Nationals Need To Go All-In For Justin Upton

November 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

The biggest surprise of this offseason so far is the report that the Arizona Diamondbacks are listening to offers for their young star outfielder Justin Upton. While every team in baseball should have some interest, it will be the most aggressive one that lands the future star. With any luck, that team will be the Washington Nationals. With Colby Rasmus seemingly off the trade market, the Nationals should go for another young star from that epic 2005 draft class.

What will it take: Players like Upton aren't usually on the trade market so it is hard to peg his actual value, but it will be significant. Upton is just 23 years old and already has one All-Star game under his belt (2009). He has amazing power potential, and showed that in 2009 by slugging .532. His strikeout rate his high, but his walk rate is improving and is considered very good for a player in his early 20's. In addition to his potential power Upton brings good speed to the table, which should account for 20+ steals a year and a handful of triples. Upton's speed and strong arm makes him one of the better defensive corner outfielders, and he still has room to improve.

Upton had already signed a long term extension with the Diamondbacks, and he has 5 years remaining on that deal. He has about $50 million remaining on his contract, though most of it is back-loaded into the final two years of the deal. If he keeps developing like everyone expects him to, he will be well worth the money and a cornerstone piece for whatever team acquires him.

Given his talent, contract, age, and potential Upton will cost quite a bit. I would imagine it will cost between 5-7 quality, cost controlled, young prospects. Now it is known the Diamondbacks want both major league ready talent and prospects, but as for what they will actually accept, little is known. In the untouchable department the Nationals should only have Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg (the 2010 draft picks are ineligible to be traded at this time, so no Harper involved). In the 'tough to swallow, but hope to not have to 'give up' department, the Nationals should try to keep Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen. All four have bright young futures with the Nats, but if one needed to be included in a deal to land Upton, it very well could be worth it. Outside of those 6 players though, anyone on the Nationals major or minor league teams should be able to be included. Now Josh Willingham and Sean Burnett have a lot of trade value, but likely won't interest the D-backs too much as they look to rebuild (though they could be part of a 3-way trade).

So WHO Can the Nats Offer?:

My 6 player package would include prospects: C Derek Norris, 1B Chris Marrero, SP Brad Peacock. Along with young major leaguers LHP Ross Detwiler, OF Roger Bernadina (Nyjer Morgan would also be an option), and RP Tyler Clippard. (*Editors note: I originally had this as a 6 player deal, but am now amending it to include a 7th prospect. I am also going to put into a play a 5 player deal as well.) The last prospect I give them a choice between OF Micheal Burgess or OF Eury Perez

Derek Norris: Norris is quickly becoming one of the best catching prospects in the game as he has great plate discipline and big time power. He still needs to work on his defensive aspects of being a catcher (mainly blocking balls and calling the game), but he has all the tools to develop into an All-Star quality catcher. He still is a couple of years away (at least 2), but is easily a top 40 prospect in the game right now.

Chris Marrero: Marrero was the Nats 1st round pick in 2006, and has major power potential. He hasn't unlocked it totally yet, which along with his below average defense likely makes him more of a league average 1B than a star. He is just 22, so the power could still come and being at Double-A he is nearly major league ready. Arizona could use another young 1B, and Marrero would be a solid option. He likely needs another year of seasoning, but the power potential is there.

Brad Peacock: Peacock at 22 has developed into one of the Nationals top pitching prospects. He just made it to Double-A at the end of last season, so he will likely need at least 2 more full years before he is ready. But he has the profile of a quality 3rd starter. He has a big time fastball that he registers a number of stikeouts with, but he still needs to work on his control, as walks have gotten him into trouble. He has a bright future ahead of him and gives Arizona a quality young arm.

Tyler Clippard: If the Nationals are going to keep Storen, they will have to part with Clippard. Clippard has redefined himself as a very good back of the bullpen pitcher. He has the potential to close and is a big time strikeout guy, but still walks more batters than you'd like to see for your closer. Clippard was inconsistent at times, but part of that could be from overuse. While he was a former starter, Clippard's 91.0 innings pitched were 2nd among relievers. With 5 years of team control remaining and plenty of talent, Clippard is an attractive piece for the the Diamondbacks.

