He is now 24 years old and fresh off a fourth-place finish in the 2011 National League MVP voting. He is the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks and, considering his pedigree and talent, signed to an extremely team-friendly deal for the next several seasons.
So what are the Diamondbacks now open to doing with their star right fielder? Trading him, of course.
Several teams have been said to have interest in Upton, with the Pirates, Orioles and Rangers among those linked to trade discussions.
This isn't the first time Arizona has more or less dangled their franchise cornerstone, either. Shortly after Kevin Towers took over as the team's general manager in late 2010, he made it known that he would listen to offers for Upton, who was coming off a disappointing season. Nobody bit, and Upton went on to have a breakout year for the NL West champs.
To trade Upton now, however, is an extremely silly thing for the organization to even be considering, even if it would take a monstrous offer to get them to move him.
In all fairness, Upton is admittedly mired in another disappointing campaign, hitting just .273 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs heading into Friday's action. He has stolen 10 bases, but has also been caught stealing eight times. Although he is generally regarded as a fine corner outfielder, advanced statistics suggest that his fielding has been less than stellar this year. He has been publicly called out by the team's owner, and benched for a few games in a row at one point in an effort to "clear his head."
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have been having a mediocre year of their own, finding themselves at 42-44 after the All-Star break and 4 1/2 games out of first place in the division. They would seemingly not be criticized for becoming sellers at the trade deadline.
And yet, that criticism is deserved this year.
The addition of the second wild card -– which Arizona is also 4 1/2 games out of -– makes a playoff spot that much more attainable, and the Diamondbacks becoming sellers that much more unlikely.
Much, much more than that, however, is the issue of Upton himself. The guy has two 20-20 seasons to his name and almost 100 career home runs –- and he isn't even 25. Only three players matched or bettered his .289/31/88/21 line from last season, and all three –- Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun and Jacoby Ellsbury –- finished in the top two of MVP voting in their respective leagues. Considering most players reach their prime years around age 27, Upton still has room and time to grow as a hitter.
Many of Upton's struggles this year have been speculated to be because of lingering thumb and shoulder injuries rather than any kind of sudden loss of talent. Similarly, many of the Diamondbacks' woes this year have been injury-related.
Staff No. 2 Daniel Hudson had a breakout season last year, but tore his ulnar collateral ligament in late June after missing more than a month with a shoulder injury and underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. Center fielder Chris Young got off to a white-hot start, but then injured his shoulder after crashing into Chase Field's left-center field wall making a highlight-reel catch, spent a month on the disabled list and hasn't been anything close to the same since coming back.
Add all this up and what you get is an overreaction to a disappointment of a season — both for Upton and the team -– largely by way of injury rather than lack of skill or hope in a postseason appearance.
Towers has come out and said that he is not actively shopping Upton around, and that it will take at least a couple major league or major league-ready players for him to even consider dealing his right fielder. But that won't solve Arizona's problems, even though they do have a surplus of outfield depth and would be well-equipped to at least have a decent replacement in right field.
It may be that the organization's repeated willingness to deal Upton if the right offer is made may speak more to off-the-field problems with the guy or his makeup rather than on-field performance. And if that's the case, it's hard to criticize the front office for trying to get what they can for Upton. Players of his caliber are not made available very often and many teams would give up a great deal to get him, especially at his team-friendly price.
But as far as on-field performance goes, trading away the cornerstone of your franchise and potential league MVP for a few small upgrades at other positions is short-sighted and not the most effective way to field a winning team –- especially when said cornerstone has underperformed so horrifically yet flukily and the team, which plays in a weak division, is still within shouting distance of a playoff spot.
Photo via Facebook/Justin Upton