Ever since Cody Ross signed a three-year, $26-million contract to play in the Arizona outfield, the once-quiet Justin Upton trade talks have heated back up, as CBSSports.com insider Jon Heyman reported last week. Between Upton, Ross, Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel, and up-and-coming prospect Adam Eaton, the Diamondbacks' outfield is crowded, with many agreeing either Upton or Kubel must go via trade prior to spring training.
Now, ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting "some officials [are] now convinced" Upton is the more likely of the duo to be dealt.
Olney mentions the Mariners as a possibility, but Upton would need to waive his partial no-trade clause for such a deal to happen. The Rangers have been constantly linked to the 25-year-old two-time All-Star and Heyman added the Phillies, Braves, Yankees, Mets and Rays as connected teams.
It seems more desirable for the Diamondbacks to hold on to Upton -- a clear impact talent despite a down year -- than Kubel. Kubel hit 30 home runs last season, a career high, but managed just a 117 OPS+. He's only gone over the 120 mark once -- 2009, when he hit 28 home runs and 35 doubles in a much tougher environment in Minnesota -- something Upton has already done twice in his short career. Additionally, Kubel's fielding ability pales next to the more athletic Upton, and the Diamondbacks don't have the luxury of hiding Kubel's glove in the DH spot.
Still, one would expect the Diamondbacks could fetch a solid return for a 30-homer player like Kubel. Not the case, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal:
Kubel .910 OPS home, .757 road in '12. Also below-avg in LF per advanced metrics. "They wouldn't get a lot for him," exec says of #DBacks.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 27, 2012
Upton, however, is still viewed as an MVP talent by many scouts and analysts -- he finished fourth in NL MVP voting in 2011 at just 23 years old. Upton became just the 38th player since integration (1947) to post an OPS+ of 140 or greater in at least 500 plate appearances as a 23-year-old, joining the likes of Frank Thomas, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Frank Robinson and Mickey Mantle, among others.
As such, if the Diamondbacks are looking to maintain competitiveness in the short term while pulling in the greatest trade haul possible, Upton might be the player to deal. He could bring in MLB-ready (or near MLB-ready) pieces while allowing the Diamondbacks to retain Kubel, an excellent fit for their park, as the left fielder.