A Justin Upton Hypothetical

I’ve had a thought running through my head recently that I can’t get rid of.  It’s probably very wrong, and not even a remote possibility. That said, I thought that I’d put it on paper (so to speak) and throw it out there.

What if the Pirates aren’t planning on acquiring just one bat at the trading deadline?  As I’ve mentioned before, no trade occurs in a vacuum.  This got my wheels turning on Justin Upton.

The noise coming out of Arizona regarding an Upton trade is that they would be looking for major-league talent, particularly “a third baseman, shortstop or frontline starting pitcher.

Despite his on-base percentage hovering around .300, Pedro Alvarez has accumulated 2.1 WAR over 311 plate appearances, putting him almost exactly on a 4 WAR/600 PA pace.  This makes him an above average third baseman right now. By more traditional metrics, he looks even better, having hit the second most home runs and driven in the fifth most runs of any third baseman in the major leagues. Given what the Diamondbacks want back for Upton, Neal Huntington has a good argument that Alvarez would make a good centerpiece for that deal.

Given that this would leave us playing Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones every day with no immediately apparent replacement coming through the minor leagues, this seems like a heavy price to pay for the Pirates. Throw in Starling Marte and probably another borderline prospect, and it looks even worse. In this scenario, the Pirates may get more value out of the trade and “win” it in this scenario. However, they could not markedly improve their team.

There is another trade possibility that would remove the sting of losing Alvarez.  Before Justin Upton dominated all trade talk involving the Pirates, the Pirates were rumored to be trying to acquire Chase Headley. These rumours dissipated at about the same time that Alvarez heated up. They are back.

Chase Headley would more than make up for losing Alvarez.  He has been, per FanGraphs, the third most valuable third baseman in baseball this year.  That said, acquiring Headley would be very expensive. He is not a free agent until 2015, and he has been very productive in the prototypical pitchers’ park.  He would draw a heavy return in prospects.

These two trades would give the Pirates an impressive core of position players. The Pirates would have Upton and Headley under team control through 2015 in addition to having Andrew McCutchen under contract through 2017.  These are three players who have the potential to be perennial all-stars.  They would secure their status as legitimate contenders for 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

However, they would have to mortgage their future to do so.  My conservative estimate would have the Pirates losing Alvarez, Starling Marte, Robbie Grossman, two of the three triple A left-handed pitchers: Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, and Justin Wilson, and probably a little more. My hope would be to avoid some of this by including Joel Hanrahan, an all-star closer, but I don’t know how much that would help.

Were these deals to happen in tandem, I am not sure how I would feel.  The Pirates would have a core of three position players that would be a force to be reckoned with. However, they would also have inevitably given lots of minor league depth and potential away to obtain that core.  One thing is certain: it would be a bold high-risk, high-reward move by the Pirates front office.

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