The Atlanta Braves signing of outfielder Nick Markakis to a four-year deal has given the Braves five outfielders, when the team only really needs four. This leaves an odd man out in Atlanta’s outfield rotation, and that odd man out is 27-year old Justin Upton.
In 2014, Upton put together his best year in Atlanta. He hit .270/.342/.492 with a 133 wRC+ (holy crap!) in 641 plate appearances. The outfielder’s bat had quiet a bit of pop to it, as he posted an ISO of .221 and a wOBA of .363. Even Upton’s walk and strikeout numbers stayed near his career norms — he walked in 9.4% of his plate appearances, while he struck out in 26.7%.
The defensive metrics believe that Justin Upton is a decidedly mediocre defender. DRS (total runs saved) believes that he saved zero runs in 2014, while UZR has him at -0.9. His mediocre defense doesn’t effect his value that much as he was worth 3.9 wins this past season.
While Upton is an extremely talented, and succesful outfielder, there are a couple of problems the Braves face while trying to trade him. The big problem is that Atlanta is going to want a ton of prospects to make up for the departure of one of their stars. But Upton’s isn’t going to draw that kind of attention because he only has one-year left on his contract. And not many teams are going to want to part with many of their top prospects for a one-year rental that (probably) won’t sign a contract extension with them.
Still, teams are still talking to Atlanta about the young outfielder. Here are three teams that could trade for the young outfielder, and why these teams could be the Braves potential trade partners.
3) Baltimore Orioles
The fit for Baltimore: Baltimore lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis in free agency. These departures have opened up a glaring hole in the Orioles line-up that needs to be filled heading into the 2014 season. Upton would immediately fill the hole in the outfield and in the line-up; Upton would also benefit from playing in the bandbox that is Camden Yards.
The fit for Atlanta: Baltimore also has a pair of talented pitchers that would help alleviate the Braves need for pitching. Right handed pitcher Dylan Bundy has dominated in his minor league career and is widely expected to make a run at a starting spot during the spring training. Another pitcher that could be on the move is right hander Tyler Wilson. Wilson has put together an impressive minor league resume, but has no MLB experience.
Why it won’t happen: Unlike the two other teams on this list, the Orioles pitching talent has no major league experience and isn’t as highly coveted by the other clubs in the league. It’s going to take more than just a couple of pitchers for Baltimore to acquire Upton. But it’s unlikely that the team gives up that much talent for a one year rental.
2) Seattle Mariners
The fit for Seattle: Seattle desperately needs to improve the offensive output from its outfielders, especially after trading Michael Saunders. Upton would take the right field position that was vacated by the Saunders trade, the smallest part of Safeco Field’s outfield. His bat would also provide some impressive thump into the Mariners’ line-up, and would probably help push the team into the playoffs (which Seattle missed by one game in 2014).
The fit for Atlanta: The Braves are looking to increase the depth of their starting rotation, and the Mariners have several young starters that Atlanta (along with every other team in the MLB) are interested in. Left handed pitcher James Paxton has seen intermittent success at the major league level, and has six years of team control left. Right hander Taijuan Walker has shown flashes of brilance during his brief stints with the Mariners, but has struggled with consistency; Walker has six years of team control left.
Why it won’t happen: Seattle is reluctant to trade its young pitchers, especially Paxton and Walker. Atlanta is probably going to want pitching in return for Upton. Therefore it seems unlikely that these two clubs are able to find a middle ground and agree on a deal for Upton.
1) San Diego Padres
The fit for San Diego: The Padres are looking to upgrade their outfield, and are ready to part with some of its young pitching depth to do just that — San Diego is rumored to be in the lead to trade for Dodgers’ outfielder Matt Kemp. Upton would come at a financially cheaper cost for San Diego, and would cost less prospects since there are less years left on his deal.
The fit for Atlanta: Again, the talented (and cost controlled) young pitchers that the Padres control would be coveted by the Braves. Right handed pitcher (and current starter) Ian Kennedy is a name that keeps popping up in trade talks, and he would be a solid addition to Atlanta’s starting staff.
Why it won’t happen: If the deal for Kemp goes through, the Padres will likely be stripped of the pitchers that they could have traded for Upton. But other than that, it depends on San Diego’s willingness to take on a one year rental to bolster an outfield that has Abraham Almonte as its starting center fielder.
From Atlanta’s perspective, Seattle is the more attractive trade partner. The Mariners’ young starting pitchers with five- to six-years of team control is tantalizing. But it is unlikely that Seattle will be willing to part with a combined five and six years (respectively) of Paxton and Walker for one-year of Upton.
That leaves San Diego as the team that is in the best position to acquire Upton in a trade.