top prospect either or it would have been done. 3 years of control is nice, then he hits free agency in the middle of our contention and he will cost big bucks to keep or be gone, while Baez is blossoming in the bigs. It would be a mistake, not one I am concerned about with our quality FO.

      Don’t worry about it Big Joe, sleep tight.

      • JCubsfan79

        Yeah because we don’t have the money to extend Upton or anything like that…

  • Big Joe

    And, as we all know, money fixes everything. Dude is going to get around 15mil in his last controllable year. Then what? He’ll be 27-28, looking for a huge payday. About that time…Baez STILL HASN’T SEEN ARBITRATION FOR THE FIRST TIME. Yes, fine sir, good call. Go after Upton, then extend him to, what will undoubtedly be, a huge contract. At that point, the team will find itself in another Soriano-type situation. Lots of years, lots of dollars, lots of regret. Good call.

  • ScottK

    I can’t believe we’re entertaining trading ANYTHING for Upton. Damn – why haven’t his career splits gotten more attention? That dude is mediocre at best away from AZ. No wonder Towers can’t find a dance partner.

    Home: .307/.389/.548
    Away: .250/.325/.406

    That is a HUGE red flag. Oh, even though the sample size is small (66 PAs), this should also give you pause:

    Wrigley Field: .121/.227/.190

    Raise your hand if you still want to trade for Justin Upton…

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