Upton's power surge led to his best season in 4 years. (examiner.com)
At the 2011 MLB Trade Deadline, one name mentioned on every rumor site was B.J. Upton. The deadline came and went, and Upton remained in Tampa. People were somewhat surprised. But the non-trade turned out to be for the best for the Rays. Upton put up a .280/.377/.497 line the rest of the season to help the Rays make the playoffs. And now there’s another dimension to it: Upton’s trade value is at its highest point in years.
Upton’s final numbers in 2011 were pretty impressive. He put up a .243/.331/.429 line with 27 doubles, 23 homers, 81 RBI, and 36 stolen bases at a 75% success rate. It was easily his best season since 2007, his first full year in the big leagues. The Rays could get more for Upton now than they could at the 2012 deadline. If they’re going to trade him, they will do it this offseason.
What’s holding them back? The farm system. The Rays have a great system, but it’s one thing to have a prospect and another to have an established major leaguer. The Rays trading Upton would likely hinge on their faith in Brandon Guyer. Guyer, 25, is a very good pure hitter with some power and nice speed and he plays an outstanding defensive right field, as we saw in his brief big league time in 2011. At Triple-A, his .312/.384/.521 line was pretty impressive and he did that with 29 doubles, 5 triples, 14 homers, 61 RBI, and 16 stolen bases. In 43 big league plate appearances, he hit just .195 but showed some flashes, homering twice. Do the Rays feel comfortable enough with Guyer to give him their starting right field job?
The Matt Garza trade gave the Rays some great prospects including Guyer (above), who may be the reason the Rays can trade B.J. Upton. (Getty Images)
I saw enough from Guyer that I think he’ll be a good player. He’ll certainly be better than Sam Fuld-Justin Ruggiano platoon the Rays had before calling up Desmond Jennings (Jennings would play centerfield if Upton is traded). But the biggest question is the return on a possible Upton trade. Would the Rays get enough in return to warrant trading Upton when they’re trying to contend?
Matt Garza was coming off a season in which he went 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA when the Rays traded Matt Garza to the Cubs in the 2010 offseason. The Rays packaged Garza with decent pitching prospect Zach Rosscup and organizational player Fernando Perez and managed to get a boatload of talented players in return: top shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee, Guyer, and RHP Chris Archer in addition to catcher Robinson Chirinos and major league outfielder Sam Fuld. The Rays miss Garza, but they had Jeremy Hellickson fill in more than capably and they were able to bolster their system quite a bit with the three top prospects. The Rays will look to do a similar trade with Upton, knowing that Brandon Guyer will step into his outfield spot.
In retrospect, the Cubs got a great pitcher in Garza, but they gave up a whole lot, maybe too much, to get him. Can the Rays find another suitor to give up a plethora of prospects for Upton? Well, maybe just one: the Nationals. The Nationals will be set in their outfield for years to come with Bryce Harper in right field and Jason Werth in left field. But they have no heir apparent in centerfield and they want to trade for a big-time centerfielder. The Nationals will certainly inquire about Upton, and as part of the trade they will probably require him to agree to an extension. But that shouldn’t be too much of a problem as long as the Nationals show Upton the kind of money they showed Werth (Upton’s 27, so I would guess a 5-year, 70 million dollar contact or something along those lines). But do the Nationals have the prospects, excluding Harper and Stephen Strasburg, to make this deal happen?
It’s pretty clear that Upton is quite as good of a player as Garza, so four prospects, including three very good ones, along with a major league player is a bit of a stretch. But if this trade happens, it will be an upper-echelon prospect, a lower level prospect, and another prospect with good potential but one who’s farther away from the big leagues. The Rays have a need at catcher, with no even average big league catcher anywhere in the upper levels of their organization. They declined Kelly Shoppach’s option after he hit .170 in 2011, and John Jaso is not good enough both offensively and defensively to be a starter for a playoff team. The Rays also need to fill a hole at first base with the impending departure of Casey Kotchman through free agency, but they have an internal option in Russ Canzler that could fill the role and the Nationals’ first base prospects aren’t good enough to make them reconsider (starting first baseman Mike Morse is pretty good, but it doesn’t make any sense for the Nationals to trade him). But a catcher alone isn’t enough to make this trade happen. So the Rays will ask for some of the usual things they ask for in trades: an up-the-middle players along with a quality arm. Here’s reasonable trade scenario number one:
Tampa Bay Rays trade OF B.J. Upton to the Washington Nationals in exchange for C Derek Norris, INF Blake Kelso, and RHP A.J. Cole. B.J. Upton agrees to 5-year extension with Washington Nationals.
