Originally posted on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 7/16/12

It was a week ago today that I wrote about why I wouldn’t trade for Justin Upton. The main reason was that the price in prospects would be too high, although other reasons included the limited resources for small market teams (Upton would cost an average of $12 M a year).

Today we heard that the Pittsburgh Pirates were emerging as serious bidders for Upton. In those same rumors, we heard that they weren’t willing to deal Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon, but that they were willing to deal Starling Marte.

That changes a lot in the Upton discussion. If the Pirates could manage to get Upton, and Marte was the only big piece they had to give up, then it’s almost a no brainer. I don’t see that happening, unless Arizona agreed with Brad Lincoln’s trade value and took him as the second part of the deal.

Because a trade centered around Marte as the only top piece would be such a good deal, it raises questions. If the Pirates could get Justin Upton, considered one of the best young players in the game, and they didn’t have to give up Cole or Taillon, it would be an amazing deal, to the point where it would be suspicious. Why would Arizona make such a deal, especially when they’re looking for major league help, and have Upton under control for three and a half years?

There have been a lot of questions surrounding Upton. First, there’s his health. He’s had a shoulder injury this year, which could explain his down numbers following a year where he was an MVP candidate. There have been some grumblings that the shoulder is a long term thing.

Then there have been questions surrounding his work ethic and consistency. Arizona owner Ken Kendrick made public comments last month about how Upton needs to be more consistent. There have also been mixed reports about his work ethic and character, although those are more grumblings and speculation.

One alarming trend is Upton’s home/road splits. In his career, he has a .924 OPS at home, and a .742 OPS on the road. Even during his MVP season last year he had a 1.033 OPS at home, and a .767 OPS on the road. Players usually play better at home than on the road, but the numbers Upton puts up on the road are alarming. Andrew McCutchen, as a counter example, has a career .901 OPS at home, and an .825 OPS on the road. If you played the game where you take a guy’s road numbers and assume that’s what he’ll hit when he’s traded, that .825 OPS isn’t bad. Upton’s .742 OPS is bad.

My take on Upton’s numbers are to defer to his talent. There’s either two ways to look at the situation. One, Upton is too talented to believe that he’s just a product of Chase Field. The other view would be that Upton is a product of Chase Field, and that his talent isn’t good enough to put up good numbers elsewhere. If that’s true, then a lot of people are wrong about his skills.

I also don’t put too much stock in to the injury concerns, or the makeup concerns. A lot of those things can be blown out of proportion. We heard some of those things coming out of New York about A.J. Burnett, and he’s been nothing but the ideal veteran teammate. There are concerns with Upton’s slump this year, but going back to his talent, if you think he’s got the skills to be considered one of the best young players in the game, that’s not a long term concern.

Here’s my concern: why is Arizona willing to deal him? You can dismiss the injury from being a long term issue. You can ignore the numbers this year, and the home/road splits. You don’t have to believe the speculation about his attitude and work ethic. But even if you dismiss all of these question marks, you’re left with the biggest question of all. Why would Arizona deal a guy considered one of the best young players in the game, who is under control for three and a half years, all while they’re trying to win at the major league level?

You can dismiss all the concerns about Upton, but that question raises a lot of red flags. Teams don’t just deal top young players when they’re trying to win. And if Marte was the only top prospect in the deal, that would raise more red flags.

All of these red flags are alarming for the Pirates. With Upton being due $12 M a year on average, the Pirates can’t afford to make a mistake. They’re not the Yankees or Red Sox. If Upton becomes a bust, they’re stuck with him and his contract. There’s no going and getting a replacement. There’s no adding other pieces to make up for his lost production. Think of the impact Jason Kendall’s contract had on this franchise. The same would happen if Upton came to the Pirates and bombed. There are a lot of question marks surrounding Upton, and answering all of them just raises a bigger question of why Arizona would deal him. Because of the questions, it’s hard to view this as a slam dunk deal that the Pirates absolutely have to make.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost to the Brewers 4-1.

**Pirates Notebook: Sloppy Play Leads to Loss; Tabata Struggling in Triple-A.

**Prospect Watch: Altoona is No Hit, Barnes Homers, Good Pitching From Irwin, Sadler.

**Presley Looking Ready to Return in Indians Win.

**Pirates Emerging as Serious Bidders for Justin Upton.

**Pirates Have Expressed Interest in Jon Lester and Jason Vargas.

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