Archive for Justin Upton
Via Bryan Hoch & Dan Martin: The Yankees were never all that close to acquiring Justin Upton or signing Scott Hairston, though they did have interest in both players. “Did I ever have a conversation with Arizona about [Upton]? Yeah, but they weren’t focusing on us,” said Brian Cashman, which jibes with a recent report saying the Diamondbacks didn’t love New York’s prospects.
“I think it’s in our best interest to look in the short-term, but that doesn’t preclude us from looking in the long-term … Obviously, there are restrictions we’re trying to navigate through, but that does not preclude us from doing a multi-year deal — but we’re going to be very careful,” added the GM. One thing the Yankees have done in advance of the 2014 payroll plan is create a lot of flexibility. They only have four players under contract for 2014, so they will have a bunch of money available next winter, but that also means they’ll have a lot of holes to fill. I just wish they had made more of an effort to improve the 2013 club as sort of a “one last gasp” before guys start retiring and payroll is slashed.
After years of rumors, Justin Upton has finally been traded. The outfielder was dealt to the Braves along with third baseman Chris Johnson this morning according to multiple reports. The Diamondbacks will receive the versatile Martin Prado, infield prospect Nick Ahmed, first base prospect Brandon Drury, and young right-handers Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill in return. I’ve been writing about Upton for a long time, but the Yankees never seemed to have serious interest him. It’s a shame, they could use a player just like him.
Via Wally Matthews: The Yankees are one of the four team’s on Justin Upton’s no-trade list, however it is not considered much of an obstacle. The bigger issue is that the Diamondbacks looked at what New York has to offer and wasn’t intrigued. That stinks.
“I know it’s getting late, but we’re still looking … We’re open for business, but we’re not going to do something just to do something. If we have to, we’ll go to Tampa with what we’ve got,” said Brian Cashman. Upton would be fantastic, but at the very least the team needs a good bat for the DH spot. They have enough warm bodies (Matt Diaz, Russ Canzler, etc.) to put together a representative competition for the right-handed hitting outfielder’s job. Camp opens in a little more than three weeks, so if the Yankees are going to do something, it would be nice if it happened soon.
Late last week, Justin Upton invoked his no-trade clause to prevent a deal that would have sent him to the Mariners for four players. Those four players were, reportedly, top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, infield prospect Nick Franklin, and big league relievers Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor. I’m not sure why the Diamondbacks pursued a trade with one of the teams on Upton’s no-trade clause to the point of agreement without first running the idea by him, but I digress.
Upton, 25, is no stranger around this parts. I’ve been writing about his as a trade target for years, including several times this offseason. Last we heard, the Yankees were not involved in any talks to acquire him but where willing to meet Arizona’s asking price. That first report came back in early-November and obviously things may have changed since then. We do know the Yankees continue to seek a bat though — Hal Steinbrenner said so a few days ago — and Upton obviously fits the bill. Given their tendency to pursue major trades in secret, let’s pretend they continue to pursue the younger Upton for our own amusement.
It’s not often we find out exactly what it would take to acquire a player in a trade, but that’s what we have here thanks to the failed deal with the Mariners. We know Arizona will take an elite pitching prospect, a very good infield prospect, and two big league relievers. Reasonable enough, though I’d argue it’s a bit of a bargain since Walker is more likely to never get out of Double-A than be an impact player. We have a frame of reference for a trade, but the problem is the Yankees can’t match it. They don’t have a pitching prospect remotely on par with Walker — a healthy Manny Banuelos might have been close — nor do they have a top-50-ish infield prospect like Franklin. Every team can match the two relievers part, but few have a Walker and Franklin of their own lying around.
Here’s the thing though: the Yankees don’t have to match that offer now. The Diamondbacks aren’t getting Walker and Franklin and two relievers. They lost some leverage when Upton blocked the trade to the Mariners for two reasons. One, it took a serious bidder out of the equation, so the market has shrunk. Two, the player-team relationship is likely so strained now that they’ll have no choice to trade him before Spring Training just to avoid the distractions. That doesn’t mean Upton will come cheap of course. It’ll still take a four-player package that includes two prospects, but maybe now they’re just pretty good prospects instead of elite.
