Is Justin Upton worth acquiring for the Mets?

He’s No. 10 on the Arizona Diamondbacks, but No. 1 on wish lists throughout baseball.

Justin Upton continues to be available, according to industry rumors. As Arizona approaches Spring Training with a glut of outfielders, there’s been no shortage of teams inquiring about the potentially budding star, including the Mets.

But as high as the demand may be, the price is equally great. Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers arranged a trade last week with the Seattle Mariners for two major league relievers, a top pitching prospect and a minor league shortstop. That deal when nowhere after Upton enforced his no-trade clause, limited to just four teams.

Between the massive interest and the possible cost, the trade market for the right fielder is clear as mud.

What is equally as unclear is what exactly teams are lining up for. Will whomever ultimately acquires Upton find a young, superstar outfielder or an overpriced, underachieving starter?

Upton was taken by Arizona with the first pick of the 2005 draft. Younger brother of David Wright’s childhood teammate B.J. Upton, Justin came with the label of a future five-tool player. He finally cracked the majors in 2007, getting 140 at-bats that season.

He played in 108 games the next year, the first of his five consecutive seasons playing at least 100 games. Upton did miss some time in 2009 and 2010 with a strained right oblique, but has largely been free of significant health woes like those of powerful speedsters like Grady Sizemore or Carlos Beltran.

Upton doesn’t seem to be an injury risk, good news for someone who emphasizes speed as part of his game. The combination of speed and power is what makes the young right fielder so appealing. Finding right fielders capable of double-digits home runs and stolen bases in a season is not easy. Superstar Matt Kemp put up at least 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 2011, future star Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper did it in 2012, while Ben Zobrist found success in both years. A few other players do it each year, but it’s something of a crapshoot. Budding star Bryce Harper came close last season with 22 home runs and 18 stolen bases.

The Mets of 2013 can use that infusion of both power and speed, assuming Upton can actually provide it.

Through 731 games in his career, he averages 33 doubles, 24 home runs and 18 stolen bases with a 278/.357/.475 slash per season. Those numbers alone are intriguing and would warrant some consideration, but they’re also not worthy of a star’s paycheck.

His numbers in 2009 were well above that average, but they fell somewhat below in 2010. In 2011, Upton flashed signs of greatness. He finished that year with 39 doubles, 31 home runs, 21 stolen bases and a .289/.369/.529 slash line. According to Yahoo Sports, among all right fielders, he finished 10th in average, 8th in stolen bases, 7th in slugging, 6th in home runs and 6th in doubles

But last year, his power disappeared again. Upton finished the 2012 campaign with 24 doubles, 17 home runs, 18 stolen bases and a 280/.355/.430 slash line. Among all right fielders, that placed him 12th for average, tied for 12th in stolen bases, 25th in Slugging, 30th in home runs and 33rd in doubles.

Upton’s never been shy about striking out a lot – at least 121 strikeouts in his five latest seasons, but his average and on-base percentage have stabilized near his career average. What’s disconcerting is the power outage. For someone with a career 24.7 at bats per home run, dropping from 19.1 to 32.6 is a red flag. His extra base hit percentage also dipped between 2011 and 2012 from 11.1 percent to 7.2 percent; his career average is 9.3 percent.

Upton has always hit right-handed pitching with more authority, although he has a better batting average against southpaws. Throughout his career, the right fielder has 72 home runs and a .275 average against righties compared to 36 home runs and a .284 average against lefties. In 2012, 11 of Upton’s 17 home runs came against right-handed pitchers. In 2011, it was 21 of 31. In 2010, just 2 of his 17 home runs came against southpaws.

It wasn’t the double plays or productive outs in 2012 either. He grounded into 6 percent of 125 double play opportunities in 2012, compared to 7 percent of 123 opportunities in 2011. He succeeded in 25 percent of 55 chances for a productive out in 2012, slightly lower than his 29 percent in 52 chances the year prior.

One possible clue to the lack of power in 2012 can be found examining his hit trajectory. Through his career, Upton has 100 home runs and a .265 batting average on fly balls, with 8 home runs and a .760 batting average on line drives. In 2011, he had 28 home runs and a .271 average on fly balls, and 3 home runs and a .769 average on line drives. Both sets of numbers are similar to his career figures. But in 2012, his fly ball batting average took a nosedive, down to .216. He did hit 15 home runs with fly balls, as well as 2 home runs and a .788 batting average with line drives.