Could Norris be the Rays' catcher of the future? (MLB.com)
Norris, 22, possesses a great eye, an attribute that the Rays certainly value, and unlike some of their other failed catchers, he features big-time power. He doesn’t hit for average too well, but even a .240/.350/.450 line would be the first of its type by any full-time catcher in Rays history. Norris has the potential to be better than that. It is a red flag that he hit just .210 in 2011, but he had just a .209 BAbip and he still managed to post a .367 OBP while hitting more than half of his hits for extra-bases including 20 home runs. Defensively, Norris is pretty good, throwing out 40% of attempted basestealers during his time in the minors, and although he allows a few too many passed balls, he’s better defensively than John Jaso. The Rays would be ecstatic to receive Norris. They need a catcher of the future with some serious uncertainty involving their top catching prospects, and Norris is just about ready to contribute at the big league level. Norris played 2011 at Double-A, but if traded to the Rays, he would certainly get big leagues reps before the end of 2012.
Kelso (in the red uniform) is the kind of gritty player the Rays like. (Mack's Mets)
Kelso, another 22 year old, sounds exactly like a Rays player. Listen to this assessment of Kelso from Perfect Game: “Plus makeup player, does all the little things; speed is best physical tool”. Kelso has the intangibles, the pure hitting ability, the speed, and the versatility to be the next Ben Zobrist. Zobrist didn’t hit for any power and didn’t steal many bases in the minors (23 home runs, 58 stolen bases in 5 minor league seasons), but Kelso is a step ahead of that. He had a really nice season with the Low-A Hagerstown Suns in 2011, hitting .293 with 17 doubles, 7 triples, 2 homers, 52 RBI, 81 runs, 23 stolen bases (7 CS), a .357 OBP, and a .365 SLG in 127 games. He did that while playing second base, third base, and shortstop for Hagerstown. Kelso’s worst tool is probably his arm, which profiles as just about average, but he could be a good defensive second baseman because of his great hands and range, and his arm is good enough to make some starts short and third as well. He won’t be able to play right field like Zobrist, but he could probably learn centerfield and left field and be at least decent at those positions. If things go according to plan, Kelso profiles as a player who hits for a pretty good average with some power and 20+ stolen bases along with a good amount of walks while playing all over the field defensively. Kelso isn’t a top prospect, but I really like his fit in the Rays system.
A.J. Cole has the potential for greatness and that's why he's the key to this potential Upton trade. (AP)
The key part of this deal may not be Norris, but 19 year old right-hander A.J. Cole. Cole, the Nationals’ 4th-round pick in 2010, is simply put, a stud. If you just saw his won-loss record and ERA in 2011 at Low-A, he wouldn’t seem that good as he went 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA in 18 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 89 IP. But looking just a little bit deeper, Cole had an unbelievable season. He struck out 108, a great 10.9 K/9, while walking just 24, an outstanding 2.4 BB/9. He also allowed just 6 home runs, a 0.6 HR/9. When you calculate FIP from those three stats, you get the kind of number that you don’t see very often: 2.53. Incredible. And this isn’t just a statistical thing. Cole is a projectable 6-4, 180 and very athletic. He throws a low to mid-90′s fastball that touches 96 with good late life, and he also throws a high-70′s to low-80′s slider that right-handed hitters have no idea what to do with thanks to its great movement and left-hand hitters don’t like either. In addition, he has mid-80′s splitter that he can use to get out of jams with a double play ball and his fourth pitch is a curveball that needs work but could eventually be another good pitch. Cole is a while away from the big leagues, but he could be a topflight starter.
This trade seems fair. The Nationals get a centerfielder entering his prime that will play a huge part of their ballclub as they look to contend, and in return they give up a catcher they don’t need with Wilson Ramos in place in the big leagues and two prospects who could be good or even great players (especially Cole), but who both just finished a season at Low-A. The Nationals have the depth in their minor league pitching staffs to deal with the loss of Cole, and if they’re willing to part with him this trade could be done quickly.
