Sure, one home run does not a career make, especially one hit off a reliever a bit prone to the long ball at times. But, hoo-boy. Sweet swing. Opposite field power. Five-tool player. Justin Upton. He's yours if you want him. A couple caveats: You have to be a general manager of a big-league baseball team, and you have to have good young players to trade in return.
I wrote that headline, embedded this video and crafted the following paragraph in November, when the Justin Upton rumor factory cranked up its flywheels and spindles yet again.
Now, in January, after a trade-fail with the Mariners, Justin Upton is a Brave. He is but one of the Upton Braves. Downton Abbey II: The Brave Uptons. Masterpiece Base-Ball Theatre!
Good on ya, Braves, I say. Because, and I repeat with four-letter emphasis -- who the fuck would not want Justin Upton? The Diamondbacks, in the most desperate way, apparently, because he doesn't eat dirt and shit baseballs, or something. Martin Prado is a darn good ballplayer, and Giants fans will probably spend half of 2013 saying through gritted teeth, Didn't this guy just get three hits against us yesterday? And last Sunday? And two days before that?
If 2012 Justin Upton is the version who shows up for work until he retires, and top pitching prospect Randall Delgado shines in the desert, Arizona will win this trade. But c'mon. If he's healthy, Upton will be a superstar more seasons than not, especially near-term under his current contract, which pays him $38.5 M through 2015.
But let's move on from the merits of the trade for either side. The tidbit that fascinates me the most is the D'Backs' acquisition of yet another top shortstop prospect, Nick Ahmed. Add him to Didi Gregorius, who came to Arizona in the Trevor Bauer/Shin Soo-Choo three-way, their own farmhand Chris Owings, and Cliff Pennington, who arrived from Oakland in the Heath Bell trade and just signed a two-year deal to avoid arbitration. Don't forget, Arizona also has utility guys John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist under contract through 2013. Both spent a considerable amount of time at short in 2012. What's going on here?
The last two fellows are placeholders, Pennington is the probable starter for now, and all the young guys are heirs apparent or trade bait. But I have two more words that might explain Kevin Towers' shortstop lust this winter: Brandon Crawford.
The big question about Crawford going into 2012 was, basically, Can he hit just enough to keep his magical glove in the lineup? The answer was an emphatic yes, especially when Joaquin Arias turned into a dream platoon partner. Arias just signed a one-year contract, by the way. Crawford's three-quarter-time role contributed two wins to the season, roughly speaking, and that includes the first few weeks of defensive yips that had everyone scratching their heads.
I'm guessing that Towers wants the same from his shortstop. Pennington was even worse with the bat in 2012 than Crawford -- a lot worse -- but his D compensated. Gregorius apparently fits that profile, too. And by hoarding shortstops this winter, I'll speculate that Towers knows other GMs want to pursue the same strategy, and he'll be able to sell high on shortstop prospects. If that's the case, I wonder if the Giants should look into trading Ehire Adrianza, who spent all of 2012 in Double-A and produced a .220 / .289 / .310 line, which, as a 23-year-old, is a very bad line indeed. He'll be 24 on Opening Day this year, but oh that glove, say the scouts. Crawford is entrenched at short on the big club, so Adrianza's short-term value to the Giants is as a utility guy or injury replacement. But they've also got Arias to fill in capably at short if Crawford goes down, so if young, glove-first shortstops are at a premium right now, why not Adrianza? Maybe the Giants can build a package around him and trade for Justin Upton.
That's a joke, of course, and the shortstop the Braves traded, Nick Ahmed, is a superior hitter. (For that matter, so is Didi Gregorius.) Besides, the Giants either don't have or aren't willing to part with the other players to match what the Braves surrendered. I'd be curious to know if the Giants ever discussed amongst themselves trading for Upton. I wouldn't be surprised. But I'd be shocked if the discussion included Arizona.