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.

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

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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