I do really like this trade and I think that there’s more of a probability that this exact trade happens than any other trade idea I’ve even thought of because it makes a lot of sense. The Nationals get their centerfielder of the future while the Rays get big league help at catcher and two other prospects for a few years from now. If Brandon Guyer had a good rookie season, this trade would be considered to be just as good for the Rays as the Garza trade. But the maybe this is too small-scale. The Nationals are about to get into a win-now mode. Just trading for Upton might not be enough. The Nationals actually have a good rotation (Strasburg-Jordan Zimmerman-John Lannan-Chien-Ming Wang-Tom Gorzelanny and then there’s Ross Detwiler and also Brad Peacock and Brad Meyers at Triple-A) and they wouldn’t care for one of the Rays extra starters. But they have a gap in their organization at shortstop with Ian Desmond not performing on both offense and defense and they have a need for a corner outfielder in addition to their need of a centerfielder that got us to this trade to begin with assuming they don’t let Bryce Harper brake camp with the team. The Rays have two players that could potentially fill both roles. The first, Ben Zobrist, will not be traded, but the other is a realistic possibilitiy to be traded along with Upton: Sean Rodriguez.
Rodriguez did not have a good in 2011, but there are reasons for optimism. (MLB.com)
Rodriguez, 26, plays everywhere and is especially skilled at second base. He didn’t have a good year offensively in 2011, posting a .223/.323/.357 line with 20 doubles, 3 triples, 8 homers, 36 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 131 games (436 plate appearances). But there is reason for optimism. He improved his walk rate while lowering his strikeout rate, and he hit more hits for extra bases. He has the potential to be even better than the .251/.308/.397 line that he posted in 2010. Rodriguez is a capable major league player, and the Nationals would not be hurt if they gave Rodriguez some starts at short and in the corner outfield spots before Harper is called up. And even once Harper is called up, Rodriguez could supplant Ian Desmond at shortstop or go into a utility role. The only question for the Rays about trading Rodriguez is their starting shortstop position. If they give Reid Brignac another chance, will he succeed? I have been saying an adamant yes for quite a while because the reasons for Brignac’s struggles in 2011 was awful luck (see this post), but maybe the Rays aren’t so sure. Let’s take a look at this scenario.
Tampa Bay Rays trade OF B.J. Upton and UTIL Sean Rodriguez to the Washington Nationals in exchange for C Derek Norris, INF Blake Kelso, RHP Craig Stammen, and RHP A.J. Cole. B.J. Upton agrees to 5-year extension with Washington Nationals.
With a fresh start, maybe Craig Stammen could be a pretty good pitcher.(Getty Images)
This trade adds in a Sean Rodriguez for Craig Stammen swap. As I stated above, Rodriguez is a decent player and he is at least an average big league middle infielder. Stammen, 27, throws a fastball right around 90 MPH with some movement in addition to a slider, curveball, and a changeup. None of Stammen’s pitches are overpowering, but he has good control and forces a lot of groundballs. He seemed like he could be a perfectly fine back-of-the-rotation starter, but things did not go well when Stammen got a chance in the majors as he went 8-11 with a 5.12 ERA, just a 5.1 K/9, a 2.5 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9 in 38 starts, 16 relief appearances, and 233.2 IP from 2009 to 2010. He maintained a 2 to 1 strikeout to walks ratio, but he allowed too many home runs and a lot of balls were put into play against him because he struck out so few batters. Stammen spent most of 2011 at Triple-A Syracuse where he went 10-7 with a 4.75 ERA, an 8.0 K/9, and a 2.5 BB/9 but a 1.1 HR/9 in 24 starts, a relief appearance, and 142 IP. However, when Stammen was called up to the big leagues in June and at the end of the season, he did pretty well, posting a 0.87 ERA, a 10.5 K/9, and a 3.5 BB/9 in 7 relief appearances and 10.1 IP. In those appearances, he often threw a bit harder (91 MPH), and he got some better movement on his pitches. Stammen could fill a bullpen role for the Rays if they acquire him. Because of his variety of pitches, he’s not easy to face coming out of the bullpen, and he could throw short or long relief in addition to making some spot starts. Stammen is worth another opportunity, whether it be the Rays or some other team. If the Rays do acquire him, he will be put to good use.
This scenario also makes sense, but maybe Rodriguez isn’t enough of an upside player for them. How about including a third team who would include a legitimate shortstop prospect? In addition, the Rays are also looking to possibly move a starter. They could kill two birds with one stone if they could deal that starter as part of a 3-team trade that also involved Upton. Here’s where it gets crazy.
I think that a team that could be looking to take the next step in 2012 is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who finished above .500 and could have the MVP and Cy Young of the National League in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. With Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Garland being free agents, the Dodgers need a starter, and they could be interesting in the Rays’ Wade Davis. Let’s use the Dodgers as an example for how a 3-team Upton and Davis trade would look.
