Top 5 trade destinations for Upton
Orioles perhaps best fit for slugging outfielder; Astros might make splash
Left field can be the bus terminal of positions in the Major Leagues. That's certainly been the case for the Orioles this season, but it would take only one trade to end the shuffling of faces and upgrade the lineup.
The Padres' Justin Upton looks like the perfect piece for the Orioles, sort of like he did for the Angels, whose general manager, Bill Stoneman, acquired Shane Victorino instead. So with the non-waiver Trade Deadline arriving at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, it would seem Upton is there to be taken for Baltimore, which makes all the sense in the world.
O's manager Buck Showalter has used seven left fielders. They've produced a .616 OPS, which ranks 28th among the 30 Major League teams.
Travis Snider, who has gotten the most at-bats out there, entered Monday hitting .219 as a left fielder. David Lough had only one home run in 67 at-bats at the position.
The righty-hitting Upton has never played at Camden Yards, but it seems like it would be a good place for him to hit. He's the type of athletic fielder who would look at home alongside Adam Jones and behind Manny Machado.
It really doesn't matter if the Orioles acquire a left fielder who bats left- or right-handed. Their lineup has some balance with Chris Davis breaking up the right-handed-hitting Jones and Machado.
You can argue that a left-handed hitter would maintain the balance, but Upton is hitting right-handers better than lefties this season. He's posted an .801 OPS against them over his nine-year career, as opposed to .895 against lefties.
Upton, who is hitting .251 with 16 home runs and 17 stolen bases, represented the Padres in the All-Star Game. His trade value is limited, however, as he's strictly a rental piece who would not give the acquiring team the right to Draft-pick compensation.
After being swept by the Royals in the American League Championship Series a year ago, the Orioles entered this season looking like one of the best bets in the AL. They expected to improve just by getting Machado and catcher Matt Wieters back from injury and having Davis return from a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
But Baltimore is fighting for an AL Wild Card spot behind the Yankees, and surprising teams like the Astros and Twins could make August and September tough on the O's. Upton, motivated to improve his standing on the free-agent market in the offseason, could be a difference maker.
The Orioles are lucky that the Angels grabbed Victorino when he was available. They should get to busy and put together a deal while Upton's still available.
Here's a look at four other places where he'd fit:
Sure, Michael Conforto, the club's No. 3 prospect, is off to a fast start. He will be a long-term piece in the Mets' outfield. But Upton can lessen the load that Conforto would need to carry during the National League Wild Card race. He could start against lefties and give manager Terry Collins multiple options when he's not in the lineup. As additional motivation, the Mets still have five games to play in AL parks, and there's no question that Upton would make their lineup deeper.
There have been serious talks between these two clubs, and the fit is similar to that of the Mets. The Astros love what they're getting from the left-handed-hitting Preston Tucker in left field, but having Upton as a platoon partner would cut down on the load Tucker is being asked to carry as a rookie.
Upton's experience could be important for a lineup that will be missing George Springer for another month and includes few players with October experience. He has traditionally hit well against Houston and has been productive in his 43 at-bats at Minute Maid Park (.233, 3 HRs, .818 OPS). The Astros have players to trade, but it's unclear if the need is big enough to deal a significant prospect. Money looks like a possible impediment to a deal, as the Padres are unlikely to send cash along to pay down Upton's 2015 salary.
Interestingly, manager Joe Maddon slipped the left-handed-hitting Kyle Schwarber out to left field for the first time midway through Sunday's loss to the Phillies. There's a desire within the organization to find internal upgrades for a lineup that has averaged 2.9 runs per game during a 5-8 stretch (playing only teams under .500 in that stretch), so it won't be a surprise if Schwarber gets some starts in the outfield when he's not catching.
The outfield could be even more of an option for Schwarber when catcher Miguel Montero returns from the disabled list. Chris Denorfia is a solid right-handed option at present, but acquiring Upton would make the Cubs less dependent on 23-year-old right fielder Jorge Soler, who entered Monday hitting .239 with a .628 OPS in July. The Cubs are loaded with mid-level prospects, which is probably what it would take to land Upton. A possible complication is that the Cubs were on Upton's four-team no-trade list last winter, according to reports.
Jayson Werth is poised to return after missing two months with two small fractures in his left wrist. He's in the midst of a rough year, however, and Upton would provide excellent insurance in case Werth isn't able to jump into the grind of August baseball.
This would be a forced fit, for sure, but it's the kind of move that might prove critical in a high-stakes season such as this one in Washington. The Nationals have watched their lead over the Mets dwindle to only two games. Keep in mind that Nats GM Mike Rizzo was the D-backs' scouting director when they picked Upton with the first overall pick in 2005.