Padres Trade Target: Justin Upton
By Tim Richer
The Braves are a little all over the place right now. After firing GM Frank Wren, new President of Baseball Operations, John Hart, traded away arguably the face of the Braves in Jason Heyward. Then they went and set up a meeting with Jon Lester, who alongside Max Scherzer, headline this year’s free agent class. Nobody is sure if they’re still eyeing contending in the near future or going for a full rebuild, but MLB.com’s Mark Bowman has heard that more moves will be made.
Gattis isn’t a great fit, because of his defensive limitations, but Justin Upton is an interesting name to consider. The Padres reportedly “kicked the tires” on Heyward, so whose to say they don’t have their eyes on Upton now? The Padres are in dire need of offense and he will provide his fair share of offensive production.
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Ever since his rookie year Upton has been a force at the plate. Since his first full season in 2008 he’s had 32nd most hits, 27th most home runs and had the 35th highest WAR in all of baseball. While he lags behind guys like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols in those categories, he’s still been one the game’s most productive hitters. For his career he’s hit .274/.354/.476. He was helped out by playing half his games in Arizona for his first 6 seasons, he was still able to carry the production to Atlanta where he has hit .267/.348/.478.
This is just the beginning for Upton too. He turned 27 last August, and that is widely considered the start of an athlete’s prime years. If the Padres were able to get a Upton, and extend him they’ll be getting him for the best years of his career.
Even more impressive than Upton’s offense is his durability. Since 2009 he has averaged 147 games per season. That should be music to Padres’ fans ears after watching a season where key contributors Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Everth Cabrera and Yonder Alonso all were forced to miss a significant amount of time due to injuries. In acquiring Upton the Padres are getting a guy who should be able to contribute every day of the week.
The only concern is the cost, both financially and the cost to acquire him. Joel Sherman of the NY Post says the Braves “are requesting a higher return than they received ” for Heyward. Heyward cost the Cardinals Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins, who now ranks as the Braves 7th best prospect according to MLB.com. If the Braves want a better return than that it’ll likely require one of Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner and then multiple top prospects. Outfielders Rymer Liriano and Michael Gettys might intrigue them after dealing away their 2 top outfielders and trying to offload their third.
On the financial side Upton will make $14.5 million in 2015 and then will hit free agency. Obviously if the Padres are giving up the type of package with some of the players I mentioned earlier it’s not going to be for a one year rental. They would make a very strong effort to extend him before he’d even hit the field in 2015, which will be very pricey. He’ll likely command a deal for at least 5 years and over $20 million per season. It would be well worth the money if he improves through his prime years, but he’ll still be eating up a large portion of the Padres budget. Under A.J. Preller the Padres have shown more of willingness to spend with their pursuits of Yasmany Tomas and Pablo Sandoval, but I’m not sure how much extra cash the team has lying around.
Overall Upton is a very attractive option, but at the cost might be too high. Upton alone can’t carry an offense, as seen with last seasons Braves, and he might handicap the team from adding more. He’ll cost one of the Padres arms, as well as any money the Padres have to add an impact free agent. If the Padres were one piece away I’d be more comfortable with a move like this, but unfortunately there’s a lot of work to be done. I love Upton as a player, but the Padres should pass on him.