Silly Trade Ideas Redux: Justin Upton

Last month while watching the ALCS, I got an idea in my head that maybe Derek Jeter was past his prime (maybe?) and that the Yankees, confronted with his expiring contract, might let him walk.  The subsequent gap (or remaining gap?) could then be filled by the one and only Yuniesky Betancourt.

It was just a joke.  At first.

Now there are reports that Jeter wants a four year contract and he’s going to demand greater than market value after his worst season ever. There’s a chance – small as it is – that the Yankees do indeed let one of their most iconic players go this offseason. I’d say it’s at about 5% but the chance is still there.

This article isn’t about that past idea, though it’s worth noting that Betancourt and Jeter had nearly identical composite stats in 2010. They were nearly identical in OPS+ and both landed at 13 Runs Above Replacement.

Well, in the midst of rumors that the Arizona Diamondbacks are shopping 2005 first overall pick Justin Upton, I started to wonder what might work for the Royals to go after him. Some speculation posited that a package like Florida’s Ricky Nolasco and Logan Morrison would work. There are also rumblings that it would take a big package of players who were both major league ready and long-term options (hmm, sounds familiar).

Upton is coming off three straight seasons with an OPS+ above 100 starting in his age 20 season in 2008. He has the speed and power to be a 30/30 player every year for the next ten years, provided he stays healthy and can make enough contact. His pedigree, skill set and performance earned him an extension that has him signed through 2015 for a remaining $49.5 million dollars. That’s a hefty price, but Baseball Reference lists similar 22 year olds like Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez, Ruben Sierra and Andruw Jones.  If he could produce at the plate like those hitters, that’s pretty valuable, especially for a team that is lacking a surefire outfield prospect and needs power.

I think he’d fit nicely in the Royals lineup. Sure he strikes out a lot, but he walks at a reasonable rate, so he’s not just a hacker. He’s made enough contact to put up a .272 career batting average, so he’s doing something right.

Also, he’s got the upside to be a perennial All-Star and would turn 28 in 2015, the final season in his contract. He fits Dayton Moore’s model of a young player who will be under team control for many years yet to come and though it’s at a much greater investment than a prospect under team control, he’d be the best player on the Royals pretty much every year of his contract.

So what do we give up?

More than likely, we’d have to lose one of our solid pitching prospects. I don’t know that I’d want to give up Mike Montgomery or John Lamb. I think those two have the stuff, smarts, and demeanor to be strong starters for a long time in the majors. I nominate Danny Duffy. He’s good, and he’s a solid prospect, but he’s not really a franchise starter and the Royals have tons of left-handed pitching depth coming up.

But Arizona would also want someone ready for the major leagues right now and for the future.

Looking at the early report from an executive that a Morrison/Nolasco group would win the Diamondbacks over, if we make the up and coming minor leaguer a pitcher (Duffy) instead and get the young but established major leaguer to be an everyday player, it leaves a pretty obvious option.

He’s one of my favorite hitters, and I want him to do well, but with Eric Hosmer on the way, Kila Ka’aihue potentially strong enough and Clint Robinson around too (not to mention Murray Watts who could be a big prospect in a couple years), Billy Butler is moveable. The Royals haven’t ruled him out in any way and the general sense is that he’d be a possible trade chip. He’s still quite young himself, and without the burden of Upton’s contract, he provides offense in a position that the Diamondbacks will need production (Adam LaRoche is a free agent now).

The Royals would have to take on salary, and with Upton having issues with his shoulder for most of the second half of 2010, there’s a bit of risk. But if everything checks out, I don’t think a Butler/Duffy combination is too much to offer. If it provides the Royals with a Dyson/Giavotella/Hosmer/Upton/Moustakas/Myers kind of lineup in 2013 as they make a playoff charge, wouldn’t you take that?

I want to hear your thoughts. Is Butler + Duffy too much in your opinion or is Upton even worth going after? Are you concerned about the strikeouts being a drain on his production down the line, or is that part of the risk of a potential 40 homerun hitter?

It’d be nice to see that Steve Balboni record fall for once. Maybe Justin Upton‘s the guy to do it.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Billy Butler Danny Duffy Dayton Moore Justin Upton Kansas City Royals KC MLB Royals

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