What Would Justin Upton Cost the Pirates?

It seems like Justin Upton has been on the block forever. There has been talk that Arizona could deal him in each of the last two off-seasons. There was also talk during the year that Upton could be on the block, and the Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the teams linked to him. Up until now it didn’t seem like that talk was very serious. The whole situation seemed confusing. Arizona wanted immediate help, but at the same time they were willing to deal a top young player who is under control for several years. That was conflicting, and raised questions about red flags. It also raised questions about how serious the trade rumors were, and how likely it would be for Arizona to deal Upton.

Yesterday the Upton rumors took a big step toward reality. Arizona agreed to a deal to send Upton to the Seattle Mariners. The only problem was that Seattle was on Upton’s no-trade list, and the outfielder rejected the trade. Clearly we’re beyond the point where we can question whether Arizona would actually deal Upton. As a result, we also have a better idea of what it would cost to land Upton.

Seattle was willing to part with Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush, and Stephen Pryor to land Upton. To get an idea of that return, let’s look at comparable pieces from the Pirates’ system.

Taijuan Walker

Baseball America graded Walker as the fourth best prospect in the game and the number two pitching prospect in their mid-season rankings. In that same list, Gerrit Cole ranked sixth, and Jameson Taillon ranked 15th. The comparable here would be Cole. I think Pirates fans would rather trade Taillon, since Cole is closer to the majors. If we’re comparing the two to Walker, Cole is closer.

Nick Franklin

In the same Baseball America ranking, Franklin was rated the number 35 prospect. The Pirates don’t have a shortstop prospect who is comparable to Franklin. Alen Hanson was rated 40th in BA’s mid-season rankings, so from a value standpoint he could be a match. However, Arizona is looking for immediate help, and there are concerns about Hanson’s ability to stick at short in the long-term. Franklin would provide that immediate help, which would make him a better option than Hanson.

Back at the deadline, Starling Marte looked like he would need to be a key piece for any Upton deal. Marte was rated 36th in that mid-season report, so he’d be a match with Franklin from a value standpoint and would also provide immediate help. Marte has since moved up to the majors, and handled himself well in his brief appearance. That probably elevates his value, to the point where the Pirates would be better off keeping him and seeing what they have, rather than dealing him as a piece for Upton.

Hanson would be the comparable here, but he might not be what Arizona was looking for.

Charlie Furbush

Furbush had a big season in 2012, posting a 2.72 ERA in 46.1 innings in relief, with a dominant 10.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and an 0.6 HR/9 ratio. The lefty reliever has five years of control remaining. A comparable would be Tony Watson. The Pirates’ left-hander had a 3.38 ERA in 53.1 innings in 2012, with an 8.9 K/9, a 3.9 BB/9, and an 0.8 HR/9 ratio. Watson also has five years of control remaining.

Furbush was a bit more dominant, and had better control numbers. Looking at the advanced numbers, Furbush seems more likely to repeat his ERA. He had a 3.21 xFIP, while Watson had a 4.00. That’s probably because Furbush strikes out almost one and a half batters more per nine innings, while walking almost one batter less per nine than Watson.

These two are comparable from the standpoint that they’re both lefty relievers with five years of control remaining, good strikeout ratios, and somewhat medium-high walk rates. Furbush would get the edge here in value.

Stephen Pryor

Pryor had a decent season in 2012, with a 3.91 ERA in 23 innings, along with a 10.6 K/9, a 5.1 BB/9, and a 2.0 HR/9 ratio. When you normalize the HR/FB rate, he had a 4.23 xFIP. The big appeal here is that he averaged 96 MPH with his fastball, although the control issues are a concern. Pryor has six years of control remaining.

The Pirates don’t have a comparable to Pryor on the major league roster when you consider his years of control. Minor league comparables would be Bryan Morris or Vic Black. Black seems to match up well with Pryor, since both strike out a lot of batters, but both also deal with control issues leading to high walk rates. They also both usually sit in the 96 MPH range. If we ignore that Black hasn’t played in the majors, while Pryor has, then they’d be comparable.

The Return

The comparable return, from a value standpoint, would be Gerrit Cole, Alen Hanson, Tony Watson, and Vic Black. Even then, Seattle’s deal might be a bit better. It’s impossible to do an exact match of four players from one team with four players from another team, so I wouldn’t say the difference here is significant.

