Justin Upton Reportedly Rejects Trade to Mariners
It has been pretty obvious that the Mariners were talking to the Diamondbacks about Justin Upton, as their hunt for a right fielder drags on. The Diamondbacks and Upton are headed towards a break-up; the only question is when, and where Upton lands as a result. If we assume that this report is true, then that means that the Mariners and Diamondbacks agreed on the pieces in a deal, because Upton wouldn’t have been asked to accept a trade that wasn’t agreed to. The D’Backs price for Upton is known to have been extremely high, which is why he isn’t a Texas Ranger right now, despite their pursuit of him all winter. The fact that the Mariners were able to make an offer that Arizona would accept is a pretty big first step.
The second step, of course, is getting Upton to agree to the deal. As of right now, that seems to be a problem, and I know a lot of people are going to say that Upton will never change his mind. Pitcher’s park, losing team, blah blah blah. Yes, you can convince yourself that the Mariners can never have nice things and the world is ending and life is terrible and Howard Lincoln is the devil and all the other things you guys like to believe. But I wouldn’t be too sure that Upton won’t end up in Seattle before all is said and done.
No-trade clauses are generally put in place for two specific reasons:
1. A player is committing to an organization for the long term and wants to put down roots, and the no-trade gives him the security of knowing that he’ll be able to play in the same city as long as he wants. Often, this is related to a player choosing a team for geographic locations. Carlos Lee, for instance, used his no-trade to stay with a dreadful Astros team for years because he has a ranch in Texas and didn’t want to leave. These are usually blanket no-trade clauses, and are given to a select few players.
2. A player’s agent negotiates a limited no-trade clause, with the player being able to select a handful of teams that they don’t wish to be traded to. These lists can usually be changed each off-season, and they generally are adjusted for leverage purposes. Agents stay on top of the rumor mill, and they figure out where the most likely destinations are for their client if he is going to be traded, then choose those organizations as the teams to block, giving them the most amount of leverage possible. Despite what you might suspect, players generally don’t just choose “bad” teams that they don’t want to play for, because bad teams are often rebuilding and are unlikely to trade for high priced talent to begin with. The goal isn’t to be able to block a trade, since that’s not possible to begin with, but to have as much say in the process as possible.
Clearly, situation #1 doesn’t apply here. Upton isn’t staying in Arizona long term, and there’s no desire on his part to stay in Phoenix for the long term. Given how often they’ve tried to trade him, you can imagine that he’d be thrilled to get a fresh start somewhere else. Upton is a classic example of no-trade situation #2. The fact that the Mariners are on his no-trade list is not proof that he has no interest in playing for Seattle – it’s proof that his agent realized that the Mariners were one of the most likely teams interested in trading for him.
Want proof? Here’s an article from July detailing the four teams that were on Upton’s no-trade list for the 2012 season: the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Cubs. Clearly, he’s not just picking long time losers, nor is he eliminating teams that play in pitcher friendly ballparks. It’s a leverage strategy.
So, if the Mariners want to continue pursuing Upton, they have to decide how much more they want to give up to get him. They’ve already settled on the players going to Arizona – now the question is how much cash will change Upton’s mind. That could be in the form of a contract extension, but for a player in Upton’s situation, he might not want to sign a long term commitment before getting a chance to play in his new home, especially since he’s on track to hit free agency after his age 27 season. Instead of an extension, perhaps the Mariners best bait is to either shorten the commitment, or to give him a player option.
Right now, Upton is under contract for the next three years, with guaranteed salaries of $9.75 million in 2013, $14.25 million in 2014, and $14.5 million in 2015. The team could potentially offer him a player option for 2016 — likely valued in that same $15 million range — or offer to convert the 2015 portion of his guaranteed years into a player option, allowing him to opt out and become a free agent a year early if he’s not enjoying his time in Seattle. By making that kind of concession, the Mariners would essentially be giving him his choice of an extra $15ish million in guaranteed money, or by giving him the chance to pick his next destination earlier than he would if he went somewhere else.
Maybe the Mariners aren’t willing to make that kind of offer, since they’re presumably surrendering a good amount of talent to get him in the first place, and this will all die off as the team turns to Plan B. But, just because Upton said no to accepting a deal without compensation doesn’t mean that the Mariners can’t change his mind. Especially if Arizona tells him that they’re not trading him to one of his preferred destinations, leaving his options between staying with an organization that openly talks negatively about him or to going to a team that actually wants him.
Upton isn’t a free agent. He doesn’t get to pick where he plays next year, but he can use his no-trade clause to get himself into a better situation. Now, it’s up to the Mariners to see if they can convince him that Seattle is a better situation. They have tools at their disposal to try. Don’t be surprised if they use them.
Update: Jerry Crasnick reports that Upton’s no-trade list for this year is BOS, TOR, CHC, and SEA. So, basically, they swapped out the Yankees (known to not be committing to more than one year deals) and Indians (were strong reported to be off-season sellers) for the Blue Jays and Mariners, two teams who had a ton of salary coming off the books and a strong desire to add offense. For those of you clinging to the idea that this is all about the park, Toronto is one of the best places in baseball for a right-handed power hitter.