The first thing you have to ask yourself is this: Is either of these players worth a top prospect? The point is debatable. Regardless, I think both players are going to fetch one, if moved. The latest on the Beltran front is that he may not fetch a top prospect after all. I think that’s rubbish, and that he ultimately will fetch a Zack Wheeler-type.
If you have enough dogs barking up your tree, you’re bound to get one to bite. Look, this is going to go down to the last second probably, and one of these teams (Braves, Giants, etc.) is going to decide they are willing to overpay for a shot at 1) going to the playoffs and 2) winning the World Series. It’s sort of how this stuff works. They’ll say no, no (No!) right up to the deadline, then fold like a wet paper bag. Maybe not, but I think so.
Setting aside the debate on whether one should make a deal, we must next address who is the better acquisition.
Beltran presents the better short-term upgrade. What you have to understand when you get him is that he is older, a free agent at the end of the season, and you cannot offer him arbitration. This means you’re likely getting a pure rental, a guy that won’t be around in 2012. And depending on his contract demands going forward, you may not be interested in keeping him around for 2012 anyway.
That said, he’s a clear upgrade for a team looking to acquire offense. Amidst a great career, he’s having a great year with the bat and looks plenty good in the corner outfield spots defensively. He’s hitting .289/.389/.514 for a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .391. That’s excellent, and he’s a switch hitter with no significant platoon split; you put him in the middle of the order and play him every day. And if you’re the Giants, you smile. A lot. You also pray he doesn’t spontaneously combust like Freddy Sanchez did in 2009.
FanGraphs has Beltran at 3.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). That would place him… /checks… that’s strange… he’d have the highest WAR for position players on the Giants.
B.J. is less of a clear offensive upgrade. In fact, some might argue he’s hardly an upgrade at all. He’s a guy you sort of need to wish on, and that doesn’t always (rarely?) turn out so great. Do you remember Oliver Perez?
In a tough hitters park (in front of 37 fans), Upton has a batting line of .229/.310/.399 for a .319 wOBA. No I did not mix his batting line with Aaron Rowand’s. For many, that’s sort of a conversation stopper right there. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with.
But Upton has other talents. One of those talents isn’t really a talent at all, but it’s just the fact that he’s not a free agent until after 2012 and he’s just 26, and therefore should be entering his prime. His actual talents lay in his ability to hit for power (he has 15 home runs), steal bases (he has 23), and play quality center field.
Total value-wise, FanGraphs is down on Upton this year in terms of both defense and base running. With his positional adjustment for center field, they see him as a 1.6 win player through roughly 100 games. Of course, FanGraphs has been known to be a bit off given the small sample sizes. For example, they don’t rate Nate Schierholtz’s defense highly right now, which I don’t buy at all.
So when you compare Upton to Andres Torres, the player he’d be replacing, he actually looks more like a downgrade. Torres is hitting .236/.326/.366 for a .318 wOBA and has been worth 1.8 wins with solid marks in base running and defense, despite only having played in 71 games. He’s accumulated that surplus of 0.2 wins in 25 fewer games, due largely to the defense and work on the base paths.
The fact that Upton has played 25 more games but has managed 0.2 wins less is worth noting, too, because it’s a point both for and against Torres. He’s a player with a fuzzy injury history, and one that you might legitimately be concerned about staying on the field for the rest of the season. Upton, with all his faults, looks a better bet to stay on the field.
So what this all comes down to is a few key things. 1) How you feel about Torres, and the likelihood that he will both stay on the field and remain productive. 2) Whether the Giants are looking for an extremely short-term (and better) solution, or a longer-term (and less attractive) solution. 3) Whether or not you think a ‘change of scenery’ and some competition between B.J. and his brother Justin Upton is the key that will unlock his infinite potential (in other words: more dreaming). And 4) Perhaps most importantly, what the Rays want for Upton versus what the Mets want for Beltran.
So who is the better option? I don’t know. I guess it depends on your outlook: Are we building for 2011 only, or for 2011 and 2012 (and beyond, given that he’d likely fetch prospects in the amateur draft if he does depart after 2012)? It depends on the prospects. And it depends on the health of each and every one of the players mentioned.
If forced to choose at gun point, I guess I’ll take Upton. I like to think the Giants are working on building a year-in year-out contender, a Boston Red Sox of the West. Maybe that’s naïve and silly. Maybe not. I guess I like to dream a little, and I think you need to in order to covet B.J. Upton.
But I’m not in charge of all these players and all this money. I’m glad I’m not Brian Sabean.