The Justin Upton saga finally concluded on Thursday morning, when the Diamondbacks agreed to send the 25-year-old right fielder to the Braves, along with Chris Johnson, in exchange for Martin Prado and four prospects. Atlanta’s offseason, bookended by its acquisitions of the Upton brothers, is now virtually finished. But some believe that Arizona’s busy winter may grow busier still.
Despite early Thursday buzz, D’backs unlikely to trade for Rick Porcello
Not long after news of the Upton deal swept across Twitter, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale heard from a National League source that one of the four minor leaguers heading to the desert could soon be flipped to Detroit. Specifically, this official’s hypothetical barter would send shortstop Nick Ahmed to the Tigers, who in turn would part with their current number-five starter, Rick Porcello.
Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers threw a wrench into the Porcello rumor later in the day on Thursday, when he told reporters including MLB.com beat writer Steve Gilbert that another addition to the starting rotation is unlikely. Towers previously inked Brandon McCarthy to a two-year, $15.5 million contract at the Winter Meetings, and Randall Delgado, one of the other prospects in the Upton package, might factor into the starting five with a strong spring. With Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, and Wade Miley already entrenched, and McCarthy a lock to join them, only one spot is up for grabs. And with Delgado now set to compete with Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs—and Daniel Hudson expected to return from Tommy John surgery sometime this summer—there is not much room for Porcello, even if the 24-year-old northpaw tickles Towers’ fancy.
On the other hand, the Diamondbacks’ philosophy does make the sinker-oriented Porcello a logical target. Towers has, over the past couple of years, shown a proclivity toward ground-ball arms, likely owing to the hitter-friendliness of his home ballpark. Trevor Cahill, brought in from the A’s last winter, led all qualifying pitchers with a 61.2 percent ground-ball rate in 2012, and sidewinder Brad Ziegler, who came with him, paced the league with an extraordinary 75.5 percent mark. Delgado and fellow right-hander Zeke Spruill also fit that mold—according to a scout who offered Peter Gammons a rosier outlook on Arizona’s return than most were willing to venture—so the modus operandi at 401 East Jefferson Street seems crystal clear.
But what about the Tigers?
From the Tigers’ perspective, Ahmed, a glove-first shortstop with a chance to hit enough to be a quality regular, could provide a long-term defensive upgrade to an infield that badly needs improvement. General manager Dave Dombrowski was said to be seeking a controllable shortstop, among other requests, in earlier trade discussions regarding Porcello, who, ironically, could fare better in Detroit if a rangier infielder than Jhonny Peralta were playing behind him. Instead, the Tigers’ .254 BABIP allowed on ground balls, which ranked 27th in the majors, and Porcello’s own .344 BABIP, the highest endured by any qualifying pitcher, could be his ticket out of town.
Given the Diamondbacks’ existing logjam, though, surplus is likely to trump strategy, forcing Dombrowski to pursue other leads with his best trade chip. After agreeing to a $5.1 million paycheck for 2013, in exchange for forgoing his second year of arbitration eligibility, Porcello is too rich to be moved to the bullpen; interested teams would almost certainly have to view him as a starter. Detroit’s ground-ball defense woes might make Drew Smyly—who also would infuse a lefty into what presently is an all-righty crew—a more attractive fit at the back-end of manager Jim Leyland’s rotation, so even if Arizona drops out of the running, Porcello is a strong bet to be traded. The D’backs and Mariners were believed to be the frontrunners as of last week, but the market could evolve to include numerous other teams during the coming days.
Mariners, Mets emerge as “favorites” for Michael Bourn
Speaking of the Mariners, general manager Jack Zduriencik might have bigger things afoot. According to Nightengale, Seattle is now leading or close to the front of the pack for Bourn, who is also fielding active interest from the Mets and remained on Atlanta’s radar until the Upton trade was finalized. And though most insiders expected the former Braves center fielder to have chosen his new home by now, one agent’s prediction to ESPN’s Jayson Stark still leaves him with more than three weeks to spare.
The bad news for Bourn and his agent, Scott Boras, is that one of his key suitors, the Rangers, are now content with their existing pieces. MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan heard from “industry sources” on Thursday that Boras can no longer count on general manager Jon Daniels to rescue either Bourn or Lohse from the perils of rejecting their qualifying offers. The Rangers’ exit was what initially led Nightengale to declare the Mariners and Mets as the “favorites” in the Bourn sweepstakes, and with the Braves also out, the arrow does appear to be bouncing between the Big Apple and the Emerald City.
For the Mets, Bourn’s status as a compensated free agent is a critical deterrent. New York Daily News columnist John Harper learned on Wednesday that the team was attempting to convince the league to protect its 11th overall selection, which would enable Bourn to come to Queens at the cost of a second-round pick. The Mets’ case revolves around the Pirates’ failure last year to sign their top selection, Stanford right-hander Mark Appel; Pittsburgh was compensated with the ninth-overall pick in this year’s draft, bumping the Mets—who would have been slated to pick 10th—outside of the protected range.
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday evening that the MLB Players Association could back the Mets’ request on Boras’ behalf, perhaps pressuring the league into crafting an exception. Rosenthal also heard that there is fire to go with this smoke: general manager Sandy Alderson has the financial wiggle room to add Bourn, especially if Boras assents to a back-loaded pact.
The Mariners also can accommodate a five-year, $75 million hitch for Bourn, per Larry Stone of The Seattle Times, and though Zduriencik may think twice before surrendering his own first-round selection (which comes immediately after the Mets’), some of that prospect value could be recouped in a trade involving incumbent center fielder Franklin Gutierrez. Zduriencik, who is entering his fifth year at the helm of the Mariners, might also be on the hot seat when it comes to demonstrating material improvement to the team’s owners. If that’s the case, then his focus on short-term help could obviate the draft-pick impediment and pave the way for a deal.