In a three team trade, Tampa Bay Rays trade OF B.J. Upton to the Washington Nationals and RHP Wade Davis to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Washington Nationals trade C Derek Norris, INF Blake Kelso, and RHP A.J. Cole to the Yankees and RHP Ross Detwiler to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Los Angeles Dodgers trade RHP Josh Lindbloom and RHP Garrett Gould to the Rays and SS Justin Sellers and CF Leon Landry to the Washington Nationals. B.J. Upton agrees to 5-year extension with Washington Nationals.
It's tough to keep a spot in the Rays rotation these days. One tough year and you're out. (Getty Images)
There’s a lot to digest here. Pretty much what’s happening is the Upton trade above and then a Wade Davis for a big leaguer and a prospect trade, and then a Ross Detwiler trade for a shortstop and a good prospect in the low minors. This trade is somewhat based off of the 3-team trade in the 2009 offseason that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, Austin Jackson to the Tigers, and Edwin Jackson to the D-backs, and it makes sense to be so because the two big names involved are a centerfielder and a right-handed starter just like that trade.
Davis did not have a very good year in 2011, going 11-10 with a 4.45 ERA, a 5.1 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9. But he did that in the AL East, and part of the problem was that he was pitching to contact a lot more than he did as a rookie. If he gets back to way he pitched as a rookie (4.07 ERA), he could be a good pitcher, especially in the NL West. He did increase his walk rate and homer rate in 2011 and he learned to be more of a pitcher, so his evidently unsuccessful 2011 season may be a good experience for him. The Dodgers shouldn’t have any qualms trading for Davis as long as the Rays don’t ask for too much for him. Davis works out perfectly for the Dodgers or pretty much any team in baseball because he just recently turned 26, and he will make just 8.1 million dollars over the next 3 seasons with three team options after that. Even the Dodgers can afford that contract!
A reliever like Lindloom would be a nice asset for the Rays. (Getty Images)
In this trade scenario, in exchange for Davis, the Rays would get a big league reliever in Josh Lindbloom and another high school arm with nice potential in to Cole in Garrett Gould. Ideally, the Rays would get a top-notch up the middle prospect (SS or CF) who’s currently in A-ball or Double-A, but the Dodgers don’t have a player that fits that profile and instead the Rays would acquire yet another pitcher in this trade. Not that acquiring another pitching prospect is a problem- Andrew Friedman has acknowledged again and again that you can never have too much pitching. In the context of this trade, the Rays accomplished their goal of acquiring their catcher of the future by trading for Derek Norris, so in this component of the trade where they’re trading Wade Davis to the Dodgers, they’re just aiming of upside and Gould gives them that.
Lindbloom, 24, is a rare four-pitch reliever who throws a fastball in the low-90′s with nice movement along with a very good slider, a curveball, and a changeup. He used his arsenal to pitch to a 2.13 ERA and a 2.85 ERA at Double-A before jumping to the majors and posting a 2.75 ERA and a 2.35 FIP, although he was lucky to allow zero home runs. Lindbloom isn’t the most exciting player, but he could be a very good middle reliever for the Rays. Their lack of bullpen depth showed at times in 2011, and Lindbloom could certainly help fix that.
Gould is a promising prospect for the Dodgers, but also a potential trade piece. (mlive.com)
Gould balances out this Wade Davis part of the deal, being a high-upside prospect. Gould, 20, uses his 6-4, 190 frame to throw in the low-90′s with a nice 11-to-5 curveball and a changeup, and those three pitches were enough to lead him to domination of the Low-A Midwest League as he went 11-6 with a 2.40 ERA, a 7.6 K/9, a 2.7 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 24 starts, 3 relief appearances, 123.2 IP. His 3.31 FIP wasn’t exactly A.J. Cole-esque, but still very good. Gould isn’t quite an elite prospect, but he has second or third starter upside and he certainly has the ability to be an important part of a playoff rotation. The Rays would certainly be satisfied receiving a player like Gould in a potential Wade Davis trade.
So why aren’t we have this as just two separate trades? We can have the Rays trade B.J. Upton to the Nats and Wade Davis to the Dodgers. But the Dodgers and Nats have needs other than those these trades with the Rays fill, and it turns out that they have a trade they could do with each other. The Nationals have way too many starting pitchers and the Dodgers could use another big league starter (their pitching prospects are a step away from the majors). And the Nationals can’t be liking what they’re seeing from Ian Desmond at shortstop and the Dodgers have a prospect they can trade to the Dodgers to help fix that problem.
