Only a year removed from his “breakout” season – in which he posted a slash of .289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs and 39 doubles – Upton came crashing back to Earth in 2012. He started off slow and didn’t find his power until the second-half of the season, and even then, it was off-par from his pace in 2011. There were other troublesome signs, too – his slugging numbers were miserable at the All-Star break (21 XBH in 331 PA), and talks of a possible trade no doubt had an effect on Upton’s mental state.
But the Yankees should consider this a bump in the road, because Upton is a premiere talent–a gifted five-tool player who’s barely 25-years-old. And on top of being young and talented, Upton’s a right-handed bat who is controllable through 2015. His salary increases in 2014-15 ($15.5M per), but the best way to get younger and stay competitive is to trade for players who have produced against big-league pitching, which is why the Yankees should focus on building a package to trade for him. Consider what the Yankees would have to pay to retain Swisher, you’re getting younger, cheaper option with much more upside. Rarely does a player of his caliber and pedigree become readily available for the taking, and the Yankees can’t afford to let him slip through their fingers and land somewhere else.
It’s no secret that the Diamondbacks are looking to unload salary – they already dealt outfielder Chris Young to the Oakland A’s this offseason – and with just under $40M left on Upton’s contract, he’s a prime trade candidate. It’s also no secret that just about every team in baseball will at least inquire about Upton, considering the flashes of greatness he’s showed over the past few seasons, so the Yankees will have to get crafty if they want to land him.
So what would it take for the Yankees to get the deal done? I think if they are smart they leverage Upton’s contract and recent struggles, and also consider possibly taking a bad contract off their hands (Heath Bell?). Since the Diamondbacks aren’t far away from contending, the D-Backs would want at least one or two MLB-ready players in return. Ivan Nova comes to mind, since only a year ago he too seemed on the verge of breaking out. At the very least Nova is a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter with upside, although his home runs woes would have to be solved before pitching inside hitter-friendly Chase Field (6th in the league in home runs hit).
The Yankees would probably need to include an organizational blue chip prospect, someone of the Mason Williams pedigree. Pair Nova and Williams with another mid-level prospect or two and I think the Yankees have a serious offer on the table.
Again, multiple teams will be lobbying for Upton’s services, so it’s really about who presents the best overall package. But if the Yankees want to get younger with players who have already seen success at the major league level, acquiring Upton would be a great way to start.
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