The problem is that the deal doesn’t fit what Arizona wants. The key issue is Hanson. Arizona wants a major-league ready shortstop. Hanson is a few years away, and might not stick at short. So while the deal matches up from a value standpoint, it doesn’t match up from a needs standpoint. In order to meet Arizona’s need for immediate help, you’re probably talking about dealing Marte. That fills the need for immediate help, but doesn’t fill a team need, since Arizona has a lot of outfield options.

My stance on trading for Upton is about the same as it was over the summer. I don’t think the deal makes sense for a team like the Pirates. At this point, Upton is under control for three years, making $38.5 M. The Pirates would have to give up six and a half years of Gerrit Cole, six years of Marte, five years of Watson, and six and a half years of Black. Not all of those prospects will live up to their potential, but that doesn’t mean they’ll all fail. In the long-term, the Pirates would be better off going with their prospects, rather than dealing them away for one piece. I could envision a scenario where having Cole and Marte is considerably better than having Upton, and I don’t think we’re far away from that becoming a reality.

The only way the deal would make sense for the Pirates is if you started lowering the price by including guys further away from the majors (like Taillon and Hanson). That’s not realistic, since Arizona is looking for guys close to the majors, and since those guys don’t match the value of the failed Arizona/Seattle trade. The Pirates do have what it would take to land Upton, but it wouldn’t be a smart long-term move to make.

Tim Williams

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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  • leadoff

    I would not trade Marte even up for Upton or Walker, this is one time when stats are meaningless to the Pirates, Marte has an upside that is far beyond either one of these guys. Just to show how valuable Marte is around the league, the Nationals tried to get Marte in ST last year to start in center field for them because they wanted to keep Harper in the minors longer. The Phillies tried to get him, what either of these teams offered I do not know.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jesse.davis.925 Jesse Davis

      That’s insane. Marte is a good player but Upton has already produced 2 star-level seasons at the highest level and Walker has a ceiling of an ace starter. Just because teams have inquired about Marte doesn’t add anything to his value. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want the Pirates trading for Upton but that’s only because what they’d have to pay to acquire him. If Marte were in another organization and had the option to be a center fielder then he would stand a chance to max his value but he’s blocked in CF in PIT. you’re looking through extreme rose-colored glasses to see Marte as having a higher ceiling than either Upton or Walker.

      • leadoff

        A person does not need rose colored glasses to see Marte’s talent, a blind man on a galloping horse could figure that one out.
        I know what I am looking at and so do the Pirates.
        Upton’s 2012: .280/355/430/785…..17HRs.
        Upton’s 2nd year: .250/353/463/647….15HRs.
        Yes 2011 Upton had his biggest year for HRs. (31), but not in PNC park, he did it in a hitter friendly park and he made it to .300 once in his career. In 2012 he had a WAR of 2.1.
        His career WAR No. 0.6, 0.7, 3.8, 1.4, 5.7, 2.1 suggest that 2011 was a lucky year and that 2012 was more of a normal year, no way those numbers beat Marte’s numbers over the next 6 years IMO.
        Except for the 31 HRs, in one year, Marte shoud be able to come close or better than anything Upton has done to date.

        • NastyNate82

          You’re only looking at one side of the equation here. So what proof is there that Marte is going to blast Upton out of the water in terms of value? Cause I don’t see it…he’s a premier defender who will be in LF. But with his lack of patience, there is a very real possibility he can get exploited at the big league level.
          Don’t get me wrong, I like Marte a lot.; he’ll provide value even if he doesn’t hit much (I think he’ll be closer to Carlos Gomez in terms of what he offers: defense, speed, and some power). But its pretty cavalier to say that he’ll put up seasons like Upton has or better.

          • http://twitter.com/AdreBox AdreBox

            Upton would cost too much. Based on the last two seasons, Unless a trade involved AZ paying a portion of his salary, he’s not worth it. I wouldn’t trade Marte anyway,because I’d want an outfield of Cutch, Upton and Marte.

  • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

    Tim, not sure if you saw this excellent piece from Fall instructs on Cole published today.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/reports-from-instructs-gerrit-cole/

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I did. I actually just re-tweeted it on Twitter.

      • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

        Cameron is also giving Kevin some love in his piece about Upton’s trade value.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.busch.98 Mark Busch

    I’d be interested to hear just how much Starling Marte’s value has increased since he was promoted to the Majors. I’m sure baseball experts can tell me that prospects fail at a certain rate. But how often do prospects fail after 182 PAs and putting up the #s that Marte did? (.257/.300/.437, 104 OPS+) Combined with his excellent defense, he contributed 1 WAR over less than one third of the season.

