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December 9, 2010

Winter Meetings

Piecoro on Upton: D-Backs Dilemma

by David Laurila

Justin Upton was still a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks as the Winter Meetings came to a close earlier today, which isn’t too much of a surprise. But a few short weeks ago, the odds of the talented yet enigmatic outfielder changing teams in Orlando were anything but a long shot. The 23-year-old Upton’s name was bandied about in numerous trade scenarios, with fan bases of a plethora of clubs speculating on what it would take to bring the potential superstar to their city. Would the rebuilding D-Backs move him for a package of top prospects? Would they take a young major leaguer along with prospects?

It now appears likely that Upton will remain in Arizona, and Kirk Gibson, suggested as much during his Winter Meetings media session. The D-Backs skipper offered comments like, “We believe in him. There is no one player that we could go out and acquire that would be greater than Justin Upton,” and “He's still a star in the making.” Gibson also said, “As much as we want him to be the finished product today, it is not going to happen that way,” which is notable in that it is seemingly more than a plea for patience. According to highly-respected Arizona Republic D-Backs beat writer Nick Piecoro, the reason Upton is still a D-Back may have even more to do with the present than it does the future.

Piecoro gave his take on the Upton situation, including what the front office is likely thinking, as the Meetings were winding down.

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Nick Piecoro: “I think that they’ve gotten past the point where they were going to trade Upton. I think they were at that point at the GM meetings. When his name first popped up in trade rumors there was a lot of excitement from people with other teams, because they were just so caught off guard by the fact that he might be made available. They were curious as to what the asking price might be, and literally as many as 20 teams in baseball inquired about him.

“I think that the Diamondbacks thought, at the time, that they might be able to get that “win” trade to make it happen. They were pretty open to the fact that if they were to do it, it was going to have be a deal that was a little lopsided in favor of them. They thought that maybe there was a team out there that believed that Upton was the one piece necessary to put them over the top.

“In the weeks since, they’ve come to realize that other teams just haven’t come up with those types of offers. They just haven’t been blown away by a trade, so I think they’ve decided that they’re better off keeping him and trying to address their holes elsewhere. They’ve signed Zach Duke and J.J. Putz, and traded Mark Reynolds for a couple of other relievers, so they’re less concerned about plugging holes now. That was sort of their thinking: They thought that if they traded Justin Upton, they could get back two, three, or maybe more pieces that could help them in the big leagues in 2011.

“I didn’t necessarily like that line of thinking. This is a team that has lost 92 and 97 games the past two years, and I’m just not sure that you can make that kind of turnaround that quickly. I know that the National League West has been historically volatile; teams that are in last place can end up in first place the next year. I just don’t see that happening next year, because the Giants are World Series champs, the Dodgers are spending money again, and the Rockies have made some improvements and should be better. I’m just not certain that this is a winnable division.

“If I were to have traded Upton, I probably would have focused on getting back the kind of return that the Rangers got for Mark Teixeira a few years ago, or the Padres potentially got for Adrian Gonzalez earlier this week, targeting some low-A or high-A guys who can blend in with guys the Diamondbacks already have in the minor leagues. In the ’09 draft they had something like 10 or 11 of the top 65 picks, and while a lot of those guys are still two years away from reaching the major leagues, but it is a pack of talented guys. If you’re going to trade Upton, and you’re not going to contend in 2011, and you’re probably not going to contend in 2012, let’s try to build something that is going to last. Get as much talent as possible in the minor leagues. That’s the way I would have done it, but I don’t think they were thinking that way and I think there are a couple of reasons for that.

“As bad as they’ve been, I think that they’re worried about falling into a cycle of one losing season after another. I think they want to stop that, desperately. That is probably part of the reason why Kevin Towers, who is known for being able to construct pretty good major league rosters, even though he’s not a great drafter, was named general manager. Another thing is that Towers is on a two-year contract, so he has an incentive to win now. Furthermore, they’re going to have the All-Star Game, in July, at Chase Field, and I think the last thing they want is to be a team that is buried in the basement, and uncompetitive, while the national spotlight is shining on them.”

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Premium Article On the Beat: Gonzo abo... (12/08)
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Winter Meetings: First... (12/08)
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Spinning Yarn: The For... (12/09)

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