Arizona acquired their shortstop of the future a few weeks ago when they essentially swapped Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorious, so that position is no longer a focus in Upton trade talks. Franklin is a shortstop, but Baseball America (subs. req’d) recently said “he may fit better at second base because his range, hands and arm are all average.” That part of the trade seems to be more about getting the best possible return than filling a specific need anyway. If the D’Backs are hellbent on getting two top-100 prospects back, the Yankees have four to offer in catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielders Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Slade Heathcott. None will rank as highly as Walker, but Williams will rank ahead of Franklin while the others won’t be far behind. The exact rankings are trivial anyway, the important thing is that New York has the approximate pieces.
Much has been made of Upton’s shortcoming in recent weeks because that’s what we do nowadays — we focus on what he can’t do rather than appreciate him for what he is. Yes, Upton didn’t hit on the road this year (84 wRC+), but he’s also a 25-year-old right-handed hitter who owns a career .278/.357/.475 (116 wRC+) batting line, draws walks (career 10.1%) and steal bases (18+ in each of the last four years), grades out well defensively, is a year removed from an MVP-caliber effort (139 wRC+), and is signed affordably through 2015. If his left shoulder checks out (he had a labrum issue in 2010 and supposedly it gave him some trouble last year) during the physical, who cares if he didn’t hit on the road last season? Players like Upton aren’t available that often and sometimes you have to roll the dice.
There has been some speculation that the Yankees don’t like Upton’s contract, which will pay him $38M over the next three seasons. I assume that has more to do with the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 than his salary for 2013, when he’s owed just $9.75M. Trading Curtis Granderson to free up payroll space — a popular idea among the fans and MSM, apparently — wouldn’t impact 2014 and beyond since he’s a free agent next winter. Trading Granderson to make room for Upton would be about 2013. I don’t like the idea of using one to replace the other, but if the Yankees don’t have payroll space to add Upton for 2013, they probably don’t have space for Mike Morse (or Jason Kubel) either. Moving Granderson ($15M) frees up a big chunk of financial room for both Upton ($9.75M) and Morse ($6.75M), assuming the team can find another $1.5M in the couch cushions somewhere. Upton and Morse would be better than the Grandyman and some free agent DH, at least in theory.
Anyway, this Upton stuff gives me a bit of an Alex Rodriguez circa 2003-2004 vibe. A-Rod was rumored to be available all winter and eventually the Rangers reached an agreement with the Red Sox, but the union shot the thing down because of the proposed restructuring of his contract. Before you knew it, poof, Alex was a Yankee. Upton’s been available for months (years, really) and it wasn’t until just now that they reached a trade agreement, but this time it was the player who blew things up, not the league. The Yankees may not have the exact pieces Arizona is seeking and that could prevent a trade from happening, but I do believe they have enough to at least get their attention. We can thank the Mariners for that. If New York is unwilling to pull the trigger on a trade for a 25-year-old player of Upton’s caliber for financial reasons, well that’s just sad.
Via Jon Morosi: The Yankees are willing to meet the asking price Justin Upton, but they don’t want to absorb the three years and $38M left on his contract. Morosi floats the idea of trading Curtis Granderson to the Mariners for prospect to free up cash, but that is just his speculation.
Upton, 25, used his no-trade clause to block a deal to Seattle last week. He’s exactly the kind of high-end, cornerstone position player the Yankees desperately need to add to their lineup, so this nonsense about not being willing to take on that contract is frustrating. Trading Granderson to free up cash for Upton is a swell idea in theory, but it would be a lateral move for 2013, not an upgrade. The Yankees should be looking to add Upton to Granderson, not use him as a replacement.
- At least five teams have already shown interest in Melky Cabrera, but the Yankees (and Mets) aren’t one of them. Given the team’s emphasis on makeup and character, I’m guessing they’ll steer clear of the Melkman following his PED fiasco. [Joel Sherman]
- Brian Cashman said there is nothing new going on with Ichiro Suzuki, though he did acknowledge talking to his agent. The Yankees are reportedly open to re-signing Ichiro and he “strongly wants to stay” with the team. [Chad Jennings]
- Unsurprisingly, Cashman hasn’t spoken to Scott Boras about bringing Andruw Jones back. The 35-year-old wants to keep playing, but the Yankees figure to go in a different direction after his miserable second half. [Dan Barbarisi]
- Still nothing on Justin Upton; the Yankees are apparently not involved in any trade talks for the Diamondbacks outfielder. [Jon Heyman]
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are not in on the Justin Upton trade talks and they also wouldn’t do a two-year contract for Torii Hunter with the 2014 payroll plan looming. They are fixated on one-year commitments this offseason.