Ross Detwiler: Detwiler was the Nationals 1st round pick in 2007, and he has faced mixed success. Detwiler has done very well in the minors, though injuries have slowed down his progress. His stints in the majors have had mixed results as well, though little can be gleaned from them just yet. Detwiler no longer has the profile of a quality number 2 pitcher, but still has the upside of a very good number 3. Being a lefty and just at the age of 25, I think Detwiler still has a good bit of value on the trade market, though probably not the headliner he once was. Arizona has been collecting young starters and Detwiler would be another quality addition to that group. And with 5 years of team control remaining, I'd expect the Diamondbacks to be very interested.

Roger Bernadina: Bernadina has been around in the Nationals system forever, but he is just 26 years old. He finally showed himself worthy of regular playing time, until his numbers collapsed in the last couple months of the season. He has the ability to play any outfield position, though he defensively profiles best in a corner spot. Bernadina's game is based on speed, but he has enough power to add 30 doubles and 15 home runs a year (as well as a 5+ triples). Consistency is his overall problem, and it is quite possible that he just needs regular playing time in one position as opposed to platooning. Bernadina has 4 more years of service time, and will help replace the loss of Upton in the outfield.

Micheal Burgess: Burgess has big time power, and has shown some signs of developing into a quality starting corner outfielder, but he still needs some work. He has the arm for right field but not the greatest instincts to play there. He still needs to work on cutting down his strikeouts and hitting better breaking pitches. He is in Double-A and still just 22 years old so he has plenty of potential left. He needs at least a year and half before he is ready, but could end up being a starter in Arizona by that time.

Eury Perez: Perez is one of the Nationals most exciting young prospects and he was even named to the Futures Game last season. He is a very good defensive centerfielder with exceptional speed. He is still pretty streaky at the plate and has about zero power to fall back on, but he can fly. If he learns better plate discipline and takes a few more walks he could be the starting caliber CF/leadoff man that everyone expects him to be. He is still a bit raw and is most likely 3-4 years away, but he has great potential.

My Five player package: C Derek Norris, SP Jordan Zimmermann, RP Tyler Clippard, 1B Chris Marrero (Burgess, Perez or Peacock could all be options), OF Roger Bernadina

Jordan Zimmermann: The Nationals don't want to give up Zimmermann, given his potential to be a very good number 2 starter in this league, but very well may need to in order to get Upton. Zimmermann is coming off Tommy John surgery, which actually could make him more appealing since the success rate (and health) of pitchers coming off TJ is very high. He has great stuff, and good command. He is still developing but would easily headline the D-Backs rotation.

Is it enough? Maybe, the Nationals are giving up some quality players here, but very little in terms of sure things. It is a good deal for Arizona, but not likely a great deal. It could take a 7th player to get this deal done, or even Storen replacing Clippard to make it work. And although Desmond and Espinosa are part of the Nats future, a deal might not get done without them (though that might cut it down to 5 players). A lot will depend on what other offers are on the table and just how inclined the Diamondbacks are to move Upton. I don't think they'd take this deal off the bat, but that it is a solid starting point. You could see this expanded with the Diamondbacks including Mark Reynolds (who is due $13 million over the next two years), and the Nationals include a couple more young pitchers. Reynolds has big time power, but horrible plate recongition, and he strikesout more than Adam Dunn. His contract could be prohibitive for the Diamondbacks as they look to rebuild, and the Nationals could plug him in at 1B, while they look to rebuild. Arizona wants to move him and could tie him to Upton, to ensure they don't have to pay any money to do so. Regardless of how it breaks down, the Nationals should be open to any and all counter-offers.

As for the 5-player deal giving up Zimmermann would be tough, but necessary. As good as Zimmermann could be, he hasn't reached that potential yet (whereas Upton is already there). Now I'd try to retain both Detwiler and Peacock, to keep the Nats pitching as well stocked as possible, but would be willing to include one of them if necessary. Given Perez's he would be the first position player I'd want to keep out of the deal, with Burgess a close second. I know it would be a tougher deal for Nats fans to get their heads around, but I think Upton is worth that type of package.