But despite losing so much power last year, the numbers still argue he’s worth a starting job. According to rWAR, scores between 0-2 are replacement level, 2-5 are starter-caliber, 5-8 are all-star quality and 8+ are MVP caliber. Upton posted a 3.8 rWAR in 2009, 1.4 in 2010, 5.7 in 2011 and 2.1 in 2012. Assuming his day-to-day performance is somewhere in between, rWAR says Upton is a solid major league right fielder.

But with so much uncertainty around his power, potential trade cost and value for someone slated to make $14.5 million when his contract expires as a 27-year-old in 2015, there are no easy answers surrounding Upton’s future.

29 comments for “Is Justin Upton worth acquiring for the Mets?

  1. Jerry Grote
    January 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Here are two numbers not found in the article. 108 and 25. How often are 25 year old, defensively capable OFers made available that also have 108 HRs on their resume?

    I’m guessing … never. If his B-Ref age-comp is worthy, well, Ruben Sierra delivered 21 HR/101 RBI and an OPS+ of 114. That’s a pretty good player, but its worthy to notice that it was pretty much the worst preformance of any of his comps of guys that played from their 25-27 seasons. A quick look to me showed most of those guys simply exploded through age 27.

    Said elsewhere, I’m thinking that we don’t have the chops to deal in the Upton trade and unless we can get damned creative with Duda and an AL team … I think its counterproductive. But guys like Upton don’t come available all that often. And there’s a good reason why.

  2. David Groveman
    January 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I think Justin Upton is a good fit in terms of HIS ability but the Mets are not good fits in terms of being a trade partner.

    The Diamondbacks want a lot for Upton and that makes sense but the Mets will not give D’Arnaud, Harvey or Wheeler in any deal and would be unlikely to give Snydergaard as well. The Mets could give up Flores (who the diamondbacks don’t need) as well as players like Familia, Fulmer and Montero but I don’t think that adds up to a package that the Diamondbacks want.

    If the Mets could make a more reasonable offer for Morse or Kubel (not giving up anyone irreplaceable or potentially valuable, like Flores) then I think it makes more sense.

    • January 16, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      To me, this really is where the conversation begins and ends. The Mets would love to get Upton the player, I’d imagine. But I agree with them in that I would not give up D’Arnaud, Harvey, or Wheeler to get him.

      Where I disagree is that I would give up Syndergaard in a deal. You can never have too much pitching obviously, but the Mets system is flush with pitching potential. This would be a classic case of dealing from a position of strength.

  3. January 15, 2013 at 11:49 am

    You can give me all the numbers you like but if the Mets are one of the four teams he has veto power then you’re just wasting your time.

    • January 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm

      They aren’t. The 4 clubs on his no-trade list for this offseason are the Red Sox, Cubs, Mariners, and Blue Jays.

  4. January 15, 2013 at 11:53 am

    According to CBS, the Mets are not on the no-trade list. The Blue Jays, Cubs, Mariners and Red Sox are.
    http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/blog/jon-heyman/21550408/d-backs-gm-towers-wont-take-less-for-upton-after-nixed-mariners-deal

  5. January 15, 2013 at 11:54 am

    I’m not looking at what it would cost to get Upton, or what type of contract it would take to keep him. I’m looking at him strictly as a ballplayer, and I’m still a little concerned about that brownout last year.

  6. January 15, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    One more thing to consider. Chase Field in Arizona is one of the more hitter-friendly parks in the Major Leagues. Even with the fences pulled in, Citi Field is not exactly a hitter’s paradise. Anyway, here are Upton’s career home/road splits.

    Total – 3030 PA, .278/.357/.475 for an .832 OPS
    Home – 1496 PA, .307/.389/.548 for a .937 OPS
    Away – 1534 PA, .250/.325/.406 for a .731 OPS

    That’s a .206 difference between his career OPS at home and on the road. FWIW, last season the difference between David Wright’s OPS and Andres Torres’ OPS was .219.

    To acquire Upton for 3 years at $38.5M AND at a player cost comparable to the astronomical price the Mariners were prepared to pay is not close to worth it for the Mets, in my opinion. I want no part of the 2013 iteration of Justin Upton Mania.

    • Jerry Grote
      January 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      And Chris, pray tell … where has Justin Upton played the vast majority of his “away games”? If Arizona is an easy place to hit, LA/SF/SD are Death Valley’s.

      • Name
        January 15, 2013 at 3:19 pm

        If Matt Kemp can do it, Upton should be able to as well.