It’s always tough to gauge what exactly the team’s true intentions are with reports like this. Are they not in on Upton because they don’t want other teams to know they’re in on Upton, or because they legitimately don’t like him as a player? Would they do two years for Hunter but don’t want to come out and say it? Who knows. The Yankees haven’t exactly been a team that telegraphs their intentions under Cashman.
Via Ken Rosenthal: The Diamondbacks are engaged in “active (trade) discussions” about Justin Upton. The outfielder had the Yankees on his four-team no-trade list this year, but the list has since changed.
Upton, 25, hit .280/.355/.430 (108 wRC+) with 17 homers this year while battling thumb problems. A year ago he was an MVP candidate with 31 homers and a 139 wRC+. Upton is signed through 2015 for a total of $38.5M, or an average annual value of $12.83M. As I’ve said a million times before, the Yankees need to be involved in any talks with Arizona about their right fielder. They might not have the pieces to land him — the D’Backs are reportedly seeking help on the left side of the infield — but they’ve got to at least try. Who knows, maybe Kevin Towers fell in love with some prospects during the year he spent in New York’s front office.
In other news, Jerry Crasnick says the D’Backs will also listen to offers for 21-year-old right-hander Trevor Bauer, who has fallen out of favor with some in the organization. Same thing as Upton here, if he’s truly available, the Yankees need to at least make the call.
The Yankees have been without Brett Gardner for all but nine games this season and they still have some concerns about his elbow injury according to Jon Heyman. He adds that they’re exploring the outfield trade market — moreso than the pitching market — and have spoken to the Diamondbacks about Justin Upton (yay!) and the Phillies about Shane Victorino (meh). Gardner will be back no earlier than July 27th.
I’ve written about Upton a few times in the past, including in last week’s mailbag. As I said when we first learned he was on the block, he’s the rare player you gut the farm system to acquire. Young (24!), right-handed power, speed, favorable contract … Upton offers it all. Unfortunately the Yankees are on his no-trade list and Heyman calls it a “major long shot.” Victorino, on the other hand, is a pure rental. The 31-year-old is having the worst offensive season of his career (93 wRC+) but is still a switch-hitter with speed (19 steals in 21 chances) and very good defense. Victorino is owed roughly $4.5M the rest of the season and will become a free agent this winter.
The Bombers have gotten by with Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones in left field during Gardner’s absence, but Heyman says they are concerned about wear-and-tear as the veteran duo spend more time in the field than anticipated. Victorino would be a fine fill-in if Gardner suffers a third setback, but as Brian Cashman said yesterday, the trade costs for even marginal upgrades are prohibitive at the moment. I doubt the Phillies will take a pair of Grade-B prospects for their center fielder when they can just recoup a
pair of high draft pick after the season.
Heyman says the Yankees will monitor the Cole Hamels situation, but we’ve already heard that they have “no intention” of getting involved in a bidding war. They’ve also scouted Francisco Liriano recently, presumably since he’s returned to the rotation and has pitched exceptionally well. With CC Sabathia due back tomorrow, David Phelps stashed away in Triple-A, and Andy Pettitte scheduled to return in September, New York shouldn’t be desperate to add a starter. Frankly they need another quality reliever more than anything.
Got four questions for you this week, and remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us future mailbag questions.
Mark asks: I know the Yankees have liked him in the past, since Oakland appears to be in sell mode – how does Grant Balfour look as Joba Chamberlain insurance?
Balfour, 34 had a rough start to the season but has settled down and pitched to a 3.14 ERA (3.74 FIP) overall. He’s making $4M this season with a $4.25M club option for next season ($350k buyout), so he’s a rental. There are three big red flags here. One, his strikeout rate (6.70 K/9 and 18.8 K%) is way down compared to the last few years (8.82 K/9 and 24.8 K% from ’10-’11). Two, his walk rate (3.77 BB/9 and 10.6 BB%) is way up (2.84 K/9 and 8.0 BB% from ’10-’11), and three, his fastball velocity is down into the low-90s and has been trending the wrong way for a few years now. That’s like the red flag trifecta right there.
