Nationals Need To Go All-In For Justin Upton

Steve O Speak

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.

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