Players like Justin Upton aren’t usually available at the trade deadline. Upton ranks 35th in wOBA (.353) and 47th in WAR (8.9) between 2013 to the present. Also of note, Upton is in his walk year.
So, how many players like Justin Upton have been traded in the past 10 years? I did a quick scan of deals made in June and July since 2005 and I found four similar players who were traded in their walk years.
1. Hunter Pence PHI->SF, 2012 (68th wOBA (.347) and 68th WAR (8.7), 2010-2012)
2. Carlos Beltran NYM->SF, 2011 (19th wOBA (.379) and 74th WAR (8.1), 2009-2011)
3. Matt Holiday OAK->STL, 2009 (4th wOBA (.410) and 6th WAR (18.2), 2007-2009)
4. Mark Teixiera ATL -> LAA (15th wOBA (.396), 17th WAR (14.8), 2006-2008)
The Mets received Zack Wheeler in return for Beltran and the Athletics received Brett Wallace in return for Holliday. Baseball America ranked Wheeler the 55th best prospect pre-2011 and Wallace was ranked 40th pre-2009. In the following years, pre-2012 and pre-2010, respectively, Wheeler was ranked 35th and Wallace was ranked 27th.
The Mets and Athletics did well in each trade. They received top prospects and non-deteriorating prospects (they were not losing value as prospects during the year they were traded for). This is evidenced by the ranking of Wheeler and Wallace in the season following the trade.
The Pence and Teixiera trades did not net the Phillies or Braves prospects. Each team received a major league asset, using “asset” in the loosest of ways.
The Phillies received Nate Schierholtz, who had totaled .9 WAR up to that point in 2012. They also received Seth Rosin, an A Ball pitcher, and Tommy Joseph, a AA catcher. Essentially, they received a replacement level player and organizational depth.
The Braves received Casey Kotchman. Kotchman had totaled 2.1 WAR in 2008 with the Angels before the trade. He managed 3.7 WAR the year before. The Braves could not expect Kotchman to live up to his past billing (he was Baseball America’s 6th ranked prospect pre-2005), however, from the most optimistic perspective, they may have expected him to be worth 2 WAR per year over the remaining four years of team control. At least this is my best attempt to get in the head of the Braves’ front office seven years after the fact.
Now, I’ll attempt to determine Justin Upton’s trade value based upon these past trades.
Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli published a study on Point of Pittsburgh that analyzed the value and future performance of prospects based on their ranking in the Baseball America’s Top 100 (the ranking was determined by the final appearance of the prospect in the rankings). The article has a lot of information you should read regarding the dollar value of prospects and their potential to bust, but for purposes of this article, I am concerned with a prospect’s projected WAR over the six years of team control.
Hitters that rank between #26-50, which is Brett Wallace, project to have an average of 6.8 WAR. Pitchers ranked between #51-75 project to have 3.8 WAR. However, based on Wheeler’s fast rise up Baseball America’s list, I’ll factor in that pitchers ranked between #26-50 project to have 6.3 WAR. The average of the two is 5 WAR, which is the value I’ll place on Wheeler at the time the Mets traded for him.
Justin Upton is not Matt Holliday, circa 2009, and he is not quite Carlos Beltran, circa 2011, although he is much less of an injury risk than 2011 Beltran (who would go on to spend time on the DL for the Giants in 2011). Therefore, I project that the Padres should receive between 3.8-5.0 WAR in return for Upton. The return should scale up towards the higher side of that projection based upon an active and interested market for Upton.
Below is a list of potential Upton suitors and their prospects that appeared in Baseball America’s Top-100 rankings before the season began. The rank of the prospect is in parenthesis, followed by their Creagh and DiMiceli projected WAR. The prospects in bold represent the most likely return for Upton, however I included some prospects that are possibilities, but project to have more WAR value than should be expected in return for Upton.
Mets – Brandon Nimmo (45, 6.3), Dilson Herrera (46, 6.3), Amed Rosario (98, 4.1). I excluded Kevin Plawecki (63) and Michael Conforto (80) due to their major league role and rise to prominence, respectively.
Pirates – Jameson Taillon (29, 6.3); Austin Meadows (41, 6.8); Josh Bell (64, 5); Reese McGuire (97, 4.1)
Cubs – C. J. Edwards (38, 6.3); Billy McKinney (83, 4.1)
Giants – Andrew Susac (88, 4.1)
Orioles – Dylan Bundy (48, 6.3); Hunter Harvey (68, 3.4)
Rays – Daniel Robertson (66, 5); Willy Adames (84, 4.1)
Royals – Raul Mondesi (28, 6.8), Brandon Finnegan (55, 3.4), Kyle Zimmer (75, 3.4), Sean Manaea (81, 3.5)
Twins – Jose Berrios (36, 6.3); Nick Gordon (61, 5); Alex Meyer (62, 3.4)
Astros – Mark Appel (31, 6.3)
A.J. Preller should feel (somewhat) vindicated regarding the Justin Upton portion of his winter experiment if he can get a player he likes that resembles the players on this list. However, it remains to be seen if he will chase after something safer, like the Braves in 2008, or squander an asset like the Phillies in 2012. In that case, he’s probably better off going all-in on the Padres he built for 2015.
You can read more of my thoughts, opinions, and research on baseball at https://medium.com/simply-bases. Twitter: @simplybases.