Why the Nats Should Have an Interest: Now Nationals fans will look at this proposed deal and likely be very upset, since it involves a number of their 'big name' young players. But Justin Upton has limitless potential, and there was a distinct reason he was drafted 1st overall in 2005. Two things that work in the Nationals favor in terms of going after Upton are the fact that Upton is from Virginia, and the familiarity amongst the Nationals brass with Justin Upton.

Upton has a limited no-trade clause (4 teams), but it is unlikely the Nationals are one of those teams (or even if they were, that they couldn't convince him to come to D.C.), given the fact that he grew up in Virginia. Upton grew up in Chesapeake Virginia, and his older brother B.J. played on the same AAU team as Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman (Justin was too young to play with them, but was the bat boy), so he has some familiarity with the Nationals star. In addition to his being from the area and knowing Zimmerman, the Nationals front office knows Upton very well. General Manger Mike Rizzo was the Assistant GM in Arizona when Upton was drafted, and other members of the Nationals front office also were with the Diamondbacks at that time. They more than any other team know just how special Upton can be, and what he can do going forward. With Mike Rizzo looking to add star talent this offseason, Upton could be at the top of his target list.

With Upton, Zimmerman, and Harper, the Nationals would have an exceptional young corps that would be supplemented with C Wilson Ramos, Desmond and Espinosa. If the Nationals want to build a future contender, adding a talent like Upton is a must. Now trading for him would make it harder to trade for a young pitcher, but there really aren't many good options on the market right now. In fact a big trade to acquire someone like Upton could actually increase the chances of Cliff Lee signing in D.C. (slightly), if he believes the Nationals are truly looking to add All-Star talent around him. Even if it doesn't help land a big free agent this year, it is the right move for Washington.

  • Bob

    Why should Strasburg be untouchable? You have no idea how he could come back from TJ surgery?

    Also, those trade scenarios are laughable.

  • Bob

    Have you seen the package the Red Sox might offer? You call that offer all-in?

    The Red Sox might be willing to give up Ellsbury, Bard, and maybe even Kalish for Upton. Please, the Diamondbacks would scoff at those offers.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Bob

      To answer your first question, Strasburg is untouchable in part because he is injured, but in part because he profiles as a dominate ace. Sure you don't know how he will return from TJ, but most pitchers are either at the same level or even stronger, so I like the odds. If he was healthy Strasburg would be dealt straight up for Upton (and probably even a lower prospect).

      As for the other deals I think you are putting way too much stock in Ellsbury, Bard and Kalish all very good young players, but far from exceptional. Bard is greater than Clippard no doubt, but its not completely out of the question to compare them. Kalish is always been considered a good OF prospect, but not a great one, he is a younger slightly better version of Roger Bernadina. And Ellsbury is a good young CF, but his offense and defense have been inconsistent. They all represent a foundation for a deal, but unless the Red Sox add Casey Kelly and another top prospect they aren't going to be more value than Norris, Clippard and Zimmermann (plus two more) or even the 7 player proposal.

  • geo

    These proposals are jokes. You are offering scraps, especially in the first package. Quantity does not substitute for quality.

    Just as matter of reference, Keith Law feels like the Royals are a good fit. Given that, if they are interested (and who isn't), they can offer say…Zack Greinke and Eric Hosmer, you really have no idea of what an all-in package looks like. "All in" means exactly that: All in. Nobody is untouchable. Otherwise, you are not serious.

    • Steve Shoup

      It is all a matter of what the Diamondbacks want, and there is no doubt that the first 7 player package is more favorable for the Nats. But it isn't totally unreasonable. Peacock, Marrero, and Burgess/Perez all are top 10-15 talents in any system but maybe the Royals, Rays, and possibly the Rangers. All are in their young 20's and age appropriate for their leagues which they are succeeding in. They aren't dominating them, and they haven't 'broken out' so to speak, but in terms of potential they all have it. Derek Norris gets misjudged because of his down year (where some fluke injuries played a major role), but he is an exceptional young prospect. My guess is you will see him between 25-30 when Law's and BA's top 100 prospect lists come out, and there is even a slight chance he could be a few spots higher. Norris is poised to have a big breakout (that industry sources like Keith Law acknowledge) and I don't think it would surprise anyone that he was a top 10 prospect a year from now. As for the rest of the bunch, Clippard is a very good back of the bullpen option, who is cheap and under team control. He would automatically become the D-backs best option for closer. And when you get down to the 2nd package with Jordan Zimmermann he is one of the most promising young pitchers in the game right now. His value is down coming off the injury, but he would likely be the D-backs best option.

