By now, the news is old: last night, Justin Upton declined a trade that would have send the Diamondbacks superstar outfielder to the Mariners in exchange for a package of four players (Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor). Seattle is one of four teams on Upton's no-trade list, along with the Cubs, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. Questions remain about just why the hell Arizona GM Kevin Towers would even move this close to a trade with the Mariners when there was little to no chance Upton would accept a deal to them.
Now, the Diamondbacks are in a tough position. They can't go into 2013 with Upton on the roster with how ferociously Towers has tried to trade him this offseason, especially with how the events of this week has transpiered. Furthermore, Towers has lost a lot of his leverage with Upton. The Rangers, who have a farm system solid enough to swing a deal for Upton, are moving on after making a final offer to Towers before he agreed to the trade with the Mariners. The Orioles, Mets, and Padres have also discussed Upton, but weren't willing to meet Towers' lofty asking price. The Braves look like Upton's preferred destination after signing his brother BJ earlier this offseason, and could be a match in terms of prospects by building a package around starting pitcher Julio Teheran. But any package the Braves would offer would likely lack the ceiling compared to the Mariners' package centered around Walker and Franklin.
So what the hell is Towers to do? He needs to move someone, and Upton would bring the best return by far. This whole mess could have been avoided by simply not signing Cody Ross, but that would have made too much sense. With Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, and prospect Adam Eaton already in the fold along with Upton, adding Ross made no sense at the time and continues to make no sense. Upton is getting terribly undervalued by Towers after a disappointing 2012 season that saw his triple slash fall across the board, with the most significant drop coming in his power output.
Upton is a 25-year old signed at a solid enough salary for the next three seasons with 30 homer power and 20 steal speed, while also possessing the ability to walk at a double digit rate and provide above average defense in a corner outfield spot. This is the type of player you can build a team around, and Towers and the Diamondbacks are essentially shrugging their shoulders and trying to build a team around low ceiling veterans like Ross and Kubel. But at this point in time, a fresh start for both Upton and the Diamondbacks is probably the best course of action for both parties. If Upton comes into Spring Training next month as Arizona's starting right fielder, there is going to be a very awkward feeling in the air with the player that was once the face of the franchise seemingly just playing out the next three years, potentially being traded at the drop of a hat.
Towers really screwed the pooch on this one. Upton's value is dropping by the day, as Towers loses leverage to trade him and Upton's team control continues to go downhill. However, there is a potential benefit to keeping Upton in Arizona after this mess, and that's his on-field performance. After he struggled in 2012, Upton could rebuild his value in a big way in 2013. If Upton comes out and puts together a first half that brings back memories of the top overall talent he was in the 2005 draft, teams that are undervaluing Upton could get a slap in the face and realize how much of an elite talent he is. If the Rangers don't find an outfielder to replace Josh Hamilton in the next month and their offense struggles in the first half, Jon Daniels might be willing to bite the bullet and give Towers what he wants.
There's obviously another side to the coin, in that if Upton remains a Diamondback in 2013 and has an unmotivated, disappointing first half to the year, his value could plummet and that Walker/Franklin package could just be a pipe dream for Towers. It really is an awful situation for Upton, Towers, and the Diamondbacks, but Towers brought all of this upon himself. If he never engaged in trade talks with the Mariners, there would be less pressure on him to get a deal done after Upton declined the trade. If he never signed Ross, there would be no reason to trade Upton. And now, here we are, with a general manager needing to trade his superstar outfielder that it appears he never really wanted on his team. The market has been set after Seattle's offer came out, and it'll be difficult for any team to match that offer. Essentially, Towers needs to take a lesser offer and placate Upton, or go into 2013 with Upton on the roster along with two aging, expensive outfielders and two young, cheap outfielders. It's pretty much a lose/lose situation across the board for Arizona, and Towers has himself one hell of a pickle to work himself out of.