Detwiler's career has not gone the way he hoped it would so far, but a new start could change things. (federalbaseball.com)
Ross Detwiler was the 6th overall pick by the Nationals in the 2007 draft and was always a top prospect thanks to 6-5, 185 frame, four very good pitches, an outstanding two-seam fastball, a nice four-seamer, a curveball with great movement, and a good changeup as well. But he has been up against a multitude of problems throughout his career, facing injuries and arm slot corrections and simply put, failure in the years since. In his first extended big league stint in 2009, Detweiler fell flat, posting a 5.00 ERA in 14 starts and a relief appearance, striking out just 43 in 75.2 innings while walking 33. But in 2011, he showed flashes of his potential, going 4-5 with a 3.00 ERA, 41 K’s (5.6 K/9), 20 walks (2.7 BB/9), and 7 homers allowed (1.0 HR/9) in 10 starts, 5 relief appearances, and 66 IP. His FIP was 4.21, but it was still a good sign. The Nationals have no need for him because of their pitching depth, and his stock is the highest it’s been since before the draft. If they’re going to trade him the time is now. For Detwiler himself, he’ll be 26 in March and his career is at a crossroads. It’s time for him to prove himself, but he may not get another chance with the franchise that drafted him. The Dodgers or another contending team know how much potential Detwiler has and think they can get him right to allow him to shine. Maybe Detwiler isn’t traded in an Upton or Wade Davis trade, but don’t be surprised if he’s traded this offseason.
With Dee Gordon entrenched at SS for the Dodgers, a trade would be a golden opportunity for Sellers. (Getty Images)
Justin Sellers drew comparisons to Dustin Pedroia from Baseball America not just because of his relatively small stature (5-10, 160), but because of his abilities, intangibles, and the play he plays baseball. He plays hard and possesses a great knowledge of the game of baseball, only adding to his ability as a pure hitter with some power, and on defense. Sellers, who similar to Detwiler will be 26 in February, is finally ready for the big leagues after a quality season at Triple-A in 2011. He put up a .304/.400/.537 line in 89 games with 17 doubles, 14 homers, and 49 RBI. He did that while playing shortstop, second base, third base, left field, and right field. He only played 89 games at Triple-A because he spent from mid-August to the end of the season in the majors as a utility infielder.Sellers has the ability to put up a Mark DeRosa-type career because of his ability and his versatility. If traded to the Nationals, Sellers could challenge Ian Desmond at shortstop and possibly take over his role, and he could be a very useful utility player who plays all over the field. Even if Desmond were to impress the Nationals in spring training, at the very least the Nats wouldn’t have to re-sign Jerry Hairston Jr. or a player like that for a few years.
Landry is the kind of prospect you can get excited about. (MiLB.com)
Since Sellers isn’t enough on his own in a trade for Detwiler, the Nats would have to sweeten the pot by including a prospect with some upside, and in this case that player would be Leon Landry, a centerfielder who turned 20 in September. Landry spent 2011 at Low-A Great Lakes and had a nice season there, posting a .250/.307/.360 line with 21 doubles, 11 triples, 4 homers, 41 RBI and 28 stolen bases in 125 games. He’s a potential 4-tool centerfielder, with only his arm not being an asset, although he is a while away from the big leagues and there are some question he has to address. His plate discipline has been inconsistent, especially against lefties, and he struggles against pitches up in the zone (thanks to Baseball Prospect Report). Still, Landry is a prospect with really good potential and we’ll have to see where that potential takes him.
When I’m talking about crazy three-team trade scenarios like this, unlike the straight Upton to Nationals trades above, I’m expecting that there’s no chance it will actually happen not only with these players, but with these teams. But it’s a good exercise to see what that type of trade would look like. It’s clear that by trading Upton, the Rays could get a really nice return, and trading Davis as well only adds to that.
Bottom line, the Rays really have to trade Upton as long as they believe in Brandon Guyer. They will get a nice package of players in return, filling a current need at catcher in addition to getting some prospects for down the line, and if Guyer plays well as a rookie, Andrew Friedman and Co. will look like geniuses yet again. The Nationals are the right trade partner because they have a very good catching prospect in Derek Norris and are just crazy enough to offer the Rays the kind of prospects they dream about. The Rays may consider trading Wade Davis as part of the trade which would become 3-team deal, and that would have additional ramifications. But no matter how it happens, the Rays should talk with the Nationals and get a B.J. Upton deal done. Upton has been a productive player for the Rays since coming up to the major leagues and we’ll never forget the 2008 Postseason, but it’s clear that the Rays are not going to re-sign him after this season and they certainly don’t want to settle for a couple of draft picks when he becomes a free agent if they don’t have to. His value is at its peak now, and it’s time to pull the trigger. They’ll get maximum value and they won’t regret it.