Pittsburgh Pirates 12 Days of Trademas – Day 2 – Justin Upton


Welcome to Rum Bunter’s 12 Days of Trademas! On each day between now and the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, we will profile a player or two who may be a potential trade target for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We will highlight both the cases for and against that player in order to give you the full scope of what acquiring that player might entail.

Before we get started, make sure to check out yesterday’s post about the first day of Trademas, where we talk about Ben Zobrist as a potential option for the Pirates. We went in depth about Zobrist on a special edition of Rum Bunter Radio. Make sure to give it a listen:

On this the second day of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ’12 Days of Trademas,’ General Manager Neal Huntington brought us…Justin Upton? Well, not yet. But he’s a player that the team has been connected to in past years and is one that the Pirates are reportedly connected to yet again as this year’s trade deadline fast approaches. According to Jon Morosi, reporter for Fox Sports and MLB Network, Pittsburgh has expressed interest in the San Diego Padres’ outfielder:

Before we begin to tackle this exciting development in the latest of Pirates’ trade rumors, let’s break down Justin Upton’s history in the big leagues. Upton was the first overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, the same draft that saw the Pirates select superstar Andrew McCutchen with the 11th overall pick. Upton, 27, has played either left field or right field during his career, and has been a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Atlanta Braves, and now the Padres in that time. He had a lot of hype coming into the league as a five-tool talent, and while he may not have lived up to superstar status just yet, he’s been a great player for a long time. Let’s take a look at his career numbers before Monday night’s action:

Upton’s been a three-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger, and finished in the top five of NL MVP voting once. He’s always had power and has consistently hit for average, and has added decent stolen base numbers, but he tends to strike out a lot. Let’s break down whether he’s a fit for the Pirates.

The case for Justin Upton

If the Pirates are truly looking into Justin Upton, it’s as a starting outfield option. He’s not going to be a bench bat, not with his talent and major league record, and not with the $14 million-plus salary he’s making this season (salary information courtesy of spotrac). Huntington and co. are most likely looking into Upton because of the sub-par play this season from Gregory Polanco. Polanco’s average had dropped to .231 and his OBP to .300 before a recent hot streak that includes a current five-game hitting streak and hits in nine out of his last ten games (all stats mentioned are before Monday night’s action). Polanco’s average now sits at .241 while his OBP sits at .318.

Upton would come in presumably as the starting right fielder, while Polanco would most likely be the fourth outfielder. They wouldn’t platoon, considering Upton has a .177/.227/.242 line against lefties, while Polanco has a .146/.226/.146 line against lefties this season. Upton would immediately improve the lack of production in right field, as seen in his 15 home runs and 49 RBIs this season, which is a far cry from Polanco’s three home runs and 23 RBIs. Upton’s 17 stolen bases match Polanco’s 17, so no speed on the base paths would be lost, but Upton has been much more efficient, having been caught only once to Polanco’s seven caught attempts.

Essentially, the Pirates need another power bat in the middle of the order. Pedro Alvarez and McCutchen add power, but Alvarez doesn’t provide any protection for McCutchen, given his high strikeout numbers and low average. While Upton strikes out a lot, he has been a bit more consistent than Alvarez at the plate this year. Imagine a 3-4-5-6 of McCutchen, Upton, Starling Marte, and Alvarez. That’s a lot of power.

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The case against Justin Upton

There are some negatives that go along with a potential acquisition of Upton. For starters, many teams will be jockeying for him, and the asking price will rise as the deadline approaches. Upton’s name alone carries weight, and the lack of many power bats on the trade market means he’ll fetch a decent return. He also is making a good sum of money this season (more than $14 million), which may restrict what other moves the Pirates could pursue.

Upton has a poor line against lefities this season, and isn’t an improvement over Polanco in that area. Acquiring Upton would also mean sending Polanco to the bench, potentially stunting his development as a player in the short-term.

There’s no doubt that Huntington has also noticed Upton’s regression as the season has moved forward. After a great April and May, Upton posted a .196/.319/.289 line in June and has posted a .125/.182/.200 line with an abysmal .382 OPS so far in July. This is in contrast to Polanco’s recent hot streak. The two outfielders are trending in different directions, which is something to keep an eye on.


Gregory Polanco has turned his play up recently while Justin Upton has regressed. Upton will cost a good prospect or two, and the Pittsburgh Pirates should be turning their attention to other areas of need such as infield, bench, and bullpen help. Upton could turn things around, and he has the talent to do so, but he may not be worth it in the end.

What do you think? Let us know on twitter! You can tweet us here @rumbunter or use the #12DaysOfTrademas hashtag! You can also air your grievances in the comments section below or on our facebook page. Make sure to stay tuned tomorrow for the third day of Trademas!

Next: Jordy Mercer Injury Update