Over the last week or so and especially this weekend, rumors regarding the Pirates and Arizona’s Justin Upton have been heating up. The Pirates reportedly had a scout in Chicago this week to watch Upton, and ESPN’s Jayson Stark called the Pirates a “serious contender” for the young outfielder. Jon Heyman of CBS, however, reported that there “is nothing serious” between the two sides and the Pirates are “probably not be a fit.”
Upton is incredibly talented and has the potential to be an absolutely wonderful addition to the Pirates’ lineup. The right fielder finished 4th in the NL’s MVP voting last season, is only 24, and is signed to a reasonable contract through 2015. He would solidify a corner outfield spot for the next three years while providing a great power bat behind Andrew McCutchen. Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, there’s another side to this that I think a lot of people are missing. Upton has battled a shoulder injury this season, and his numbers are way down in 2012. His splits away from hitter-friendly Chase Field are ugly, and he apparently isn’t the greatest clubhouse presence out in Arizona at the moment. I don’t see why the D-Backs (just 6.5 games out at the moment) are so eager to shop him if those aren’t serious concerns, and if they actually are willing to do so I’d be awfully suspicious. I also don’t think he could be pried away without giving up Jameson Taillon or Gerrit Cole–which the Pirates have repeatedly said they absolutely will not do.
Starling Marte‘s name has been thrown around quite a bit in Upton discussions as well. I’d probably be fine with sending away Marte for Upton, but I also think Arizona would want a lot more in return. Marte is just one year younger than Upton and hasn’t seen the big leagues yet, and the best-case scenario for him is that he turns into a guy kind of like Upton. Why would Arizona do a deal with him as the centerpiece?
Anyway, I think Marte himself could be a big upgrade for the Pirates down the stretch. He’s been hot and cold with the bat in Indianapolis, but is excellent defensively (the Pirates corner OF defense is dreadful at the moment) and would still probably hold his own at the plate. Some will argue that he shouldn’t be rushed up to the bigs, but I say that if he’s a clear upgrade in a playoff race, that shouldn’t be much of a concern. Besides, you could make the argument that he’s “ready” (or very close to it) right now anyway.
Alex Presley will be back in the next day or so to help the outfield a bit, but I’d still like to see Marte sooner rather than later. It wouldn’t be hard to start him every day; just go back to the Jones/McGehee platoon at first, start Presley in one corner (and maybe spell him with Sutton here and there, but stop starting Sutton every day) and give Marte the other corner. There’s a chance that could be one of the best upgrades the Pirates could make, and it wouldn’t even require a trade.
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