So the final offer from the Mariners to the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton was Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush, and Stephen Pryor.
At first glance (and according to most of the Upton-related tweets and posts out there) it was looking like Seattle was paying a little too much to get three years of the 25 year old outfielder. At an average of around 12.5 million per season, the Mariners would likely end up with solid surplus value if we assume Upton produces around 4 WAR on average the next three years.
There seems to be a fairly strong consensus on Walker and Franklin. The former is considered one of the best pitching prospects in the minors, while the latter has been somewhat inconsistent since a fantastic 2010 season, and likely ends up being a second basemen. In Furbush and Pryor, the Mariners would have surrendered one (sort of) proven reliever, and a prospect that would have ended up pitching in the middle innings, likely not being a high-leverage guy. All-in-all, giving up talents like Walker and Franklin would hurt a team (and Furbush to a degree), but with the depth that the Mariners have in their system, it hurts a whole lot less.
Alongside Walker are Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Brandon Mauerer and Victor Sanchez (a bit further behind). Hultzen, Paxton, and Maurer could be ready to help soon, and there might not be room for everyone at the major league level in the near future. It’s likely the organization would make room if someone truly was ready for a promotion, but with the depth the Ms have, exchanging one of those arms in part of a deal for a young, elite hitter would make sense. Even if success of the aforementioned arms isn’t guaranteed, you also can’t say the same for Walker. For as good as he’s looked so far in his major league career, it makes sense to move him if you can get a (more or less) hitter under contract, still 5 years or so away from his peak.
On the Franklin front, Brad Miller and Stefen Romero lessen the sting of trading Nick Franklin. Miller is not totally proven yet, and has his question marks just like Franklin. Nevertheless, his upside could be similar to the older infielder, although Miller’s value could be more equally split between glove and bat. For Miller, he still needs to prove that he can man the shortstop position every day, as he has the tools but still has yet to show the consistency necessary to be a regular. At the plate, his hit tool and contact rates are strong, while his walk rate and production in general should be above-average up the middle, although it remains to be seen if he will have much more than average power in the end.
For Romero, his ultimate position is still up in the air. Coming out of college he looked very much like a third basemen with a proven hit tool he displayed during the previous summer in Cape Cod. Many projected him to end up in a corner outfield role, where his power might not project so favorably. Fast forward a few years, and Romero looks like he might just have a shot at sticking at second, and if not there he should be able to hit enough to possibly hold up in LF or at 3rd. Considering the fact that both Miller and Ackey will be blocking him, that may just be how things will have to shake out. Romero’s approach has always been aggressive, with lower walk rates going back to his college days. With that aggressiveness has come a strong contact rate as well though, so he should likely be able to keep the whiffs in check. As longs as he can hit for enough power, he could be above-average at second, and perhaps a tic above at a corner.
OK, so back to Upton. Based on the traditional age curve, let’s assume that he has 5 or so more years before he hits his peak. After 3 years, Seattle will have to figure out new contract terms, unless they want to give him up (which is possible, depending on how the market is then). Upton will in a pretty strong negotiating position if he can put together 1 or 2 years that are closer to his 2011 campaign (without falling flat on his face in the other 1 or 2). Actually, he will probably get a massive deal if he posts two 2011-caliber years. So if the Mariners are prepared for that, great. If not, then perhaps you take whatever surplus value you have received over 2 or 3 years and you deal him for similar prospects to what you gave up.
One of those scenarios would probably be ideal. Or at least ideal-ish. The other scenarios revolve around having to trade him at diminished value, either because of poor performance, injury, or a plain-old organizational shakeup maybe. Or lets say he doesn’t even perform anywhere near expected. At that point you hope for at least 2.5 WAR on average to get your money’s worth, which should be possible considering Upton’s value on the bases and in the field (and that he is still an above-average hitter by and large. Even in a down year the 25 year old still gives your team value. So there is risk with an Upton deal, but maybe not as much as some think. Certainly not like other deals we’ve seen recently.
Ultimately, you never want to give up top-tier talents like Franklin and Walker, but with the depth the Ms have, it’s worth a shot to get a bat at Upton’s talent level. Even if Seattle isn’t guaranteed to contend and the price is a little rich, in context of what the Mariners are right now, the proposal makes a lot of sense. Or at the very least is a worthy gamble.