Sep. 29, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton (10) stands at bat during the game against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets & Justin Upton: Not Impossible

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece regarding the current state of the Mets outfield.  I brought up Justin Upton as a potential solution, but noted that the Mets shouldn’t overpay to acquire him.  Yesterday, news broke that Upton had rejected a trade that would have sent him to Seattle (invoking the no trade rights he holds over Seattle and three other teams).

The potential deal would have been headlined by RHP Taijuan Walker and infielder Nick Franklin.  Also in the deal, were soon to be 27 year old reliever Charlie Furbush, and Seattle’s number 14 prospect according to Fangraphs, Stephen Pryor.  It would have been a nice haul for Arizona, but I don’t agree with those who say it would’ve been a fleece job.  Here’s where the Mets come in.

Soon after news broke that Upton had rejected the trade (and after Harold Reynolds stated that Upton had repeatedly declined to waive his no-trade rights to go to Seattle), Jon Heyman reported that the Mets had checked in with Arizona about Upton earlier this offseason.  According to Heyman, the Mets found the price to be too high at the time, but were now open to again discussing a potential deal.  Heyman also reported that the Mets view Scott Hairston as a fallback option, in the event they’re unable to acquire an impact bat.  A potential Upton to the Mets deal has been shot down as a pipe dream by many, but I think it’s something that’s entirely possible.

There are those who state unequivocally that if the Mets want Justin Upton, they must be willing to deal either Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, or Travis d’Arnaud.  My response to that, is why?  The headliner that would’ve gone to Arizona from Seattle is Taijuan Walker.  He’s one of the better pitching prospects in the game, but he isn’t on the level of Wheeler, and is way too raw to be compared to Harvey.  As he’s risen from rookie ball to AA over the last three seasons, Walker’s ERA has risen from 1.29 to 2.89 to 4.69.  Similarly, his strikeouts per 9 have dropped from 11.5 to 10.5 to 8.5.

The other headliner was to be Nick Franklin, a SS/2B who was ranked as Seattle’s 5th best prospect by Baseball America.  Furbush is an intriguing pen arm, but will be 27 at the start of the 2013 season.  Pryor is another intriguing arm, and is Seattle’s 14th best prospect according to Fangraphs.

It seems to me that most experts constantly undervalue the Mets’ assets, often shooting down potential deals as impossibilities only to have them come to fruition days or weeks later.    An old example would be Johan Santana.  Not a single expert believed the Mets had enough to deal for him, yet they made it happen.  More recently, we were told by many (including Jon Heyman) that the Mets wouldn’t be able to get an impact prospect for Carlos Beltran.  The Mets not only got an impact prospect, they netted Zack Wheeler, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.  A few weeks ago, it was reported that the Blue Jays wouldn’t part with Travis d’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey.  Not only did they part with their prized catching prospect, they threw in Noah Syndergaard as well.

This is not to say that the Mets dealing for Justin Upton is likely, or that putting together a suitable package would be easy.  However, there’s no reason to write off the Mets’ chances here.  Their farm system is deep with high upside pitching, and they have other quality young pieces to dangle as well.  If I’m Sandy Alderson, I’m open to dealing anyone not named Wheeler, Harvey, or d’Arnaud.  I’m also willing to deal major pieces from the Major League roster.

If you look at the package Seattle offered, there are two young impact guys there (Walker and Franklin), as well as a high ceiling reliever who should contribute right away (Furbush) and an interesting but raw arm (Pryor).  What would the Mets’ equivalent of that be?  I’d  start by offering two of the Mets’ better young arms, Michael Fulmer and Noah Syndergaard, as well as Ruben Tejada.  That should be enough to pique Arizona’s interest and get a dialogue going.  If Arizona prefers Rafael Montero or Domingo Tapia to one of Fulmer or Syndergaard, swap them in.  If they want to talk about Jenrry Mejia or Jeurys Familia, let them.  The Mets also have an asset in top hitting prospect Wilmer Flores, who’s been playing both third base and second base in the minors.

Justin Upton would be a great get for the Mets, or any team for that matter.  What he isn’t, is an established star.  Any team that acquires him is paying a price for what he’s already done in the Majors, but is also taking a gamble that he’ll reach his potential.  Upton will be 25 this coming season, and has averaged 24 homers and 80 RBI’s over the course of his young career.  He also strikes out a ton.

Unlike dirt cheap Giancarlo Stanton, Upton is under contract at nearly $10 million this season, and a tick above $14 million in both 2014 and 2015.  That cost isn’t anywhere close to prohibitive, but it should lessen the size and quality of the package any team would have to part with to obtain him (especially when compared to the type of package it would take to get Stanton).

