Trade Retrospective: How the Mariners almost landed Justin Upton
We spend a lot of time on this website talking about the trades the Mariners have made and the ones they should make. But oftentimes, it is more fascinating to think about trades that almost happened.
When you cover a team that has made over 100 trades the past 4 years, you aren’t exactly strapped for trade content. The Mariners and GM Jerry Dipoto have been very good to us in that way. But we don’t hear about most of the trades that are discussed. For the 100 or so trades Dipoto has made, there have likely been more than 500 discussed with varying degrees of likeliness.
But for this writer, I have always been fascinated by the deals that were discussed that never got done. I read through the chapter “The Trade Desk” in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball every month or so. I am just fascinated by those types of things (side note, if you want to make a million dollars, write a book about the trades that got close but didn’t come to pass).
So now that we have some time off from the daily grind of baseball and the many transactions of Dipoto, it feels like the right time to discuss a few Mariners deals that nearly came to fruition but didn’t quite get there. So today, let’s look back at the trade that almost sent Justin Upton to Seattle.
Unlike the last deal we discussed in this series, this time Mariners ownership didn’t screw it up. Seattle was in a bad spot after its infamous 2010 squad that became the first team with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games. But the 2011 team jumped 6 wins and the 2012 team would add 8 more wins to that total, leaving the team with a 75-87 record to try and improve on in 2013.
There was reason for optimism and a belief that they could continue to take the next step with a few key additions. After all, the team had a trio of young, talented players to build around. Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Jesus Montero had all just gotten their first full season under their belt and while the results weren’t great, all 3 were Top 10 prospects just a year or two prior.
On top of that trio, guys like Kyle Seager were beginning to show that he could be a contributor and the Mariners appeared to have a solid rotation in place that included their ace Felix Hernandez and would be able to unleash a now acclimated Hisashi Iwakuma on the AL.
On top of what was happening at the Major League level, the farm system still had some stars in it, including Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, Brad Miller, and Nick Franklin. All in all, things were beginning to look up. It appeared Seattle was willing to go big and finally return to becoming an annual playoff contender.
That winter, the Mariners would sign former All-Star Jason Bay to a contract and would trade Jason Vargas to the LA Angels (and the Angels GM Jerry Dipoto) for Kendrys Morales to help add thump to the middle of their lineup and take the pressure off the young guns.
GM Jack Zduriencik would also sign former Mariners outfielder Raul Ibanez to add another veteran to his young lineup. But Zduriencik was eying something bigger than a couple of veteran outfielders and a good but not great bat such as Kendrys Morales.
So Zduriencik went shopping and found his white whale. The Arizona Diamondbacks were a bit tired of waiting for #1 overall pick Justin Upton to return to his 2011 form and was looking to unload his ever-growing contract as they decided to rebuild.
Zduriencik had the young talent Arizona was looking for and the Mariners GM wanted the then 25-year-old to be the addition that would put Seattle into contention for years to come. The two sides hammered out a deal and they finally agreed to this package:
The Mariners send Taijuan Walker, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, and Nick Franklin to Arizona for Justin Upton.
The deal was agreed to and everything appeared to be in order. There was only one problem: Upton had a limited no-trade clause in his contract. And on January 10th of 2013, Upton refused to waive this clause and play for the Mariners.
Zduriencik would later go on to add his power outfield bat in a different deal in which he sent John Jaso, a catcher with ridiculous OBP skills, to the Oakland A’s in a 3-team trade that returned Mike Morse.
Upton’s decision didn’t work out too well for either team. Arizona was forced to trade Upton to a team he couldn’t block and ultimately took a package from the Braves. The best player Arizona received was Nick Ahmed, who has won 2 Gold Gloves for Arizona. But the rest of the package was a dud.
The Mariners couldn’t replace Upton with Morse, who only played 76 games for Seattle before he was traded. Franklin would later be dealt for Austin Jackson, while Pryor would be traded for Kendrys Morales, both in the summer of 2014.
There is no telling how much of an impact Justin Upton would have had in Seattle in 2013. Upton would have a solid season for Atlanta in 2013, but wouldn’t have been nearly enough for Seattle to finish significantly better than their 71-91 record.
What may have been more interesting is if Upton had said yes, would the Mariners still have pursued Robinson Cano the following winter? A Cano and Upton middle of the order would have been great in 2014 and may have nudged the 87-75 Mariners over the top and break the streak. Or perhaps ownership wouldn’t have wanted to pay both Cano and Upton? We will never know.
But Seattle almost landed a 25-year old superstar and that is worth remembering. If Upton had said yes to the trade, the history of the Seattle Mariners could have been vastly different. But alas, he did not and now, we will never know.