Pirates Interested in Justin Upton

Yesterday we heard from Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports that the Pittsburgh Pirates were interested in Carlos Quentin and Shane Victorino. Today, Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports is reporting that the Pirates are also interested in Justin Upton.

Upton is considered one of the best young players in the game. He’s also under team control through the 2015 season. Morosi mentions that Upton would cost a lot, and that the question is whether Neal Huntington would part with the necessary pieces. To get an idea of what Upton would cost, let’s look at his trade value.

Justin Upton Trade Value

Year Salary WAR FA Value Surplus Value
2012 $6,750,000 5.0 $25,200,000 $6,600,000
2013 $9,750,000 5.0 $25,200,000 $15,500,000
2014 $14,250,000 5.0 $25,200,000 $11,000,000
2015 $14,500,000 5.0 $25,200,000 $10,700,000
TOTAL $45,250,000 20.0 $100,800,000 $48,700,000

Upton is coming off a year where he put up a 6.4 WAR. However, he hasn’t played up to that level in 2012, with a 1.0 WAR. Considering his talent and age (he’s only 24, so he’s not close to his peak), I put his value at a 5.0 WAR per year. He averaged about 4.8 in his previous three seasons, so I feel that’s fair. In the chart above his 2012 value is pro-rated for a July 31st trade. His total value also includes an extra $5 M for compensation picks, as Upton would be the type of player to get picks under the new system.

The price is pretty high, although not the “sell your entire farm system” level, as Upton is getting ready to enter the heavy lifting stage of his contract. The Pirates would absolutely have to give up one of their top prospects to get Upton, if not more than one. Baseball America recently rated Gerrit Cole in the top ten, Jameson Taillon number 15, and Starling Marte and Alen Hanson in the top 40. According to Kevin Creagh’s recent prospect trade values research, that gives the following values.

Cole: $26.7 M

Taillon: $18.89 M

Marte: $18.12 M

Hanson: $18.12 M

Morosi mentions that the Pirates seem to be more likely to deal Taillon than Cole, as Cole is closer to the majors. But even if you deal Taillon, you’re still looking for $30 M in prospect value. After you get out of the top 100 prospects, the price of a Grade B pitcher is $7.3 M, and a Grade B hitter is $5.5 M. But I doubt Arizona would take one top prospect and a bunch of nickel and dime prospects for Upton.

The Pirates would likely have to give up one of Marte or Hanson, in addition to Taillon, to get Upton. That would still leave about $12 M in trade value, which means one of the Indianapolis left-handers, and someone like Robbie Grossman or Gregory Polanco. I’ve already seen people ask if Jose Tabata would be appealing to Arizona. At this point, with Tabata in Triple-A, I don’t think he’d have much trade value. The fact that Pirates fans would easily get rid of him in a deal says all you need to know about his value to other teams.

The Pirates have the prospects to pull off a deal, but the price would be very high. In the short-term they’d have an amazing outfield with two of the top young players in the game. But in the long-term this could look like the deal that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta, and sent Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Texas.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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