The Fake Justin Upton Trade

According to reports that originally came from Foxsports.com, the Mariners and the Diamondbacks agreed to a trade that would send Justin Upton to the Mariners. However, as has long been reported, Upton has a no-trade clause when it comes to the Mariners (and 3 other teams), and according to that Fox Sports report, Upton nixed the trade. According to CBS Sports, the Mariners were going to send Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Nick Franklin and one of the “Big Three” to the Diamondbacks for Upton.

Upton:

Upton, or at least the platonic idea of Upton, is what the Mariners need and want. Even though he is right-handed, Upton is an outfielder that has hit both righties and lefties pretty well in his MLB career. Justin Upton has played only played right-field in his career (probably the biggest need in the Mariners outfield), but had a pretty elite season in 2011 with an OPS + of 141. In 2012, he wasn’t able to repeat his numbers, but was still solid offensively, and would have been a bonus to the Mariners lineup. Even if the regressed Upton is the Upton going forward, it is still an every day player without real platoon splits and some real power (even if the defense is somewhat lacking). The additions of Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay are laughable compared to what potential Upton would bring, and they shouldn’t be considered when discussing Upton and we shouldn’t have talk of a “logjam”. What is interesting to me is that his OBP (even with a large HBP spike in 2011) has been remarkably consistent since 2008:

2008: .353

2009: .366

2010: .356

2011: .369

2012: .355

It has been his power that has not been consistent, as evidenced by his ISO:

2008: .213

2009: .232

2010: .170

2011: .240

2012: .150

There have been several reasons different looks as to why Upton has not been consistent in the power department (including a lot that has to do with home/road splits. He has been extremely successful offensively in the friendly park in Arizona, but has been very mediocre on the road. One explanation has been that because he plays a lot of road games in Petco and Dodgers Stadium, but he also gets to play in Coors Field and many other hitter friendly parks in the Majors. I think his splits are a big deal). I wanted to get more data, so I went to Baseball Heat Maps and checked Upton’s average feet per batted ball per year and rounded by feet.

2008: 281

2009: 282

2010: 271

2011: 280

2012: 266

So again, there is some inconsistency here, but not quite as much as we saw with ISO (but more than we saw for OBP). Even with the weird 2010, 2008-2011 Upton was definitely an above average power hitter, but in 2012 he slipped to just around average. For reasons unexplained, and even at age 24, it seemed that Upton lost some power.

upton

Upton is due to make nearly 10 million dollars in 2013, and he will make over 14 million dollars in 2014 and 2015. It isn’t my money, but the general rule is that, unless the Mariners continue to dramatically increase payroll, and Upton will take up a rather dramatic part of the payroll over the next 3 years. This is fine if you are getting a real middle of the order bat, but if you are getting an average to below average defensive corner outfielder that has good OBPs but SLGs and ISOs that are around league averages, then he isn’t worth the money he is getting paid, much less the prospects given up for him. This is all academic anyway, as Upton has declined the trade. Of course, that doesn’t mean the trade necessarily can’t happen, as the Mariners could convince him to come by giving him more money or take away some team control (or a long extension with a bunch of money). However, let’s take a look at the prospects the Mariners were going to give up for Upton.

Nick Franklin

While I have been a little cool on Franklin compared to many prospect experts, according to our prospect odds, he is the 2nd most likely Mariner hitting prospect to become a good hitter in the Majors behind Mike Zunino. His “adjusted odds” have him at an over 50% chance of being an impact hitter in the Majors, which is extremely valuable for a middle infielder (even if ultimately he doesn’t play much shortstop or struggles there). This is better than Miller’s chances (not to mention he is better defensively than Miller), and the odd system doesn’t like Stefen Romero and there is a good chance he has to move to a corner outfield position or even 1st base. However, to get something (and Upton is something, he would improve the team), you have to give something.

Charlie Furbush

Other than Carter Capps’ small sample size, Furbush was the best reliever on the Mariners according to FIP, even better than Tom Wilhelmsen. Of course, Furbush was used as a LOOGY many times, but since moving to the bullpen full time, Furbush has been absolutely lights out. However, with the addition to Bobby Lafromboise on the 40 man, with Lucas Luetge and Oliver Perez succeeding last year, the Mariners have the left-handed reliever part of the team already set, even without Furbush. He is a valuable piece, but not as valuable as Upton, and he is replaceable. Giving up Furbush and Franklin for Upton would be a nice deal for the Mariners, however it doesn’t end there.

Stephen Pryor

I just wrote about Pryor earlier this week, and even though he was technically below replacement DIPs-wise in the Majors in 2012, I still think he will be a very good reliever in the Majors going forward. However, Carter Capps is the better reliever and Pryor may be a little redundant. The bullpen is the place of strength on this team. It makes sense to deal from surplus to try to acquire a need. A Pryor, Furbush, and Franklin for Upton deal seems pretty fair, but that is probably about as far as I would go, especially with the monetary concerns.

The most important part of the Fake Justin Upton trade was one of the big 3: Danny Hultzen/James Paxton/Taijuan Walker. Using some crude projections with fastball velocity that I have done in the past, we can do some really simple projections on them using Brooks Baseball data from their AFL appearances and FIP – comparisons for starters using fWAR

Walker: 96.84 MPH, 88 FIP -, ~ 3.8 fWAR a year

Hultzen: 93.13 MPH, 99 FIP -, ~2.8 fWAR a year

Paxton: 94.80 MPH, 98 FIP -, ~2.58 fWAR a year

Of course, people will be quick to point out that there is more to pitching that just fastball velocity, but from the studies I have done, fastball velocity is the best predictor from level to level for pitchers.

James Paxton is the least valuable of the group if you believe that Hultzen’s command will return in 2013 since there are concerns with his command/mechanics (and whether or not he will be a starter in the future) and he is older than the rest. Taijuan Walker is the best of the three, not just because of his projection, but because of the high ceiling scouts see in him and the fact that he is youngest than the three. Of course, none of them have thrown a pitch in the Majors, and pitchers fail all the time, but these guys are about as sure of a thing you are going to see in pitching prospects. They have all had success in the upper levels of the minors, were high round draft picks, have legit fastballs, and at least one MLB breaking pitch a piece. To part with one is a big deal. For comparison, Upton had a 2.5 fWAR in 2012. It was his worst year since 2008, but I just can’t give up one of the big 3 for Upton along with the rest of the package. I do think that the Mariners do catch a break by Upton declining this trade honestly.

Clint Hulsey

Grew up in Texas but always have been a fan of Griffey/A-Rod/Ichiro. 21 year old student interested in scouting, minor league and amateur baseball, and just baseball in general. Favorite general sports moment: The Texas versus USC college football national championship comes to mind, as does Gary Matthews Jr. catch on July 1st 2006. Favorite Seattle Sports Moment: King Felix throwing a perfect game against the Rays

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