Washington Nationals 2013 Off-Season Targets: Justin Upton

Now that the distraction of that election thing is out of the way it is back to the issues that really matter, the issues of the hot stove. One of the big names that could be on the move this off-season is Justin Upton. Upton is coming off a disappointing year following his career year in 2011. In 2012 Upton had a slash line of .280/.355/.430. Most of that is in line with his career numbers of .278/.357/.475 except for his power numbers. 

It has to be remembered with Justin Upton that he is only 25 years old and is just about to enter his prime. If those offensive numbers are considered a down year for him then it doesn’t take much to imagine what a good year looks like. In 2011 Justin Upton had the best year of his young career hitting .289/.369/.529. The real surprise was the power increase. He should return or surpass those numbers as he enters his prime and continues to develop more strength. 

Upton is already a good young player, but what people are trading for is potential. Think of how the Nationals viewed the Gio Gonzalez trade. They were trading for a mid-rotation starter that walked too many people, but because of his potential with the strikeouts they traded a large package of players to get him. The big question is what will Upton cost on the trade market. 

The early returns are that it is going to take a major league player. Two rumors that have floated out there are Elvis Andrus and James Shields. The Nationals don’t have a player of that caliber they are willing to part with unless they sign Greinke and a lesser starting pitcher like Shaun Marcum. That would then open up the door for them to trade Jordan Zimmermann or a package including Ross Detwiler. 

Without assuming any signings or the Nationals becoming willing to part with Jordan Zimmermann there is a trade to be made from the current roster. Cliff Pennington does nothing to alleviate the Diamondbacks need for a short stop and it just so happens the Nationals have Danny Espinosa who is in a similar situation to Justin Upton except he is a second year player without much of a track record. Upton had a near MVP season in 2011 where Danny Espinosa was merely almost the Rookie of the Year.

It will take more than Danny Espinosa to get Justin Upton, but how much more is up for debate. The Diamondbacks finished at .500 on 2012 a year after winning the NL West and should continue to view themselves as contenders. Michael Morse’s career .295/.347/.492 batting line replaces Upton’s offense without much drop off. The Diamondbacks already have Jason Kubel in left and are willing to trade Upton so defense doesn’t appear to be a concern for Kevin Towers, and if the Diamondbacks do falter Morse can be moved at the deadline for a couple decent prospects.

Someone like Alex Meyer, Robbie Ray, or Daniel Rosenbaum would have to be included in the trade as well, but who is dependant on what other teams are offering. Trading all those players seems risky and Upton may not add what the Nationals need. Even without LaRoche the Nationals are full of middle of the order or potential middle of the order type bats with Zimmerman, Werth, Harper, and Moore, and lack top of the order bats. Trading for and slotting Upton at 3 or 4 doesn’t solve the lead-off problem and without LaRoche and Morse having Werth in the 5th spot becomes increasingly important.

There is little doubt that a player like Justin Upton would improve the Nationals. He is an offensive equal with Morse and off the charts better defensively, but he doesn’t improve the Nationals in the way they need to be improved. If the Nationals are to make a move for an outfielder it should be either a free agent that won’t cost them the players they have or for a lead-off type that fits better with the current line-up. Despite Upton’s bright future it doesn’t make sense for it to happen with the Nationals.   

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