With Justin Upton’s name once again appearing on the trading block this offseason, countless discussions have already taken place across baseball (and across this network) in speculation about whether Team X has enough prospects to make an attractive offer to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Nearly half of the teams in baseball have been linked to Upton in some fashion – either in confirmation of interest or in an effort to rule them out. The Texas Rangers, however, have reportedly been one of the most active suitors to date according to most accounts.
Texas is viewed as a logical fit for Upton for a number of reasons and the team has a likely need in their outfield considering they’ll probably see Josh Hamilton sign elsewhere via free agency. Upton has four years remaining on a contract extension that he signed before the 2010 season and is slated to earn $45.25 Million over that stretch – a figure which, by comparison, might not cover the first two years of Hamilton’s expected contract on the open market. The 25 year old hit .280/.355/.430 this past season in 628 plate appearances, adding 17 HR and 67 RBI. Upton’s also a capable outfielder who would likely remain in right field for the Rangers, pushing Nelson Cruz back over to left and leaving center to be played by Daniel Murphy, Leonys Martin, and Craig Gentry – presuming none of them end up included in the package of players that will need to head to Arizona.
While the fit seems logical, Texas would still, of course, need to make a deal that satisfies what D’backs GM Kevin Towers is looking for if he is to agree on a deal and by most accounts he’s looking for a near-MLB ready shortstop as his top priority. Once again, with Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar available, the Rangers would appear to be a logical choice. However, it would seem the Rangers are reluctant to deal either player – in a deal for Upton or otherwise – which has left them to seek options elsewhere. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported over the weekend that Texas had reached out to the Atlanta Braves about Andrelton Simmons, but their trade efforts had been rebuffed.
Late Monday night, MLBTR passed along a report from Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, indicating that Texas had offered third baseman Mike Olt to the Braves for Simmons, a surprising offer to say the least. Olt is coming off a fantastic season in Double-A this past year, batting .288/.398/.579 over 421 plate appearances with 28 HR before earning a brief stint with the Rangers at season’s end. Widely viewed as one of the organization’s top prospects, Olt’s place in the Texas lineup seems blocked only by a lack of position to play him at, perhaps explaining why the team is so willing to move him under the right circumstances. They could then use Simmons as the centerpiece for a deal with Arizona for Upton.
Perhaps more telling, however, is the fact that Atlanta turned Olt down in exchange for Simmons. A young, cost-controlled, defensively sound, power-hitting third baseman is exactly the kind of acquisition the Braves should be jumping at given the hole that needs to be filled by Chipper Jones’ retirement. There’s belief that Martin Prado can move back to third and fill that void, letting the team acquire a bat for the outfield instead, but one can only speculate how much stronger their lineup could be with Prado remaining in left and Olt taking over at the hot corner. Atlanta’s preference to retain Simmons, however, shows how highly the organization thinks of him as their shortstop moving forward. Simmons made the jump from Double-A to the Major Leagues this past season, largely as a result of need after Tyler Pastornicky was unable to do anything at the plate early on, and the 22 year old made the most of his opportunity. Over 182 plate appearances on the year – he missed most of July and all of August thanks to a broken finger – Simmons hit .289/.335/.416 with 3 HR but was even more impressive in the field.
Olt would have been a great pickup for the Braves under most circumstances, but the team’s unwillingness to give up Simmons for him speaks volumes toward how highly he’s viewed within the organization’s plans moving forward. If Texas is insistent on acquiring another talented shortstop to flip to the D’backs in a larger move for Upton, they may have to look elsewhere.