Brian Cashman tried to work out a sign-and-trade deal for Balfour last offseason, before ownership stepped in and signed Rafael Soriano. I’m not sure if they still like him given this year’s decline, but the price shouldn’t be high at all. The Athletics could save some cash and get maybe a Grade-C prospect in return as part of a trade, which is better than holding on to him for another two months and losing him for nothing after the season. Balfour has AL East experience and that’s always nice, but that won’t save him if the fastball and ability to miss bats is gone. If the Yankees can get him real cheap, sure try him out. Low risk move. I wouldn’t expect a ton out of him, however.
Travis asks: Considering the depth of pitching the Yankees have, do you see them making a big free agent signing? They have CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, David Phelps already in the rotation next year and in AAA, they will have D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, Vidal Nuno, Mikey O’Brien, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. That’s a lot of fourth and fifth starters (and some second and third) in the minors. Hard to see giving multiple years to pitchers this year and coming years.
That’s the problem, the vast majority of those minor league guys you mentioned are back-end starters. You don’t really make room for those guys, especially if you’re the Yankees. You let them come up and fill-in if someone gets hurt and you need a spot starter. I mean, if the choice is adding a Cole Hamels or leaving a spot open for someone like Brett Marshall … that seems like an easy call to me.
That said, the 2014 payroll plan is going to impact the team’s free agent decisions more than anything. They’ll need a few of those guys for depth reasons but I wouldn’t let them stand in the way of adding an impact arm. Heck, I wouldn’t let them stand in the way of re-signing Hiroki Kuroda. We’ve written this before, but the Yankees can add a guy like Hamels on a huge contract and still get under the luxury tax threshold in a few years, but it will take some serious creativity. Perhaps it involves dealing a few of those arms for a cheap outfielder or two as a way to offset the cost. I love prospects as much as anyone, but the Yankees don’t have anyone in their system right now that you can point to as a surefire impact pitcher.
Nick asks: So I know there is speculation about a Justin Upton trade. You had mentioned that to get him you would open up the farm system for him. Is there anyway the Yankees can get him AND hold onto Mason Williams or Gary Sanchez? If so, who would you prefer to keep?
I suppose there’s a way to do it, I just don’t know how they could. The Yankees and Diamondbacks don’t matchup well in a trade because Arizona has a ton of pitching and needs a third baseman and a shortstop. Maybe they really, really like Brandon Laird and Eduardo Nunez, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. I can’t imagine a lower level guy like Dante Bichette Jr. would work; if you’re trading a franchise-type player like Upton, you can’t accept A-ballers in return, especially if you’re as close to contending as the D’Backs are.
As far as Williams and Sanchez, I’d prefer to keep Mason but honestly I wouldn’t let either guy stand in the way of a potential trade. Williams has a much more well-rounded game and while Sanchez has serious impact potential, I do still worry about his strikeouts a bit (27.1 K% last year, 23.2 K% this year). Love both guys though and would be willing to move one or the other in a package for a guy like Upton no questions asked. Hell, if those two were going to be the centerpieces of a trade with some miscellaneous pieces added, go for it. I’d have no problem giving up Single-A kids — even super high-ceiling ones like Williams and Sanchez — for a player of Upton’s caliber and potential.
Daniel asks: If the time comes when Elvis Andrus hits the free agent market, can you see the Yankees being major players for him? I believe he’d hit the market at age 25 or 26.
Oh yes, definitely. Andrus is the guy I’m hoping the Yankees will grab to replace Derek Jeter when the time comes. He’ll become a free agent right as the Cap’n’s deal is up and Texas has Jurickson Profar coming. Andrus is still only 23 (!) and will hit the open market at 26, so you’re getting all of his peak years. This is a guy that is already an elite defender at short who gets on-base (.368 OBP this year, .345 career), doesn’t strikeout (12.3 K% this year, 13.0 K% career), steals bases (30+ in each of the last three years plus he’ll get this year again), and stays on the field (145+ games played every year of his career). He also has World Series experience and that’s certainly not a negative.
Now obviously a lot can change between now and then, but Andrus makes a ton of sense for New York if they’re looking for a Jeter replacement in two years. I suspect Texas will either a) trade him, or b) trade Profar and extend Andrus before then, however. If he does hit the open market though, the bidding will be out of control. Middle infielders that productive and that young just don’t become free agents these days. I don’t think a deal worth $20M annually across 8-10 years is out of the question if he keeps this up.
Quick Update: Andrus is a Scott Boras client, so the odds of him signing an extension with Texas are small while the odds of him signing a megadeal as a free agent are huge.