        • jerrygrote
          January 15, 2013 at 9:50 pm

          LOL. Matt Kemp is one of the top five position players in all of baseball. At $25-30MM a season, he’s still cheap. And not available at any price.

          Justin Upton is one of the top 40 ball players, at $13MM per is just a little cheap and KT is shopping him for prospects.

      • January 15, 2013 at 4:03 pm

        Upton’s taken 516 PA in LA/SD/SF, which is hardly the vast majority of his 1534 road PA (just over a third, in fact). In those 3 places, he’s hit .252/.314/.439 for a .753 OPS. In all other stadiums (besides Chase, Petco, Dodger, and AT&T), he’s hit .249/.330/.389 for an OPS of .719 in 1018 PA. So scapegoating those 3 parks for his poor road performance doesn’t really add up. Additionally, FWIW, while Petco & AT&T are brutal parks from a HR perspective, Dodger Stadium ranked 9th in HR park factor in 2012. And then of course, there’s also Coors in the NL West. In 2012, the parks of the NL West taken as a group ranked 1st, 2nd, and 1st in the NL in Runs, HR, and Hits, respectively (and 2nd, 2nd, and 1st in 2011).

        Look, I’m not saying that Upton would be terrible if his home park were a less hitter-friendly environment. All I’m saying is that it’s unrealistic to not factor that in when you’re considering his value and the cost you’d be willing to pay to acquire him.

        • jerrygrote
          January 15, 2013 at 9:40 pm

          So that we level set on the differences here …

          LA/SF slashes:
          .234/.296/.389 OPS of 685.
          The rest on the road?
          .254/.333/.412 OPS of 745. I’m guessing his park adjusted OPS would fall somewhere into the 880 range. That’s a more reasonable 140 split. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying what you are selling.He has significant outliers in two ballparks, and they happen to be in his division, and they are skewing his home/away splits.

          FWIW … in the NL East? just about an 800 OPS in over 220 ABs. Nobody is saying we’re getting Mickey Mantle here. I don’t think this guy is going to produce anything substantially less than 800 and probably close to 830. That’s a top 30-40 hitter, for $13MM a year.

          Who would you rather have, Nick Swisher’s mid-thirty seasons, or Justin Upton’s mid twenties seasons? Well, that’s why you have to surrender minor league talent. Because he’s good, and he’s not expensive.

  7. Name
    January 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    In my opinion, both Upton brothers are all hype but deliver little results.
    A solid RFer? Sure. However, at $15 million a season, you’d be lucky just to get your moneys worth. To pay him that much and give up multiple major prospects? Pass.

    • January 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      I guess MLB should be thankful he’s not represented by Scott Boras :P

      • Name
        January 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm

        How’s that working out for Lohse, Bourn, and Soriano? :)

        On a side note, What the hell was Soriano thinking not accepting arbitration. What a freaking dumbass.

        • Name
          January 15, 2013 at 3:04 pm

          And of course right after i post this, i find out that the Nats just gave Soriano a 2 year 28 million dollar contract.
          Seems like a knee jerk reaction for that one bad inning by Storen last postseason. I hope we have to never see Soriano untuck his shirt in front of us.

        • Name
          January 15, 2013 at 6:30 pm

          OK. Now the deal makes more sense with Half of his salary deferred until 2018. So Soriano still “lost”. Ha!

  8. Jerry Grote
    January 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Just ran a quick check on WAR … I would guess, based on his comps at B-Ref, the low end was about 6 WAR (Ruben Sierra), the upper end was well above 18 WAR (Jones, Santo), and the norm was right around 11-12 WAR (Jack Clark).

    Seems actually like a pretty reasonable contract. If he gets absolutely no better than what we’ve already seen, he’s produced almost 10 WAR over the last three seasons. Most players improve, but we’ll say he doesn’t. That actually makes his contract pretty cheap.

    • January 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      Where did you run that check? I wanted to look into WAR comparisons for the piece.

      • Jerry Grote
        January 15, 2013 at 2:55 pm

        baseball reference. Check out his comps, but use their WARs for age 25-27 years.

  9. Dan Satck
    January 15, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I want Upton as much as the next guy, but the price tag is too high and this club is built on it’s pitching core. Don’t break that up, just to make a splash.
    AZ wants Wheeler and I don’t blame Sandy for not relenting on this matter.