      Law did mention Greinke, and I heard him say more would have to be added to the package, but I don't think he ever mentioned Hosmer as well. There is no doubt that Greinke is better than anything the Nats would offer in this deal, but he only is under contract for two more years (and would make significantly more than Upton is signed for). It makes complete sense for the Royals, since they need to move Greinke, but the Nationals actually have young players under control that they want to build around Ryan Zimmerman and Strasburg. Zimmerman is more valuable than Greinke, given his contract and years of control, where as Strasburg as I mentioned before you'd be selling for .50 cents on the dollar given his injury. If healthy he is one of the top 3 trade chips in the game. I don't think it is unreasonable to think that 'all-in' comes with an exception or two. I'm guessing the Giants wouldn't put Lincecum or Cain on the table or the Rays put Price or Longoria up for an Upton deal. And what's even more the Diamondbacks aren't expecting those types of players. Every comment and team source says they are looking for 4-5 young talent players with at least two who can contribute this year. Those aren't the types of deals Zimmerman or Strasburg would fall into since Zimmerman is more valuable than Upton and Strasburg healthy is as well, and even injured wouldn't need 3 additional players added to the deal.

  • lefty

    Your basic assumption concerning the acquisition of Justin Upton is dead on. Not only should it be a priority, it makes sense from a marketing standpoint and the obvious next question concerning whether he would likely be happy here. Unfortunately you have dramatically overrated the attractiveness of the Nats prospects and the liklihood that Arizona would accept them. Try Jordan Zimmerman,Danny Espinosa,Derek Norris,Roger Bernidina, and a pitching prospect and you have a chance. Far too much for me despite his immense talents.

    • Steve Shoup

      I like Espinosa but that deal wouldn't be a deal breaker for me. Sure he is basically major league ready, but he is also closer to major league regular than an All-star. Clippard could then be used to try and add another young middle infielder. I think Clippard/Storen could have a lot of value to the Diamondbacks, because their biggest weakness last season was their bullpen. Now a lot of it depends on what other teams are willing to offer (as well as what the Padres are looking for), since most teams could easily offer more young talent than Washington, but I think the Nationals have a chance.

  • herb

    The Diamondbacks want players who can help them NOW and in the future. Not one reliever and a 4th outfielder. They would block the Nats from their call list if they knew they were going to offer this garbage.

    • Steve Shoup


      Jordan Zimmermann helps them win now as well, and is more ready than say Casey Kelly from the Red Sox, any of the Yanks young pitching prospects or a number of other teams. Some of those prospects have more upside, but they are 1-2 years away. Obviously a lot of value in this deal comes from Norris as well, but I think he is a very talented young prospect who could be ready to take over when Montero hits FA (or allow the D-backs to trade him).

  • herb

    Okay so Jordan Zimmermann helps now, then what? They aren't trading Montero and they have ZERO need for another OF. If Upton goes, you're looking at an OF of Bernandina, Young and Parra. If I'm a GM, no thanks.

    • Steve Shoup


      But what outfielders are the Diamondbacks going to get to really replace Upton? If a team already has good young talent OF's they are just going to keep them instead of going for Upton. Braves might want J. Upton, but they aren't partying with Heyward, and the Marlins aren't letting Stanton go for Upton either. Maybe Colby Rasmus could be an option, but that is looking unlikely. Sure maybe a Logan Morrison or Chris Carter would be in play, but both of those guys are 1B not OF'ers (though still a need for Ari.).

      Is a Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury really going to make that much of a difference for the Diamondbacks? Good players sure, but they aren't stars. And if they are involved then the package will be weaker elsewhere (and they are both closer to FA).

      As I said, a lot will depend on the D-Backs needs and wants, but that the Nationals can put together an attractive package. Maybe it will have to be adding another player to the Jordan Zimmermann package, or swinging a 3-way deal involving Willingham. Maybe the D-Backs would want to really strenghten their pen and add Sean Burnett as well. But I think there is def. ground work for a competitive deal involving, Norris, Zimmermann, and Clippard.

