There is no denying the need for fresh blood in the outfield at Fenway Park. Upton, who is under a long-term contract that does not get expensive for another few years, is as talented as any option on the trading block or free-agent market. The marriage, in a lot of ways, makes sense.
But what might be making him an appetizing option to Boston is not just the .300 average and 26 home runs in 138 games in 2009, or the 38 steals in 51 chances in the last two seasons. There is another number that has enhanced the interest from the Sox: Upton’s age.
Just 23, Upton would represent an injection of youth that could help rectify one area that may be troubling team executives. Boston does not have a particularly young team position-wise, and considering the roster was depleted by injuries in 2010, they may be even more interested in finding players about to enter their prime as opposed to those just past it. While the returns of Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez would help, they, too, would be into their mid-30s by the time their contracts ended.
Independent of the pitching staff, focusing primarily on those who played every other position and swung the bat, the Red Sox had the oldest team in the American League last year with an average age of 30.9 years. Only the Philadelphia Phillies had a higher average age (31.8) in the majors. And this was in a year that saw Boston press young minor leaguers into action because of injuries.
That doesn’t make the current bunch of ballplayers in this town “old,” and the presence of Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek certainly skewed those numbers a bit. But consider the fact that the 2010 average positional age was the second-oldest for the franchise since 1905, when 35-year-old Jimmy Collins paced the fourth-place Boston Americans in hitting and 36-year-old Jesse Burkett led the squad in hits and runs.
Under Theo Epstein’s management, a slight uptick in 30-somethings has not mattered much. There have always been minor league position players with star potential on the horizon, and for the most part those players have delivered. Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury come to mind.
It remains to be seen if the system can deliver like that over the coming years, when positions will need to be filled at right field, third base, designated hitter and potentially at other spots, depending on how the rest of the offseason pans out. Those who are paid to monitor such fluctuations have hinted that there has been a regression of sorts on the farm.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had the Sox’ system ranked fifth entering last year but recently told Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi that poor performances by some top prospects caused the organization’s ranking to “drop significantly” throughout the year. Goldstein said the system is loaded at lower levels but has few prospects close to being major league ready. Morosi also quoted Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis as saying the Sox’ system ranked as low as 15th.
Unless Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias, Yamaico Navarro, Josh Reddick and either Lars Anderson or Anthony Rizzo — the best prospects at the upper levels — can form a core of young talent at the major league level within the next two years, youthful imports from the outside will be necessary.
Upton would turn 28 at the end of his current deal, in 2015, and if he realizes his potential would be a monster offensive force by then. Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, if the Sox go that route, would be well into their 30s once they end whatever deal they get on the market. Werth is already 31.
The flipside of this supposed pursuit of youth is twofold. For one, Boston would have to give up multiple young prospects just to get Upton, so the exchange in ages might be similar. What makes it work on the Red Sox’ end is that they get a sure major leaguer for a package of those who only remain hopeful.
Also, we have to wonder why Arizona is shopping Upton so aggressively. His older brother, B.J. Upton, has never had a reputation as a boy scout during his time in Tampa. He, too, is being tossed around in trade rumors. Perhaps Justin has a bit of big bro in him, and the Diamondbacks would rather cultivate other youngsters rather than see their budding star get salty by the time they have to pay him $14.25 million in 2014.
The Red Sox are not old. Yet, there exists a possibility that they will lack youth going forward. Acquiring Upton is one way to satisfy such a scenario.
Oh, and by the way, we’d like to wish David Ortiz a happy 35th birthday.