  10. Metsense
    January 15, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    A prospect package that does not include Harvey or D’Arnaud should be considered. Harvey because of his limited success at the ML level and Travis because he is a hitting catcher. It is not unreasonable for Arizona to expect Wheeler or Syndergaard. After all the Mets got Wheeler for a 1/2 year rental of Beltran and Upton is for 3 years. Another pitcher like Familia, Mejia, or Edgin with maybe a hitter like den Decker, Kirk, or Valdspin could complete the package. If they want Flores then give up a lesser secondary pitcher. Upton is 25, reasonably priced, and fills a significant need.

    • Jerry Grote
      January 16, 2013 at 6:53 am

      yup.

    • Chris F
      January 16, 2013 at 10:49 am

      Im not feeling that Im afraid. I dont see enough upside to Upton that unloading the person slated to be our top of the rotation guy in 2 years. We have lived through a virtual hell to get what looks to be a Wheeler/Niese/Harvey rotation and I cant see any reason to change that. Pitching wins. That could be a fearsome top of the rotation in 3 years, with Syndergaard perhaps coming up then. d”Arnaud as the battery mate for them…Im all in there. The earliest relevancy for the Mets is ’14, and more like ’15. I would noty be unloading a top of the rotation guy who may be around for many years in exchange for a guy who will be departing when the Mets become competitive. Outfielders can be had, this is not the time to hit the panic button an unload our near-future rotation.

      What dot the Mets need most (aside from different owners).

      An outfield. But that can be had pretty quickly with the right FA signing in due time. For now, ’13 is a loss and in ’14 I hope to break .500. I say let the kids roam around out there and see if someone can grow into a MLB player or hit enough to become a trade piece.

      A bull pen. This is a key situation. I think we need to very carefully guard over extending our young staff before they are peaking. We need to be able to mke sure Wheeler, Niese and Harvey are not over extended and exposed to overuse in the next year. To do that means we need relief core that can help eat up innings, or get another starter that can eat innings. Long term we need a bull pen too. Im not sure what closers will be coming up for FA in ’14 but Id be looking to add a big piece then, after a lot of cash has come off the books.

      I say we hope for good performances here and there, dont overuse the future stars, and keep planning for a run in’15. The Nats clearly see an immediate window for making the run in the next couple years. Braves perhaps too. Phillies, like the Yankees, may show up this season for 85 Ws, but this is it. In ’15-’17 the Mets need to come full bore.

      Chris

      • Jerry Grote
        January 16, 2013 at 1:15 pm

        “I don’t see enough upside to Upton” …

        well, that says it all right there. A 25, 26, and 27 year old defensive whiz OF, who has in the last four years already delivered WARs of 6.4 and 4.8?

        OK. Hey, I’d rather not wait until my high school kid has graduated college before I start watching Mets baseball again … but that’s just me.

        • Chris F
          January 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm

          Fair enough. But by the time the Mets are relevant, he wont be one. Pretending this isnt a rebuild for the long haul is a mistake IMO.

        • January 16, 2013 at 10:39 pm

          Is he really a defensive whiz? There are many who watch with their eyes and say so, but the stats consistently say otherwise.

          Where are you getting those WAR numbers? BR had 5.7 as his highest.

          Not only is his play inconsistent and his defense something to look at, but there’s a lot of buzz about Upton’s personality. If he were free to acquire, with the Mets paying only his contract, would you bring him on board? Would you pay to keep him on board after his contract runs out, knowing he’ll probably require a raise to stick around?

          • jerrygrote
            January 17, 2013 at 1:40 am

            Mike … re: WAR, I normally use BR too. I had just read an article on Upton (amazinavenue? possibly) and quoted them without a cross check. My bad. Might have been overstated.

            re: would I take him? Mos’ definitely. $13MM gets you Nick Swisher’s age 33-35 season. $10MM gets you the last four years of Angel Pagan’s career. This is the age 25-27 seasons of a guy that has an established level of around 3.5 WAR per year. There is little risk it will go down from here, and every likelihood you are about to pick up a real stud. Again, look at BRs comp guys from 25-27. How would you feel if he became Andrew Jones or Ron Santo?

            re: would I pay to keep him around? Nobody will get that chance. He’s going to join his brother in Atlanta … which is fine. You can’t give up the entire farm to get him, but he is talented, cheap, and fits the Mets needs to a perfect T.

            A famous preacher in the late 17th century once went on and on for hours, and then summarized his teaching with a simple phrase,”All this wind, shakes no corn”. We can talk for hours about Upton and I would, because its fun. But he’s not coming here and to me, that’s a shame.

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