  • ralph

    what are you smoking those guys you offered up could not bring back a buckett of balls

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Ralph
      I don't know how familar you are with the Nats players but guys like Zimmermann, Norris and Clippard have immense value the rest of the guys are based on potential and yes aren't 'elite prospects', but I think it is a fair deal.

  • herb

    Not saying the ground work ISN'T there, I just don't think the Nats bite on those packages. I do agree with you if another team/Willingham were involed, a deal might get done. But I think Towers has seen the mistakes past GM's have made in Arizona (Haren and Max especially) and won't let it happen again.

    I have a feeling this is just a "throw him out there and see who bites" kind of deal. I think Upton is staying put anyway.

    IMO, they'd be stupid to trade him at this point.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Herb:

      Honestly I agree with you that I don't fully see the logic in the D-backs trading Upton, because he is signed to such a good long term deal, and has unlimited potential. But if he is available the Nats should be 'all-in' (anyone but Zimmerman and Strasburg) should be discussed. I also agree that it might be hard for the Nats or a lot of their fans to get behind an Upton deal. And the D-backs may want to go in another direction. I just hope that the Nationals keep an open mind and like I said listen to any and all counter offers.

      Is it a perfect deal, no. But that deal might not exist. Cost conscious teams may avoid him, because of his 8 figure salary in later years (even though it is a team friendly deal) since if he doesn't improve that much it isn't worth it for them. The Yanks have already sort have backed out, because it is better for them to sign Crawford and then trade Gardner/Granderson/Swisher for some other need (might not happen but possible). The Red Sox may rather trade for A. Gonzalez or Fielder to get the impact bat, even if it means more money for the extension. Upton's value is still based on potential, and while I think it is worth it my guess is some teams will balk at paying full freight for him.

  • Bill

    This is ridiculous. Detwiler, Clippard, Norris, Marrero is enough. Sending 6 and 7 players over is just absurd. Keep in mind Cliff Lee AND Mark Lowe only brought in 4 players together.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Bill

      If Detwiler and Marrero had higher ceilings are were preforming better than maybe you got a deal, but it is either going to take quantity or adding a Jordan Zimmermann to make this deal work. Lee was traded for fewer players all three times he was dealt, but he never had 5 years left remaining on his deal. Also, the Mariners and Indians HAD to trade Lee or they would have lost him for nothing, Arizona isn't in the same boat.

      The Nats have to bet on the upside of Upton, and believe he will be a super star, and I think it is a pretty safe bet (overall, nothing is assured). The Nats need to give up more than just Norris and Clippard to make this deal work, as otherwise their package will be blown out of the water.

  • herb

    I know what Zimm, Norris and Clippard can bring. Like I said, I just don't see Towers trading away the guy was labeled "The next A-Rod" for a major league ready reliever and #3 with possible upside in the minor league guys.

    Again, I think Upton stays put. The only thing I could see happening is him going to Boston because of Boston's history in drafting, maybe Towers thinks everyone in their system is legit no matter what. I could also see Towers biting on Kelly, Lavish and Ellsbury too. Who knows. Only time will tell!

  • herb

    And I'll also make it clear while I'm definitely no die-ard Dbacks fan, I do live here and enjoy watching the kid hit 450 ft bombs.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Herb:

      Thanks for the comments and thoughts, I do appreciate differing opinions! I do think time will tell, and I am very intrigued to see what actual package gets Justin Upton, even if it isn't for the Nats.

  • redacted

    i wouldnt trade a ham sandwhich for your list.
    Give me Storen, Clippard/McGearey, Cole, Smoker, Ramos, Norris, and Desmond and then you can sit at the big boy table.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ redacted

      Clippard is far superior to McGeary, and J. Zimmermann is easily worth Cole, Smoker and Ramos (which why would the D-backs want two catchers). Guys like Storen and Desmond may end up being in the deal, but I don't think it would have to go that far (unless it is Storen vs. Clippard or Desmond vs. Zimmermann). 5-6 players should get it done with Zimmermann, Norris and Clippard at the helm esp. with Marrero, Detwiler, etc. filling out the deal.

