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Would Justin Upton be a good fit for the Indians?

Would Justin Upton be a good fit for the Indians?
Justin Upton (Photo: AP)
November 29, 2014
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This past week in Major League Baseball we have seen some big signings with Pablo SandovalHanley Ramirez and Adam LaRoche going to new teams. Heck, we have even heard the rumors of the Tribe’s interest in Chase Headley, well that is, until they realized they cannot outbid the Yankees or other teams for his services.

We also heard the rumors of the Indians interest in Chris Denorfia and Kendrys Morales. Before I move on, let me touch base on the aforementioned players.

Morales is now a 31-year old, switch-hitting designated hitter who is a liability in the field and is also an injury risk. Sound familiar? Did I just describe Morales or Nick Swisher or both? There is only room for one, so for now, just pass on Morales.  Denorfia is a 34-year old fourth outfielder who the Tribe could use in a platoon with David Murphy. Denorfia is only a slight upgrade over Ryan Raburn.

For some reason the Indians insist on using back-up outfielders as regulars. Whether it is the current players of Murphy, Raburn and possibly Denorfia or the past years of Jason Michaels and David Dellucci to name a couple, this maddening platoon idea needs to cease.

Which brings me to my idea.

There is a simple solution to some of the Indians offensive woes. It is time to go get a right-handed slugger who can hit behind Michael Brantley in the cleanup spot and ahead of Carlos Santana. I believe that guy is Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves.

I believe Upton is a better fit for the Tribe than Nelson CruzYoenis Cespedes or Matt Kemp. Cruz and Kemp both will have multi-years at many millions more than Cleveland can afford to tie up, so those two are really an afterthought just for that reason. Not to mention the Indians would lose a first round pick to sin Cruz.

Cespedes, like Upton, is in the final year of his contract that will pay him $10.5 million in 2015 and it is not a foregone conclusion that the Red Sox will trade him away. Also, Cespedes is now represented by Jay Z’s Roc Nation, who other than possibly Scott Boras, may be the toughest with which to negotiate. Therefore, the chances of the Indians being able to sign him beyond 2015 seems very remote. He would be with the Indians one year and gone after that.

Justin Upton carries a larger price tag in 2015 at $14.5 million; however, although a very slim possibility, he is represented by Larry Reynolds and should be easier to negotiate a future contract. Also, the Braves are offering him for trade and are looking to add younger players for their future.

By the numbers, Upton has the edge over Cespedes due to better plate discipline, a slight bit more power and longevity. Cespedes has a career .263 batting average, .316 OBP, .780 OPS and an average 2.5 WAR. By contrast, Upton has a career .274 batting average, .354 OBP, .830 OPS and an average 3.3 WAR. Also, Upton is two years younger and profiles better in right field defensively.

Looking at a possible trade involving Upton you have to consider the Indians current financial situation, the Braves current financial situation and what the Braves may want in return. This is where it gets tough to complete a deal. Trading Michael Bourn and a couple of young players to them is not going to get it done. The Braves are trying to get out from under big contracts, not take another one on especially with more years added on.

To do a straight up deal with the Braves would likely mean that Murphy and his expiring contract would head to Atlanta. It is also possible that Mike Aviles would be part of a package, giving the Braves some insurance at second base if their young phenom Jose Peraza is not quite ready for The Show. But it would probably also take a young arm along with one of the Indians best young outfielders to complete a deal.

The Braves want pitching, something the Indians have a lot of, though may not be able to afford to give up – especially for potentially a one year rental. They do have a plethora of young outfielders. If the Indians were to find a match in a trade for Upton and the Braves took on Murphy and Aviles, then the Indians would be on the hook for roughly $5-6 million extra salary.

There is always the possibility of adding a third team, like the Blue Jays, who could use a centerfielder like Bourn. There would be quite a few moving pieces in a situation like that, but if all three teams are willing participants, a deal could be consummated that would work for everyone.

Regardless of how it gets done, it is time for the Indians front office to step up and get aggressive. As they see the team and as the fans see the team, the Indians are capable of making the playoffs. But are they going to be able to advance and win the World Series with their current lineup?

User Comments

December 1, 2014 - 9:49 AM EST
I am all in on getting a fixture in RF for the long term or filling 3b and moving Chisenhall out to RF. Chisenhall has the altheticism, and arm, but it's hard to say with his bat. He doesn't have the track record.

Frankly, I'm tired of the platoon system. It counts on two players to produce, and remain healthy. Both players obviously have warts or they wouldn't be stuck in a platoon system to begin with. I've see it fail too often.

