The strained relationship between Justin Upton and the Arizona Diamondbacks has been well document at this point, specifically in relation to the never-ending stream of speculation that has endured this winter (and last) about the outfielder’s likelihood of being traded to another organization. Arizona has continued to alter their demands in such a deal, but has remained steadfast in their desire to acquire a significant package of players in return for the 25 year old outfielder. Numerous teams have been linked to him at various points in time, but none have seemingly been able to offer up a package that appeals to D’backs GM Kevin Towers.
Late Thursday evening news first broke that the D’backs had reached an agreement on a deal with the Seattle Mariners, only to have the agreement fall apart when Upton exercised his no-trade protection to reject the move. According to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, the Mariners were willing to part with “a package of young talent” which Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic referred to as “substantial talent”. Sources, including Scott Miller of CBSSports.com, have confirmed that the agreed upon deal would have sent four players to Arizona in return for Upton: left-hander Charlie Furbush, right-hander Stephen Pryor, infielder Nick Franklin, and one of Seattle’s top pitching prospects (left-handers Danny Hultzen and James Paxton or right-hander Taijuan Walker). Miller suggests that Walker was the favorite to be involved in the deal and, though it’s uncertain, that there were brief talks surrounding Arizona’s inclusion of an additional player (likely an unknown lower level minor leaguer) in the deal.
Towers and the D’backs have been actively looking to move Upton over each of the past two winters but this was the first time that they were believed to be close to completing a deal. Upton, however, holds a limited no trade clause in his contract (a contract with covers three more seasons and will pay him roughly $38.5 Million) which lets him block deals to four teams – believed to be the Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs. It remains to be seen if he exercised his right to block the deal in an effort to persuade management to compensate him for the move or if he truly does not want to go to Seattle. Rosenthal speculates that this could have been “gamesmanship” on the part of both sides – Upton trying to control where he lands and the Diamondbacks trying to let him know that if he wants out of Arizona his options are limited.
In addition to the Mariners, the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, and Atlanta Braves have all reportedly been linked to talks at various points this winter – though some have been more active in talks than others. Texas and Tampa Bay are believed to have been the most aggressive in those discussions, but it is believed that neither remain as viable options. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News noted that the D’backs made one final proposal on Thursday to Texas prior to reaching their agreement with Seattle. Texas turned it down and elected to “move on” after the sides couldn’t reach a deal. That deal was believed to have centered around third baseman Mike Olt and left-hander Derek Holland.
There has been speculation that Upton’s preference is to land in Atlanta, where his older brother B.J. Upton signed as a free agent (a five year, $75.25 Million deal) earlier this offseason. While the Braves interest in the younger Upton appears legitimate, it appears unlikely that they would be willing to part with the prospects necessary in order to appeal to the Diamondbacks’ demands. The completion of such a deal could potentially give the Braves one of the best outfields in all of baseball with Justin in left field, B.J. in center, and Jason Heyward in right.
Upton appeared in 150 games for the Diamondbacks this past season, batting .280/.355/.430 with 17 HR and 67 RBI over 628 plate appearances. For his career he’s a .278/.357/.475 hitter across six seasons.