No one knows what it would take for the Mets or any other interested team to acquire Justin Upton.  The only time we’ll know for certain, is if/when a deal is consummated.  Until then, it’s foolish to write off the Mets’ chances.  For now, Upton is dangling out there, waiting to be plucked.  Don’t be surprised if Sandy Alderson finds a way to make it happen.

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  • Oprk

    When Taijuan hits the majors he’ll have his upper 90′s fastball with movement strikingly similar to Felix’s that he already has, a low 90′s cutter, mid 80′s circle change, and a mid 70′s curveball that falls off the table as a 12/6 two-plane break knee-buckler. He’s over 2 years younger than Wheeler, yet their facing the same level of competition, seems odd. Walker just debuted his cutter last year in AA. Working to perfect a new pitch and making the mistakes that go along with it is what the minors are for – If you were to toss out his one month with his ERA 9+ as he tried out new pitches including his cutter that is now a staple in his pitch selection, his AA season was exceptional, especially as he was the youngest major leaguer in AA at only 19. Wheeler isn’t learning any more pitches and shouldn’t he be starting seasons at higher levels and against better competition than Taijuan considering he’s about 2 1/2 years older than him? You might want to do your homework better if you think Wheeler is on another level than Taijuan Walker. Sounds like an article by someone who just reads end of year stats and then thinks they know everything about the player. Wheeler is an excellent pitcher, I’ve seen him live. I’ve also seen Walker live, and he has `it`. Should be great to watch with both in the bigs considering they’re both 6’4″ Righties with the same 4 pitches. I expect big things from both. But you’ll see what level Taijuan is on soon. I’ve never in my life seen someone live with a higher ceiling.

  • BS

    BA had Taijuan as the number 3 prospect in all of baseball in their midseason list this year, that after he had a disastrous June (over 9 ERA) that skews his overall stats for the year. Like the commenter says above, he’s over 2 years younger than Wheeler. There is an argument for Wheeler over Walker, but its absolutely a debate. You’re also severely underrating the other 3 pieces – Franklin >> Flores, but if you wanna suggest Wheeler/Flores is semi-akin to Walker/Franklin, I’d give you that. So thats the starting point. Furbush and Pryor are hard-throwing relievers who have major league success already – not raw arms. They slot into a major league pen right away.

    I think the Mets could absolutely get Upton with a Wheeler-led package. I’d do it, personally. I value young hitters over young pitchers, and the Mets do have a lot of young pitchers coming. Most won’t and I don’t fault them for that either. But I always lean hitter when all else is equal, and all else isn’t equal here: Justin Upton has established himself as AT LEAST an above-average OF, with star potential. Zack Wheeler is nothing but a dominant minor leaguer as of today – as likely as it looks that he’ll have the same floor, we just can’t say that for sure today, like we can with Upton. On salary – have to start spending at some point. All I hear about is banking money for 2014, but theres just no way we’re going to spend 70m in one offseason – sorry.

    For the record, the examples of the “experts being wrong” about the Mets in trades mostly work in the favor of “in the end, GMs usually pony up for stars with their prospects” – doesn’t exactly work in the Mets favor here. Santana is the exception, but he had 1 year left (not 3) and the Twins HAD to trade him then – DBacks don’t have to here. And the Mets still gave up 4 guys, 2 of which had already made the majors by then, and if IIRC, all 4 were top 10 guys in the system, right?

  • jl9830a

    I would try to keep Tejada out of it. It’s hard to find a SS of his caliber.

    I would offer Syndergaard, Flores, and some combination of Parnell/Mejia/Edgin/Fulmer/Gorski. That would be a comparable offer to the SEA offer.

  • Danny Abriano

    Lots of insightful comments guys…always appreciate the feedback. To answer the question posed by BS, the Mets dealt Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, and Phil Humber for Santana. All of them were top 10 in the system, and both Gomez and Humber had already gotten a taste in the majors. Still, the Mets were able to do the deal without relinquishing their (at the time) top guy in Fernando Martinez. As far as Walker vs Wheeler, it’s clear both of them have huge upsides. I’ve seen Wheeler pitch, not Walker. Since the Alderson regime took over, the Mets have been extra conservative with promoting their minor leaguers, especially their higher end arms – which is why Wheeler didn’t see AAA until the end of last season. Still, he has experience in AAA while Walker doesn’t. I’d expect Wheeler to make his major league debut in early June, not sure what the ETA on Walker is. Now, if I’m the Mets, there’s no way I’m considering dealing Wheeler as part of a package for Upton. I’d attempt to package multiple high upside arms that are a bit further away (Fulmer, Syndergaard, Montero, Tapia), along with other significant pieces. I never professed to know everything about Walker – I don’t. What I do know, is how valuable Wheeler is to the Mets…and I simply don’t think there’s any chance Alderson would part with him.

  • eric

    Syndergaard, Flores, Familia, and Mejia or Fulmer.

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