One name I'll throw out, I haven't heard yet in RF... Nick Markakis. I suspect he could sign something similar to Chase Headley. I think he could get 4/$56 or as little as 3/$39. Markakis would be another LH bat but hits RH .291, and LH .288 at his career clip. Essentially, he hits LH and RH pitching equally. I would prefer Headley at 3b over Markakis, however, Alex Rios seems to be the right fit. His power lagged last yr, but he dealt with a wrist injury that nagged him. Rios still has some pop and good speed and should fit the Tribes budget better, plus he bats RH and would likely sign a shorter term deal.

I know the Indians supposedly don't have the resources, but, I'm not fully buying that. What I mean, I think next yr it would be easier to trade Bourn or Swisher....when they have one yr remaining IF they are healthy and produce at least on the same level as last yr. The Indians will also have a number of options, like trading Chisenhall (read: Urshela / Gonzalez at 3b), Scrabble, Tomlin, and Shaw as they get more expensive.
Canadian Joe
December 1, 2014 - 8:21 AM EST
Some great points once again, especially concerning Aguilar. He certainly deserves the chance, given his numbers the past 2 years. However the way the team is constructed right now, it appears slim he will. The roster is filled with platoon players, especially for 1B, RF and DH. Santana is a fixture at 1B, with Swisher behind him. RF is congested , again with Swisher, Murphy and Raeburn. Unless we see a purge of one or two of these guys, don't think Aguilar has much chance. This leads to a comment of mine a couple of days ago. Scrap the platoon, and play a set line up for the most part. Target the RF you want, and go after him, and let him play 140 games out there. Then look at moving some of these other parts, and create a spot for Aguilar. Unfortunately, unless Swisher is one of those parts, it will not likely happen. Platoon ball got us to the playoffs in '13 for one game, and a just miss in '14. It's the next step we want, and we have to set an every day lineup to get there.

Chip, I agree on your comments on the pitching. All I am saying that bringing in another starter for depth would be a prudent thing to do. And with Callaway working his magic, he might turn in to something better.
December 1, 2014 - 8:00 AM EST
Some really good comments here, for sure. But here is my point, have we as Indians fans (or better yet, the front office) become so satisfied to the points of complacency & not willing to take ANY calculated risks to build a World Series winner, even if that means to trade some young talent to go for it for 1 year?? Look, the Indians will likely be competitive in 2015, even if they do nothing but I thought the whole point of playing each season was to win a World Series?!?! Would anyone have thought the Tigers would really trade Prince Fielder? Yes, they did so to trim some payroll but Kinsler also helped them tremendously plus it allowed Miggy to move back to a more natural position. I'm not saying it has to be Justin Upton. And I understand that the front office has backed themselves in a corner with the current salary structure, but outside of Brantley & Kluber who are untouchable, EVERY other player in the organization would be available for trade. Sure, I want to keep Lindor, Frazier & our young pitching but you're not gonna trade them all and there are other guys right behind them with talent who can help down the line. I'm just tired of hearing the front office tell the fans we are trying to build a winner but when it comes time to step up, they don't! As former football coach Herman Edwards says, "You play to win the game!" And in this case, it's the World Series! I agree with Chip, if they are not going to do anything it's time for Aguilar to play even if it means Swisher becomes a grossly overpaid sub.
December 1, 2014 - 4:05 AM EST
Joe, injury and regression concerns fall on every team, not just the Indians. I do agree that if a RH bat is to be added it will be via trade. I feel like I've said it a hundred times, but Aguilar needs an opportunity to prove himself. He's blocked at 1B by Santana and DH duties by Swisher unless he can play the OF. We've been clamouring for a guy like Van Slyke(who would be a nice get), buy never mention Aguilar who could easily be the bat so desperately needed. There just isn't much wiggle room with this roster as it is now.
Canadian Joe
November 30, 2014 - 10:33 PM EST
Interesting comments here. But one thing seems to be overlooked. None of the starters have ever pitched at this years' levels before this year. While there is no question, this is a nice staff to start the year with, it is possible one or more of these guys could regress or get injured this year. I certainly hope not, but the possibility exists. It appears the only way the Tribe finds their elusive RH bat will be thru a trade. If and when this happens, they should make every effort to also include a ML ready starter for insurance. The cost may be higher, but mitigating a possible risk is also important. I love the make up of this team, and a couple of needed moves will only enhance our chances.
November 30, 2014 - 10:33 PM EST
In somewhat related thoughts...

If they want a RH hitting OF that fits, then Alex Rios is the guy. Rios could sign somewhere in the $8-$10M range (my guess). Rios would possibly only require a 2yr deal, but might press for a third season afterall he's a Boras client.