    Obviously it’s a tiny sample size, but those 182 PAs would seem to be far more telling than any previous 182 PA stretch he had in the Minors. Some top prospects come up to the Majors and fail miserably. Marte has already surpassed that hurdle, for now.

  • jg941

    Dbacks only have a few needs that we can help with:

    – a need to get rid of Justin Upton, which I just don’t get
    – a vet SS to shadow Didi for a year (ideally, better than Pennington)
    – post-2013-14 pitching (rotation/bullpen looks set for now, huh?)
    – prospects

    They are set in starting rotation, bullpen, all OF (even after Upton leaves w/Parra moving up), 1B, 2B 3B and C.

    Their farm system is also stacked with pitchers and OFs coming immediately. The only position where they have no one in their Top 20 prospects is at 1B. But then they have Paul Goldschmidt for a long time.

    Remind me – HOW did this team not make the playoffs?

    The only reason they could want to move him is that they know the rest of the world sees him as a 4-5 WAR guy, so he still has premium value to trade over his upcoming spikes in salary. But they may also be nervous (which makes me nervous) that 2012 is what he’ll be going forward – a 2.5 WAR guy, that all of a sudden makes his contract a push, or even underwater.

    I know he’s only 25 still, but for all intents and purposes he’s kinda already at his age 28 year in baseball terms – he came up at 19 y.o., so I guess there is the risk that he has actually plateaued.

    For that risk, and just his sheer high cost, I would propose something fairly modest – if no interest, just walk away. I like what we have, too (or maybe just excited to see it play out w/Cutch, Marte, Snider/Sands).

    Given that, I guess I’d only offer something like:

    – #4 Luis Heredia
    – one of #7 Justin Wilson or Tony Watson
    – #10 Alex Dickerson (I know that’s not where u rank those 3, Tim – just trying to make ‘em sound better :-)
    – #16 Victor Black
    – Clint Barmes (vs. Pennington – better fielder, also (shockingly) marginally better offensively than Cliff P last year, although their WAR ended up similar in similar PAs (Clint higher). Also Clint would mesh better with lefty Gregorious in a 1-year platoon situation.

    Bucs get:

    – Justin Upton
    – Cliff Pennington (switch-hitter who hits WAY better as lefty – terrible as a righty – could create a higher-upside platoon at SS w/Mercer)

    If we couldn’t get it for something more like that (and judging by Seattle’s package, we probably couldn’t), I’d just say thanks and stick with what we have.

  • swartnp7

    If Upton gets traded, does the no trade clause remain intact? Or does it dissolve when he gets traded?

    The reason I ask is…

    if his no trade dissolves, I’d trade for him (a package less than what Seattle offered) and then flip him to Seattle for Walker, Franklin, Pryor, Farbush or Carlos Triunfel, and Joseph Decarlo.

    Walker would be a slight upgrade over Taillon, we get a SS in Franklin, and a 3B prospect in Decarlo (which would be nice because we have NO ONE after Pedro).
    Hopefully we could trade from an area of strength (pitching and OF) for a couple of need (SS and 3B).

  • IC Bob

    Who cares what it would cost. If it cost Morris by himself the Pirates wouldn’t make the deal. Why concern ourselves with pipe dreams.

  • keithconto

    Because when talking about the Pirates and trading for good players, all you have is pipe dreams.

  • meatygettingsaucy

    Justin Upton, not worth the price. Continue to develop internal options or trade excess for players.

  • genealley

    The Pirates are not quite ready to be trading a package of top tier prospects for Upton, Stanton or Andrus. This kind of trade shoul not happen until we are legitimate contenders and maybe need one key piece to go to the next level. A trade like this might make sense next winter if the system continues to make progress and they get strong seasons from all or nearly all of Cole, Taillon, Marte, Hanson, Polanco, Bell and others in the top 20, and maybe a breakout from Snyder (

    • genealley

      First post and I choked and submitted before completion. Was going to add that Snyder and maybe even Sands or Robinson could surprise. Also, trading several good prospects at this point is what the Royals just did by trading several top prospects prematurely in an apparent effort by the GM to save his job. Credit to NH for not following this same course.

    • jg941

      I’d agree on Upton or Andrus, but Stanton is the guy you consider a package with Taillon for.

      • meatygettingsaucy

        Agreed. Though, with any player, this needs to be taken into account when trading for someone. Is Player A who you are trading for with 3 years of control worth more than three players who may be average to above average ML players who, combined, have 18 years of control?