Coming out of the All-Star break, all of the focus for the Arizona Diamondbacks should be shifting back onto their pursuit of an NL West title and a playoff berth, but instead that light has been shone brightly on the future of outfielder Justin Upton in the city of Phoenix. There have been a ton of MLB Rumors for Justin Upton so it’s hard to believe nothing is true.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the rumors of D’Backs GM Kevin Towers listening to offers for Upton are actually true, and there are several big league GM’s who believe that the slugger will be dealt before the MLB trade deadline on July 31st. Olney did temper that thought a bit when he said that Towers was skeptical that he could find an offer for Upton that would be to his liking, likening it to what the Colorado Rockies dealt with when Ubaldo Jimenez was going to be traded, and they could only find one team that was willing to play ball with them. It drove down the return they could get for Jimenez, and the Diamondbacks may run into that same problem with Upton.
On top of that, local Phoenix columnist Dan Bickley followed up a wonderfully wretched column urging Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan to leave the team in a lurch by saying that it is high time that the Diamondbacks trade Upton. To wit:
“There’s a growing suspicion that Upton might have peaked. He’s had nearly 2800 major league plate appearances. Over his time in Arizona, he’s been coddled, prodded, subjected to trade rumors, and rewarded with a $51 million contract before his third full season. He’s had a manager empathize with him (Kirk Gibson felt similar pressures as a young player), only to be benched by that same manager in 2012.
By now, Upton has seen about everything. Yet his greatness is fleeting, a promise on butterfly wings.”
Bickely also cited the recent spat with Upton and the team’s fans, when Justin said that he was done caring what the fans think as an example of how he will never be embraced by sports fans in the Valley. To wrap things up, he also mentioned that the team is going to be facing some serious holes both in the left side of their infield (Stephen Drew is headed toward free agency after this season), and that the rotation may be in trouble because of Trevor Bauer being a clubhouse issue already in his young career.
To get the basics out of the way, Bickley is clearly trying to be a contrarian in the Valley sports scene. His columns are usually quite outrageous, calling for the ouster of various players from their entrenched positions, lauding questionable management decisions, and all sorts of other off-the-wall opinions that would get him laughed off of most talk radio shows. He is trying to cause waves, possibly so that a national sports network may take notice of him and make him the next Skip Bayless, and his naked ambition in aspiring to that kind of hated pundit status is both aggravating and amusing at the same time.
At the heart of Bickley’s argument, however, is something that the Diamondbacks are realistically going to have to look at. If Upton is causing ripples in the clubhouse, then Gibson and company may have no choice but to try to jettison him. That hasn’t been proven to be the case by any stretch though, with most members of the team siding with him when he talked about his work ethic following Fan-gate. What happens out of the media glare may be different, but all indications are that the team may simply be looking to move Upton to expedite a quick rebuild before some of the young studs in the farm system come up to the majors, and will only take place if the team falls out of contention as the second half gets started.
One issue that the team is going to have to address is what to do with Stephen Drew. His free agent status after the season is hanging like an anvil over the heads of Towers and company, and from all indications he wants a rich contract extension that the team simply isn’t willing to give him. Bickley suggested in his column that the team could deal Upton in exchange for a shortstop to fill that gap they will inevitably have when Drew departs, but the reality of the matter is that not a lot of teams have a legitimate shortstop option that would command Upton as a price. Hot shot prospects like Julio Iglesias of the Red Sox and Zach Cozart of the Reds may look appealing, but there is little to no chance that either of those teams would be willing to part with that kind of talent for an outfielder.
The reality is that the Diamondbacks are probably going to have to look within for a solution to their shortstop conundrum. They can fill that gap for a while with a guy like Willie Bloomquist and not be any worse for wear, especially with players like Chris Young and Jason Kubel capable of carrying the team. Add Miguel Montero to that mix, and you realize that the team can afford to have a few weak links for a little while, and that using an Upton trade as dynamite to blow up the team is perhaps a reaction that is too strong for us to swallow here in Arizona.