The Padres have discussed a Justin Upton trade with the Orioles, sources tell Jayson Stark of ESPN (Twitter link). According to Stark, the two sides could try to expand talks to include some of the Padres’ controllable pitchers. He lists Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross as two possibilities. San Diego is reportedly “pushing hard” to trade some its expensive, big-name talent.
Stark’s latest report adds to the deluge of mixed signals regarding the Orioles’ trade deadline direction. Just last week, general manager Dan Duquette told the media that he planned on being a buyer regardless of how his club performed in the days leading up to the deadline. However, multiple reports have surfaced since that time to indicate that the Orioles may yet consider selling veteran pieces. Stark himself heard earlier today that the Orioles have at least gauged interest in impending free agents like Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter, adding that if the Orioles did pick up a bat, it may only be a bench piece.
Clearly, Upton is considerably more than a bench piece. Although he isn’t hitting like he did in his best years with the D-Backs and Braves, he’s still been a very sound producer in his first (and perhaps only) four months with the Padres. The 27-year-old Upton is batting .251/.330/.429 with 16 homers on the season. The temptation of many would be to blame his offensive woes on the Padres pitcher-friendly home environment, but Upton’s OPS at home is more than 300 points higher than his road mark. He’s batted an enormous .297/.354/.558 at home compared to a putrid .208/.308/.306 on the road.
Upton is controlled only through the end of the year and is earning $14.5MM this year — of which a not-insignificant $5.55MM remains. A trade for him could be good news, as it’d prevent him from receiving a qualifying offer at the end of the year, which would serve to boost his free agent stock a bit.
The Orioles, though, aren’t in a great spot to pay for only a rental. Their farm system already ranks among the worst in baseball, and as previously mentioned, they’re set to lose a number of key players to free agency (Wieters, Davis, Chen, Hunter). In my eyes, that makes the addition of Cashner or Ross — particularly Ross — a logical path to explore.
Both Cashner and Ross are controlled beyond 2015, though Cashner is a free agent after the 2016 campaign. Ross is controllable through 2017. Either would serve as an upgrade and could reasonably stake a claim to being Baltimore’s best pitcher based on their track records, though each is also having somewhat of a down season. Cashner’s strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates are all about even with his 2014 marks, causing xFIP and SIERA to give him similar grades, but his ERA has ballooned a bit due to difficulty in terms of stranding runners and serving up home runs. Ross has never been known as a pitcher with pinpoint control, and his previously diminished control issues have now resurfaced in 2015. He is, however, whiffing more hitters than ever before and racking up grounders at a career-best rate, so there’s some reason for optimism.
The question for Baltimore would be what it could offer to entice the Padres to part with what is unequivocally a significant amount of win-now talent. Some reports have indicated that the Orioles are willing to listen to offers on former No. 4 overall pick Kevin Gausman — a big-league ready power arm that, at present, hasn’t grabbed hold of a long-term spot in the Baltimore rotation.
In terms of upper-level talent in the minors, the Orioles have some big-league ready pieces in the form of outfielder Dariel Alvarez and pitchers Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, but none of that trio has a particularly high ceiling, per most scouting reports. Right-handers Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey certainly do, but each has also suffered a lost season due to injuries (the second such season, in Bundy’s case). Turning to the big league roster, the Orioles have young pieces such as Jonathan Schoop, who missed much of the season with a knee injury but has hit reasonably well and played sound defense in limited action.
All of the names mentioned as possible pieces of interest for the Padres are, of course, pure speculation on my part, but it stands to reason that the Orioles would need to put together a creative offer — perhaps even one involving MLB-ready talent or talent from the current big league roster — in order to land the likes of Upton and Cashner and/or Ross. One potential alternative would be to bail the Padres out of the Melvin Upton Jr. contract, though that seems exceptionally unlikely considering we saw the team essentially sell a Competitive Balance draft pick to the Dodgers by packaging it with in order to free themselves of Ryan Webb’s roughly $2.75MM salary.