Other thoughts....
The Astros want bullpen help, and they have OF depth. A couple of young guys that could be intriguing (outside of George Springer) are Jake Marisnick and Robbie Grossman, both can play any of the OF spots (I prefer Marisnick). The Astros also have Domingo Santana, Alex Pressley, Marc Krauss, LJ Hoes, and Dexter Fowler and 4-5 more qlty OF prospects (DeShields, Hernandez, Fisher, Tucker). Fowler is generating some trade interest, but the Astros are reportedly leery of trading him bc of his relationship with Springer. A cpl other interesting younger RF possibilities (outside of the Astros) would be Michael Taylor, Steven Souza, Cesar Puello, and Kyle Parker.

I think offering Bryan Shaw for Jake Marisnick might get their attention. It probably would take another prospect to get the deal done. Marisnick would speed, defense, a RH bat, some (limited) pop, and multiple yrs of control (cheap).

The Indians could back fill Shaw's spot by adding an arm like KRod or Luke Gregorson. I think KRod might sign for something like 2/$14M with an option and Gregorson something like 2/$10M with an option. It's easy to forget that the Indians were reportedly in on Fernando Rodney and Joaquin Benoit (after signing Axford) and they may have exceeded $90M in payroll. I suspect they may bargain shop again with the intent to add a cpl value (undervalue) signings.

IF the Indians did sign Kendrys Morales would that mean the end of Ryan Raburn's career in Cleveland?
November 30, 2014 - 9:36 PM EST
Justin Upton isn't coming to Cleveland. I seriously doubt he would waive his no trade clause - he hasn't deviated reasons to expect he'd change. I don't see the Indians changing course...that is, going all in on a rental. That's what Upton would be.

I would rather see them spend cash (and lose some financial flexibility) and lock up someone like Chase Headley for 3/$39 (w/option 4/$52) or 4/$48. I get the Indians can't afford Headley, but I think he gets less than some are suggesting ($60M). Remember there was lots of speculation Yasmany Tomas would get $100M. I think all the hype helped him get the $68.5M he got.

I think the Tribe could move Bourn if they are willing to add something of value (either a qlty prospect or cash). That would allow them financial flexibility to make such a move. I get the Tribe wants to maintain financial flexibility going into the future, and they have prospects near ready but near ready prospects are not going to push this club into WS contention like a qlty veteran add.
November 30, 2014 - 8:11 PM EST
Chip, The name of the game is pitching, pitching and more pitching.
When you think you have enough pitching - get more pitching.

There is no way in hell we should reduce our strength. Throw in MacAllister in the pen - and the staff is a rock to build on.

November 30, 2014 - 6:21 PM EST
The problem that Antonetti faces is other GM's know he is between a "rock and a hard place" with the contracts to Murphy, Bourn, and Swisher. If he wants to unload any of those contracts he has to be willing to get little in return or eat a good portion of the remain salaries owed. I guess Murphy could become the 4th OF if they were to aquire a RF. Their obvious strength is the pitching staff. The big question is will they have to weaken that pitching staff to strengthen the lineup? Or better yet, should they be willing to weaken the pitching staff to bolster the offense?

With that being said, I do not see Upton as a good fit due to his pending free agency. It would be too much to sacrifice for to little in return. If he had 2-3 years remaining then he would be worth a large haul from the Indians, but that's not the case here. It is aggravating to see other teams in the Central improving while the Indians stand pat, but they have little room to work with do to cumbersome contracts.
November 30, 2014 - 2:22 PM EST
The right field problem is vexing. It is coupled with the overly left handed structure of the team. Chiz to right makes sense to me - except that then we would have 3 left handed outfielders.

Can we not find an Chiz equivalent that is right handed with a team that needs a left hander?

November 30, 2014 - 10:50 AM EST
to answer the question posed: yes, of course upton would be a good fit for the indians.

but the followup question has to be, why would the indians trade a young, cost- and time-controlled starting pitcher for one year of justin upton? answer is, they wouldn't.
November 30, 2014 - 9:03 AM EST
No trade clause to the Indians is just a big problem as trying to trade Bourn or Swisher. Maybe if Upton had a chance to talk to Francona maybe he might have a change of heart.

November 30, 2014 - 5:57 AM EST
Hey Sam.

Like the idea, however I believe this is all a moo point as the Indians are one of the teams on Upton's no trade list. He blocked the mariners deal a couple years ago so no reason why he wouldn't do the same to us.

November 30, 2014 - 4:43 AM EST
Complete fantasy!!! A really far out wet dream that belongs on the back pages, IMO.

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