Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Justin Upton would upgrade the Tigers' outfield, but is he worth the stable of prospects that he would cost?
Depending on who you talk to, Justin Upton has been on the trade block since May. Now that we have no actual baseball to talk about, the rumors have been blown up to epic proportions. Will the Arizona Diamondbacks trade their 25 year old franchise centerpiece? Ken Rosenthal seems to think so. Will the Tigers be interested? That remains to be seen.
Who is he?
With apologies to Josh Hamilton, Upton is the most talented player we will likely mention in these posts. He is a career .278/.357/.475 hitter in roughly five full seasons' worth of games, but at age 25, he still has his prime ahead of him. He stumbled in 2012, hitting .280/.355/.430 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs in 150 games. He is a patient hitter for his age, walking in over 10% of his career plate appearances. He is no slouch in the field either, playing average to above average defense in right field during most of his Diamondbacks career.
Why should we care?
Even though he has 731 career major league games under his belt, Upton is still only 25, meaning there is still room for growth. He put together an MVP caliber season in 2011, hitting .289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs and 88 RBIs. He made the NL All-Star team and finished 4th in the MVP voting. Oh, and he was 23. He isn't a one trick pony either. Upton has stolen at least 18 bases in each of the past four seasons. Most defensive metrics like him in right field, though they weren't so kind last season -- his -2.1 UZR was the first negative figure he posted since 2008.
Why should we stay away?
Upton's numbers seem to be largely inflated by playing at Chase Field, one of the best hitters parks in the majors. Throughout his career, he is a .307/.389/.548 hitter at home compared to just .250/.325/.406 outside of the desert. In 2012 the splits were even more exaggerated; he hit .313/.390/.534 at home but only .252/.326/.344 on the road. In plain terms, he's Prince Fielder at home and Omar Infante on the road. While decent, that's not exactly someone you want to trade half the farm for.
Going along with that, it's a bit troubling that Arizona seems so hell bent on getting rid of Upton. While the above paragraph illustrates a concern for other teams, it has no impact on Upton's productivity in Arizona. Are there clubhouse concerns? Is there a lingering injury that hasn't been released publicly? Are the Diamondbacks owners just cheap SOBs? We have no idea, but I don't like the idea of a team looking to trade a (relatively) cost-controlled budding superstar.
Finally, where did his power go last year? Upton's OPS+ dropped from 141 in 2011 to 107 in 2012, which is just above league average. It was easy to blame his youth as an excuse when he had an OPS+ of 110 in 2010, but I'm less keen to attribute last year's drop-off purely to his continued development.
Will he end up in Detroit?
If it isn't obvious by now, it will be: I want no part of Upton. His numbers are inflated by a launchpad of a home ballpark and his drop-off in power last season is way too spooky for my liking. More importantly, trading for Upton will create more holes than it fills. Add in the sheer number of decent corner outfielders on the open market -- seriously, I have like three more weeks of these posts lined up -- and there's no reason to overpay for underproduction.