Reality Check: Justin Upton


So the other day I threw out a hypothetical trade idea to send a solid major league hitter in Billy Butler along with a strong (but not TOO strong) pitching prospect, Danny Duffy, to the Arizona Diamondbacks who are reportedly shopping outfielder Justin Upton aggressively.

It’s probably going to have to stay a hypothetical because Ken Rosenthal reported on Twitter that Upton has veto power over any trade to Oakland, Detroit, Cleveland and, yes, Kansas City.

Good grief.

I’m not entirely sure why the Diamondbacks are (reportedly) so intent to trade their star outfielder. Maybe it’s cutting payroll (though if that’s the case, it was a pretty short-sighted move to sign Upton to a six-year extension last March). Maybe there’s some character concern. Maybe his shoulder stiffness from late last August is a bigger issue.  Maybe they’re just really tired of batters striking out.

To me, it seemed like it was an opportunity for the Royals to get a player who would be highly productive, with good star power and who they otherwise would have had no other opportunity to acquire. Upton will be a free agent in 2015 when his extension ends, and while the Royals are contending at that point, Upton may be coming off a string of 30/30 seasons and some MVP votes and will be way out of the Royals price range, especially considering they’ll have to start thinking about approaching arbitration and extensions for the prospects we hope will have them in contention by that point.

A trade would work around that, and the Royals have depth, even in the majors. The only question was if they were willing to take on the payroll. Upton’s contract is structured in a way that is club friendly for a few years still. In 2011, he’ll make $4.25 million. In 2012, he’ll make $6.75 million. In 2013, he’ll make $9.75 million. Since the Royals felt Jose Guillen was worth $12 million a year, that makes Upton look like a bargain. the last two years of his extension pay him $28.75 million combined, but if he’s the player worthy of a first overall pick and at an age that many consider a baseball player’s peak, he’d probably be worth it (inasmuch as a person can be “worth” $28.75 million).

But alas, it’s not meant to be, as Upton would have to approve a trade to the Royals.

I still think it’s a good idea, and I’d be ecstatic if Kansas City made it happen. In the original post, Alex Gordon‘s name surfaced as another part of the deal, and the more I think about it, the more I’d go ahead and include him too. I’m much more of a Gordon apologist than a lot of Royals commentators and fans. I know some who revile his name and almost always mention Ryan Zimmerman or Ryan Braun in the same sentence that curses Gordon. I still believe. Maybe it’s stubbornness. Maybe I’m just stupid. Or hopeful.

But sure, toss him in there too.

The Diamondbacks reported demands are five players, three of which are major league ready. With the Royals deep system, another couple players with Butler and Duffy (and Gordon) would be paying for Upton, but not at a huge cost if the right players ended up moving. Aside from Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, William Myers, Mike Montgomery, Christian Colon and John Lamb, you could probably give up any other Royals prospect to get Upton and feel alright about it if you believe in Upton’s talent.

Justin Upton could be a player who hits long bombs in the home run derby, perhaps for the home crowd in 2012. He could be the protection in the lineup for a young Eric Hosmer, or steal a base to get into scoring position for Mike Moustakas. Think about walking around the midwest and seeing it dotted with kids in white jerseys with royal blue script and “Upton” on the back. He’s a star, and while the Royals have a bunch on the way, one more can’t hurt.

It doesn’t matter, though, because Justin Upton can kill a deal to Kansas City. And probably would.

Maybe if we send him some barbecue, he’ll go along…

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