A very interesting nugget of trade rumor fell from the sky today when Joel Sherman stated that the Royals "have an interest in B.J. Upton with an eye on contending next year."
Centerfield has always seemed to be a position of critical importance for Dayton Moore (as it rightfully should, especially given Kauffman Stadium's huge alleys). He once traded for Coco Crisp. A season later he signed Scott Podsednik as a stop gap.
Obviously he knew Podsednik wouldn't be the guy once the Royals reached contention again so he flipped him at the deadline. This offseason though the Royals found themselves in a spot where they weren't necessarily expecting to contend. But if the right solution presented itself, the could acquire a piece that could be part of contention once it occurred.
When Justin Upton was rumored to be on the block, we heard that the Royals were one of the teams with an interest in acquiring the 5 tool star. Around the same time the Royals were also linked to the Florida Marlins' Cameron Maybin just before he was traded to San Diego. Both of these players were guys that would be under team control for multiple seasons, were once billed as top prospects, and could cover some serious ground in centerfield.
Eventually the Royals settled on what appeared to be another stop gap in Melky Cabrera. But Dayton Moore talked about how the Royals would also control him for 2012. Of course we thought it was just lip service. I can't blame Royals fans for not wanting to imagine Melky Cabrera as the team's centerfielder for Mission 2012, considering Melky's dreadful 2010 campaign.
A few days after signing the Melkman the Royals acquired another centerfielder in the Zack Greinke trade. Lorenzo Cain had long been coveted by the Royals brass. He nearly was acquired for Brian Bannister a long time ago before Bannister's career came to a screeching halt.
Finally it seemed that the Royals had found their man for the future. Now it was just a matter of Melky performing enough to net some decent value for him in a trade. At the latest we thought Cain would be assuming fulltime centerfield job on August 1st. Allowing him two full months of at bats in the American League.
But a funny thing happened, Melky tore it up and Dayton Moore began to talk about how he's reluctant to trade either of the Royals "stopgap" outfielders. Of course there are fans, myself included, that want to see Cain in the Majors. But now Melky seems to have positioned himself as part of the future. At least for next season. Unless the Royals are overwhelmed by an offer.
If Cain doesn't get called up to play everyday for the last two months of the season. It will be frustrating. But it won't be a tragedy. It isn't as though Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur are one year guys stealing at bats. They could both be a part of the next winning Royals team.
If the Royals believe in Mission 2012 they should go with the best team they can field. Perhaps it isn't the wisest move to simply get rid of an above average Major League outfielder in favor for a guy never considered elite. Even if that guy is tearing it up in Omaha (at a park that highly favors right handed hitters).
But now we hear this rumor regarding B.J. Upton. Let me begin by saying that I love this rumor in principle. I love that the Royals would be willing to make a move to acquire a Big League piece that it feels would push them over the top. However, I don't believe that Upton is the guy.
Of course the ceiling on Upton is limitless. But we shouldn't forget the basics. First, Upton is only under team control through 2012. He has a career triple slash of .256/.341/.411. But over the last three seasons his slash is down to .239/.318/.403. Given the decline in offense production league wide his is basically an average offensive contributor.
Of course there is also the belief that Upton is a top flight baserunner and defender. For his career he has at times shown that this is the truth. But according to fangraphs both his baserunning and fielding have contributed negative values for his WAR in 2011.
Upton is currently having his worst season as a professional and it seems strange that Sternberg and Friedman would be willing to sell so low on such a potentially valuable commity. Given how much respect I have for the Rays front office I don't believe they are willing to sell low and it is for this reason that I believe the Royals shouldn't take the risk.
The Rays are rumored to be asking for top pitching prospects in return for Upton. The Royals definitely have the Minor league talent and depth to pull off a deal, but I don't think this is the player the Royals should take the risk on. Especially when you consider that pitching is the Royals biggest need moving forward.
I would rather the Royals keep Cabrera in centefield and hang on to the prospects. I would rather see Cain finally get the everyday job if the Royals can get a fair return for either Cabrera or Francoeur.
But if the Royals are interested in B.J. Upton would it be safe to assume that they would also kick the tires on Hunter Pence or Colby Rasmus. Both have been discussed in rumors this July. Given Dayton Moore's desire to upgrade center I can't imagine that he would at least make a courtesy call on the subject.
Pence of course would be a huge net for the Royals. He would be under team control for three more seasons and could be the stud the Royals need at the top of their lineup.
Rasmus could be a Royal through 2014. While he has posted similar numbers as B.J. Upton he would seem to be more appealing giving his controlled years and age. He is having a down year and has never seemed to truly belong in St. Louis.
I want to emphasize that I don't think Upton would be a bad pickup. On the contrary his reward is so great that the move would probably get many Royals fans giddy with excitement for 2012. But this is primarily because Upton is so overrated considering what he has actually done as a Big Leaguer. But I do beleive that teams value prospects a bit too much in the current state of the game.
I'd love for the Royals to make a move for a premier Big Leaguer. We have the pieces to do it. If the Rays are willing to sell low I wouldn't fault the Royals for pouncing. But if the Rays want multiple top prospects, the Royals would be best served to look elsewhere.
Quite frankly the Rays front office is too good for me to think that the Royals could get Upton at fair value for what he is right now. If the Royals acquire him it will likely be because they paid for upside. Upside that looks like it may never be reached.
Add On I have just been informed that ESPN Insider reports the Royals want Upton and pitching from Rays. This is interesting because you would think that Upton would be the only thing going to Kansas City in a trade. Perhaps this means that the Royals are offering a big league piece as well. Perhaps Joakim Soria or Billy Butler? Both would be great fits in Tampa.