Update: Fox Sports has reported that the Cubs are on Justin Upton’s limited no-trade clause in his contract. A deal would still be possible, but would have to be approved by Upton before it could go through.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are shaking the baseball world. When a team has a 24-year-old MVP candidate, they usually hold on to them. But for whatever reason, GM Josh Byrnes is looking to trade Justin Upton.
On the other side of things are the Cubs. It is well known they are looking to sell at the deadline, but Theo Epstein was interested in trading for Upton the last time he was on the block and surely still sees the value in him. Upton is only 2 years older than Anthony Rizzo and has a career line of .276/.357/.477 and has yet to truly enter his prime. Upton has hit 98 home runs and stolen 72 bases. He is signed to a 6-year deal with about $42 million left over 3 1/2 years. When Upton hits free agency, he will be 28. Why wouldn’t the Cubs want him?
The desire isn’t the question, how the Cubs get Upton is. Prospects like Javier Baez probably aren’t an option, and Jorge Soler is owed $30 million that no other team would want to take on, making it unlikely that the Cubs have the trade chips to get him. Meanwhile teams like the Pirates and Rangers are interested, and they have prospects like Jameson Taillon and Mike Olt to key a deal. But teams like Texas and Pittsburgh don’t seem interested in trading big chips, so negotiations could drop down a level where the Cubs could make a run at Upton.
The Cubs do have Matt Garza, and he could bring in the high ceiling prospect or major league-ready talent the Diamondbacks are looking for. Most of the time, trades of a player like Garza’s caliber include 4 prospects: 1 A, 1 A-/B, 1 C, 1 D-level prospect, or something of that ilk. But what if they can pry an A+ and a couple D-level prospects for Garza? Nick Castellanos (Tigers), Xander Bogaerts or Jackie Bradley (Red Sox), Mason Williams or Tyler Austin (Yankees), or Julio Tehran (Braves) would probably be enough to jump into the lead of the Upton stakes.
Of course, if the Cubs got one of those prospects, it may not make sense to turn those players over to the Diamondbacks and simply keep them for themselves. But prospects aren’t sure things. Alex Gordon, Delmon Young, Phil Hughes, Homer Bailey, and Brandon Wood were all top 10 prospects in baseball in 2007. Any team (aside from the Diamondbacks, apparently) would rather have a 24-year-old star than a 20-year-old prospect, even if he’s much more expensive (but not expensive by MLB contract standards).
But this situation is unlikely. It’s hard seeing any MLB front office trade a Castellanos, Bogaerts, or Tehran, especially for a non-ace like Garza, and even if the Cubs were able to trade for one of them, it’s hard to tell if the Diamondbacks would have interest in that specific player.
So more than likely, the Cubs would have to do a typical deal for Garza and get guys that the Diamondbacks want, and dip into their own farm system at the same time. Junior Lake, Arismendy Alcantara, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, and others should all be on the table. Any of the Cubs’ second-tier prospects should be available.
The deal would look something like this: Cubs trade Garza to Team X for A, B+, C, C prospects. Cubs trade A and C prospects, Josh Vitters, and Arismendy Alcantara to the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton. It’s unlikely, but it is possible if none of the other teams in the mix for Upton stand their ground and don’t give up their top prospects.