There are tons of rumors all winter that get speculated to no end, but with the news coming down that the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks had a trade in place for Justin Upton, this one has gone past speculation.
Upton's veto of the trade makes it even more fun.
I could speculate trades between the Diamondbacks and virtually every other team in the league, and fans of each of those teams have spent the majority of this evening doing exactly that, conjuring up trades in their minds, fantasy baseball style, that end with Upton wearing their team's uniform. And why not? That's why we love the hot stove season.
With the relationship between Upton and the Diamondbacks seemingly at an unrepairable level, yet Upton holding the ace in his hand to kill any deal to the Mariners, real rumors have popped up surrounding Upton and half-a-dozen other teams. But there is one more team that should be in on these discussions, and it's a team that has the prospects to get a deal done - the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The trade that has been reported had four players heading to the desert - shortstop prospect Nick Franklin, relief prospect Stephen Pryor, major league left-hander Charlie Furbush, and one of the Mariners top-three pitching prospects Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, or Danny Hultzen. Despite reports of the proposed package being "substantial," if this is what it takes to land Upton, there could be more teams involved than were first previously thought.
Any team considering trading for Upton needs to ask themselves one question - can we make the playoffs in the next three seasons? Upton's contract runs through 2015, creating a window of opportunity for his acquisition. We know the amount of randomness that occurs once the playoffs roll around, but if the acquisition of Upton gets you a ticket to the tournament, it will be worth it.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been rebuilding for over two decades, but their current efforts appear to be finally sending them in the right direction. Two straight seasons with strong starts but dramatic collapses have shown the league both the improvements they've made and the gap they still have yet to close.
Their farm system has made remarkable strides, especially at the top with two legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitching prospects in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The Pirates are perhaps the only organization in baseball that has the same ability as the Mariners to offer a potential ace in a trade and still hold on to one for their own future (with the Orioles being the only other possible third team in that discussion).
That puts them in prime position to go after Upton.
The Pirates will need one of their two young horses if they want to avoid cutting off their nose to spite their face here, and Cole should be that man. Assuming he handles Triple-A as expected, he could be an in-house solution to reinforce their starting rotation this summer. The Pirates should not trade for Justin Upton if the cost is Gerrit Cole, but they have the depth to get a deal done without him.
Jameson Taillon is in the same class as the Walker/Paxton/Hultzen centerpiece that was reportedly accepted by the Diamondbacks, and could easily be the centerpiece of a deal sending Upton to Pittsburgh. The former second overall pick will likely begin the 2013 season in Double-A, but having just turned 21, there's no reason to think he won't be pitching in the majors by the time he's 22.
In place of Franklin, who some believe could be a borderline all-star shortstop but realistically projects to be a solid regular second baseman, the Pirates can't offer a player of Franklin's caliber that is anywhere near his proximity to the majors, but they do have Alen Hanson, who will be heading to High-A ball in 2013. Hanson, a potential all-star and a potentially dynamic player, has a higher ceiling than Franklin but is more of a developmental risk just given his distance from the majors. It's a different risk/reward scenario than Franklin, but Hanson is a player that most teams around the league would covet.
In place of Pryor, who is a powerful young reliever, the Pirates can offer Bryan Morris, a former first rounder who has fanned 8 batters per nine innings in his minor league career. He's a notch below Pryor in prospect terms - 25-years-old compared to Pryor being 22, and doesn't have the same minor league strike out numbers - but he's major league ready and could join the Diamondbacks bullpen this season.
Lastly, there's Furbush, a former minor league starter who took on a relief role last year and excelled in it. The Pirates have a ton of left-handed relief options, from Tony Watson, who proved himself as a major league reliever last season, to Justin Wilson, a hard-throwing pitching prospect who has started in the minors but projects as a reliever in the majors thanks to some command issues. It's just a matter of preference for the Diamondbacks.
I've tossed out a few names here, but only because they are the ones that were the closest to the pieces the Diamondbacks reportedly agreed to take from the Mariners. In addition to the prospects I've named, the Diamondbacks could have interest in outfield prospect Gregory Polanco (dynamic, but also far from the majors, and thus not an immediate problem to their already crowded outfield), Luis Heredia (young and far away but loaded with potential), Victor Black (upper-90's arm but control issues) and many more.
But regardless of the specific players involved, the Pirates have the ability to get a young, impact hitter to take their lineup to the next level without completely mortgaging their future, which is something not many teams can say. Their pitching staff isn't quite where it needs to be at the major league level, but a lineup like this can be a playoff lineup, even with the Pirates pitching staff:
The Pirates have an opportunity to speed up their timetable for success without giving up their top prospect. If the Diamondbacks insist on the inclusion of Gerrit Cole, than the Pirates would be justified in their refusal, but they have the ability to get a deal done and hold on to their future ace. It's an opportunity they need to explore to the fullest possible extent if they ever want to change their reputation as a team that's not committed to winning.