Lukewarm Stove: Ah, the Justin Upton Trade Rumors Are Coming Back

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Lukewarm Stove: Ah, the Justin Upton Trade Rumors Are Coming Back

Chicago Cubs

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.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.