The MLB trade market is heating up, and the Pirates, presumably looking to upgrade their offense for the stretch run, have been connected to a pair of Diamondbacks players in the past week.
The Pirates have been connected to Upton for two weeks now, and Thursday night, FOX Sports Jon Paul Morosi reported that the Pirates "remain involved" in the market for the 24-year-old outfielder. So far this season, Upton is hitting .273 with seven home runs, 38 RBIs and a .749 OPS after finishing fourth in MVP voting last year by hitting .289 with 31 home runs, 88 RBIs and an .898 OPS.
Earlier Thursday, Morosi and Ken Rosenthal reported the Pirates were also among teams interested in shortstop Stephen Drew, who returned late last month from a serious ankle injury last July. In limited action, he's hitting .192 with no homers, three RBIs and a .496 OPS. Before his injury last season, he was hitting .252 with five home runs, 45 RBIs and a .713 OPS in 86 games.
With so much smoke surrounding these two teams, we here at SB Nation Pittsburgh thought it would be a good idea to bring Jim McLennan from AZ Snake Pit, SB Nation's Diamondbacks blog, for perspective on the pair's respective games and what it might take for the Bucs to acquire them. Here are his answers to our questions.
AB: As someone who watched him play every night, could you offer a brief scouting report of Justin Upton?
JM: He absolutely has talent in abundance, and when he puts it all together, is among the best young players in baseball - it's easy to forget, given this is his sixth season in the majors, that Upton is still only 24 years old, and his numbers to date compare more than favorably with the likes of Matt Kemp or Andrew McCutchen at the same age. Uptno has all the tools, capable of hitting for power and average, stealing bases and with amazing range in right. Indeed, that may work against him, as he gets to balls many outfielders would abandon as outside their zip-code.
But there's a downside as well. He's inconsistent: even in last year's fourth-place MVP finish, his numbers were largely propelled by one insanely-hot month, and he can have long periods where his output is mediocre. Since mid-August last year, he's hitting .260 with a .747 OPS. I get the sense he may let these stretches prey on his mind more than most, extending their duration. He is prone to occasional mental errors in the field, and his arm - the JUpZooka - has been known to misfire. Health-wise, he has been solid, but I wonder if his recent power outage is related to a thumb injury that affected him early this year.
JM: The two main holes the D-backs are looking to fill are at shortstop and third base. The former, in particular, is an area where we don't have any immediate prospects worth noting in our farm system, and is something we would definitely be looking for, and the career year Willie Bloomquist has enjoyed is not what I'd call a reliable solution! So the Diamondbacks would be looking most for a major-league ready shortstop who can be under team control for the next few years. He wouldn't have to be as "good" as Upton to improve the team overall, simply because we have a fourth outfielder waiting in Gerardo Parra, who hit almost .300 and won a Gold Glove last year. But a steady 3 WAR or so from him would be very acceptable. If a third baseman can come in our direction too, that'd be helpful: we do have some minor-leaguers there, so a great deal of control is probably less important at that position.
JM: It'd fill holes where the team has obvious needs, both short- and long-term. There's also an element of salary relief, in that Upton's price increases in 2013, and sharply again in 2014. With Parra a cheaper, albeit less productive, replacement, the saving can be used to upgrade the team in other areas.
JM: While Upton's numbers this seasons have been disappointing, as noted above, his potential is tremendous, and I'd hate for him to be sold for pennies on the dollar as a result. The team does not "need" to trade Upton, and we should remember that. If we don't get an offer which is good value, representing his future upside as much as (if not more than) his current numbers, I'm hoping management simply walks away.
JM: Before his injury, Drew was quietly one of the more underrated shortstops in the National League, very solid and reliable. He makes all the plays you'd expect, and some you wouldn't, and provides decent pop - from 2008-10, only Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki hit more homers than Drew among NL shortstops. He's definitely among the more introverted players, to the extent that his silence has become almost an in-joke among Diamondbacks fans.
JM: He's essentially a free agent at the end of the year. That does reduce the likely value in a trade, but as the alternative is almost certainly losing Drew for nothing (there's a mutual option, but at $10 million, it's probably one the Diamondbacks will not exercise on their end) the team probably wouldn't be too choosy. Kevin Towers has shown a willingness to trade position players for relief arms before, e.g. Brandon Allen and Mark Reynolds, and another decent bullpen arm is something Arizona could perhaps use.
JM: To some extent, trading Drew would be a shame, because he's the Diamondback player with the longest continuous tenure, having been with the team since 2006 (Lyle Overbay debuted with Arizona all the way back in 2001, but spent a number of years elsewhere, including in Pittsburgh, before coming back). It'd be strange to think of an Arizona team without him as any part of it, even if it's somewhere on the DL - it's been a long time since that has been the case.
JM: I think he'll be fine. Of course, there's always a risk, especially since the position is one that needs a solid base, when planting and throwing on balls hit in the hole, but his rehab was largely smooth and without setbacks, and there's been little sign since his return of any lingering issues, beyond a little bit of rust, which is probably understandable given the length of time he was away.