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  • Ron

    For a 23 yr old that has the shoulder of an 83 yr old, and who has gotten worse instead of better during the past couple of years? Someone will surely overpay. Leave it to the Nationals to negate the Harper and Strasburg signings with such a bonehead move.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Ron

      The shoulder is a concern, but I don't think it is nearly that bad. I also believe that his shoulder is a big reason why his numbers took a dip this season, similar to why R. Zimmerman's took a dip when he had the Hamate injury or Willingham's before he went under the knife this year. There is no doubt Upton is a lotto ticket, but you are pretty much guaranteed getting a mid-level prize (quality everyday starter) and you have pretty good odds of hitting the Jackpot. If the Nats come anywhere close to hitting the Lotto, then they will have the foundation for a long-term competitive team. For me the upside is worth the risk!

  • geo

    No, Law never did mention Hosmer, especially not in conjunction with Greinke; I only did because the the D-Backs need a first baseman and the Royals have them in spades. They could offer Billy Butler instead, although I think that drastically changes the package. My point, actually, was that if the Royals really want Upton, they could put something together that no other team can match, given their farm system and a (presumable) willingness to deal Greinke. Just a point to ponder when considering the notion of what "all in" looks like.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Geo

      You are absolutely right if the Royals want to trade for Upton they have the best pieces to do so. They are probably the only team in baseball where 'all-in' doesn't come with a single exception. You could maybe make a case for the Blue Jays or one or two others, but the point remains the same; just about every team has the Ryan Zimmerman/ Stephen Strasburg type player/prospect that they would hold the line at trading. K.C. is in a great trading position, because they have 4 young talented players (Greinke, Soria, Butler, Alex Gordon) that they can trade (and it honestly wouldn't shock me if all 4 are gone by the start of 2012 season), as well as the deepest and most talented system in the majors with the depth to literally trade anyone. For most teams they wouldn't consider trading a 'Hosmer' type prospect, because they wouldn't have the depth to replace him, but the Royals as you said have more first basemen than they know what to do with.

      My point was to make a trade idea that had both short and long term sense for the D-Backs, if the Royals offered Greinke plus a prospect (but not someone on the Hosmer level, b/c that would be too much) it would be great short term value, but the long term value would be completely predicated on that single prospect (unless they flip Greinke) since Greinke is signed for just 2 years. In the end it could be a moot discussion since it got reported late last night that the Royals (as well as the A's, Indians and Tigers are on his no-trade clause). Sure he could waive his no-trade, but he might not do so if the Royals have to give up too much talent.

  • Tarr

    I'm sorry…Greinke AND Hosmer for Upton? That is insane. Rhetorical question: which has more value, a past all-star potential number one pitcher, or a past all-star potential perennial all-star outfielder? These guys are both potential and some past success, but pitchers have so much more value than outfielders.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Tarr

      I agree the Royals would never do Greinke plus Hosmer. It would probably be something like Greinke and Kila Ka'aihue and possibly some very low high upside prospect. I agree in a vacuum, Greinke is worth more than Upton, but Upton's length of contract makes him more valuable overall. Also with the Diamondbacks not in a position to compete in the next two years (contrary to their belief even if they signed two top free agents and added Greinke they couldn't compete), it just doesn't make sense. Arizona had an affordable ace tied up for the next two seasons in Dan Haren. Greinke might be a better overall pitcher, but Haren was no slouch and they decided to move him. Yes that was a different regime, but I don't see the D-backs trading their best trade chip for a great player who will have no impact on this team's long term success.

      I know the reports are saying that they want major league talent, but I think prospect deals will be appealing to Arizona. They might get 1 or 2 ML ready players, but my guess is most packages will be top minor league talent based.

  • http://bleacherreport jackmarascio

    texas needs to go after this young stud start with there 1b and top 2 pitching prospects
    that will get the d backs attention

    zimmerman and maxwell for upton and reynolds will get it done.

    • Steve Shoup

      @ Jack

      The Rangers def. have the system, though they don't have as big of a need in the outfield. I still imagine they are in the mix, though if they miss out on Lee I'm guessing they try to swing a trade for Greinke.