Upton's days in Arizona numbered?

BY Ken Rosenthal • October 20, 2012

Well, that was an interesting three-team trade Saturday.

And for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics, I’m guessing it was just a prelude to other deals.

I’ll believe Justin Upton will be a Diamondback in 2013 when I see him in an Arizona uniform on Opening Day.

While A's general manager Billy Beane says he does not intend to trade any of his outfielders, who’s to say that he won’t receive a compelling offer for one of them later this offseason?

Chris Young, 29, was the centerpiece of Saturday’s maneuverings, going to the Athletics for infielder Cliff Pennington and minor league infielder Yordy Cabrera.

The Diamondbacks then sent Cabrera to the Miami Marlins for reliever Heath Bell, with the Marlins paying $8 million of the $21 million remaining on Bell’s contract.

First question: How the heck did the A’s get Young, a player with a .755 career OPS and outstanding defensive ratings, for Pennington, a player who had a .589 OPS last season and got bumped to second base for Stephen Drew?

Second question: Why are the Diamondbacks willing to pay $6.5 million annually over the next two years to Bell, a declining reliever who likely will pitch in the seventh inning?

Third question: Should we believe Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick, who told a Phoenix radio station earlier this month that it is “highly likely” that Upton will remain with the team?

Curious as Saturday’s trades appeared for Arizona, it’s probably best to reserve judgment. Kevin Towers, the team’s GM, boasts a strong track record. And the rest of the club’s 2013 puzzle is not yet complete.

The D-Backs, even after moving Young, can part with Upton and still go with an outfield of Jason Kubel, rookie Adam Eaton and Gerardo Parra next season, with A.J. Pollock in reserve. Or, they could keep Upton and trade Kubel instead.

Upton, 25, seems more likely to go, at least based on finances; he is owed $38.5 million over the next three seasons. Kubel, 30, is signed for $7.5 million next season with a $7.5 million club option for 2014.

Perhaps Upton could bring the D-Backs a starting pitcher. Some in the industry believe the team might even package him with one of its current starters to get a legitimate top-of-the-rotation type.

Or, perhaps Upton could bring a shortstop. The position is hardly secure for Arizona, even after the addition of Pennington. Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald are the other internal options at short — McDonald, a highly valued utility man, could be traded.

Either way, the Diamondbacks need to finally make up their minds on Upton, whom they once viewed as their cornerstone. At this point, it’s fair to ask whether Upton even wants to stay, considering how often the team floats his name in possible trades.

One thing we know: Upton won’t be going to the Athletics, whose crowded outfield now includes Young, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith, though Smith likely will be more of a left-handed DH.

Basically, the A’s couldn’t say no to Young for Pennington and the lightly regarded Cabrera. They also received $500,000 to cover part of Young’s remaining $10 million obligation, which includes a $1.5 million buyout on an $11 million club option for ’14.

Crisp and Cespedes combined to miss 75 games with injuries last season. Young — a more useful player than the likely odd man out, Jonny Gomes — will give the Athletics a legitimate alternative in center, something they lacked last season when Crisp was down.

Gomes’ power and leadership will be missed, if he indeed does not return. Young’s offense is below-average when adjusted to his league and ballpark. His defense, though, might have sparked interest from Tampa Bay, Texas and other clubs, if Towers had been willing to wait.

In 2011, Young’s plus-minus rating in center ranked a close second to the Detroit Tigers’ brilliant Austin Jackson, according to Bill James Online. Last season, Young appeared in only 101 games, in part due to a right shoulder contusion. But his defense still ranked highly according to the available metrics (most teams use their own, more detailed proprietary measures.)

In the end, the A’s valued Young at $9.5 million even though he batted only .231 with a .311 on-base percentage last season. The top free-agent outfielders — Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn, even Torii Hunter — likely will get considerably more.

Which is why rival GMs figure to contact Beane about his outfielders, if they aren’t already.

Crisp, who ignited the A’s from the leadoff spot, will earn a mere $7 million next season, and his contract includes a highly reasonable $7.5 million club option for ‘14.

Cespedes, a game-changer when healthy, will earn an average of less than $10 million over the next three seasons.

Reddick, coming off a 32-homer breakout, is still a year away from arbitration.

All three, then, will be more financially appealing than the better free-agent outfielders, as will Smith, who is due a raise from $2.415,000 in his second year of arbitration. Obviously, the acquisition cost in any trade also would include players, but if those players were major leaguers, a team would save on their salaries, too.

Beane acted swiftly to dismiss speculation that Crisp would be moved, telling reporters in a conference call, “Everybody knows how important this guy is to this team, and he also is a personal favorite of mine.”

One rival executive, before learning of Beane’s comments, said, “I certainly think Oakland will trade Crisp and/or Reddick/Smith.” Two other execs speculated that the A’s might even listen on Cespedes, citing makeup and defensive concerns.

Sounds a little nuts – Cespedes likely will finish second or third for AL Rookie of the Year, behind the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout and possibly the Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish. One person with knowledge of the Athletics’ thinking said there is “no chance” such a move would happen.

But why not?

Beane would be selling Cespedes, 27, at peak value. While Cespedes’ power would be difficult to replace, the A’s no longer are starved for offense, not after leading the AL in home runs after the All-Star break.

The advanced metrics portray Cespedes as well below-average in center and only slightly better in left. He also dealt with hand, hamstring and wrist issues last season, and appeared in 26 games as a DH.

The threat of injury, of course, is an argument for the A’s to keep all of their outfielders. The team has been ravaged by health issues in recent years, and Beane certainly will be mindful of protecting his depth.

Then again, the offseason is just getting started, and Beane is already collecting assets, creating options. The likelihood that the free-agent outfielders will get big money makes the Athletics’ position even stronger, and the same goes for the Diamondbacks with Upton.

Saturday was but a means to an end.

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