Padres Editorial: Why the Padres Don’t Need Justin Upton

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Mandatory Credit: Getty Images
Mandatory Credit: Getty Images

Justin Upton came to town in a blockbuster December trade with the Atlanta Braves during last year’s winter meetings. The San Diego Padres gave up quite a few talented prospects to get Upton but he has lived up to all the expectations since coming to town. He has lead the Padres in almost every offensive category and is making his case for another all star game nod. With all this being said, do the Padres really need Upton? Or would they be better off without him? For a team in the midst of a rapid rebuild, there is just no absolute need for a player of Upton’s ilk.

In the offseason, new Padres general manager AJ Preller needed to make some splashes and show he was on board with new owner Mike Dee and his plans for a rebuilt San Diego Padres roster. The first “splash” that was made was the acquisition of Matt Kemp. This was the trade that started it all and showed that, for once, the Padres were serious about acquiring some talent and attempting to compete in the top heavy NL West. In hindsight many are already calling this trade a disaster but it served its purpose as the deal that changed the culture around baseball in San Diego. Regardless of Kemp’s performance, his acquisition really changed everything in Friar Town.

Without the acquisition of Kemp and the clear changing of the guard that represented AJ Preller’s aggressiveness, it is likely that the Padres would not have gone out and made further trades such as Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks and of course the man of the hour Justin Upton. It is also unlikely that the blockbuster Craig Kimbrel trade on the eve of the season would have been completed had this culture not changed. Finally it is certain James Shields would not have signed with the Padres if this culture hadn’t changed.

The end goal of this offseason flurry was obviously to attempt to field a winning roster, a playoff roster, in San Diego for the first time in nearly a decade. Underlying this main goal, there seems to be a secondary goal that many have overlooked or chosen to ignore. More so than anything else, AJ Preller’s goal was creating buzz and interest in San Diego, a baseball city that had long been ignored on the national stage. Revenues are up, media attention is at an all time high, and the Padres roster is still struck by the same mediocrity of years past. So after the offseason extreme makeover what gives?

The Matt Kemp trade seemed to just be the tip of the iceberg as it pertains to the Padres plans going forward. Acquiring Kemp was indeed a massive risk, and one that hasn’t entirely panned out. Nevertheless, Kemp is the player chosen to be the face of this new Padre culture, and the leader of this new roster. Despite the enormous contract and what has been the poor performance up to this point, Kemp is now the face of whatever this is, good or bad.

This brings us to Justin Upton. In Preller’s win-now mindset (or in his quest to put the proverbial butts in the seats) he acquired Justin Upton to pair with Matt Kemp as a force in the middle of the Padres lineup that had lacked any such force since trading away Adrian Gonzalez to Boston years back. As with the Kemp trade this trade was one filled with ample risk; Upton is a free agent following this season and there is no guarantee he will choose to stay in San Diego, and on top of that no guarantee that the Padres can, or should want to, afford what he is bound to make in free agency.

Based on the general failure, and the Padres failure this year, of the win-now mentality, it seems ever more likely that the Padres best course of action is trading Justin Upton and trying to both obtain as much value for him as possible as well as avoiding having another player with a big contract that puts him through his decline years. Upton is only 27 years old at this point but a lengthy seven or eight year contract not only takes him through his prime years but also takes him through his decline years past the age of 30.

Mandatory Credit: Getty Images
Mandatory Credit: Getty Images

So far this season Upton is on pace for another four WAR season to go along with his four WAR season last year with the Braves and his consistent 3+ WAR seasons with the Diamondbacks. Based on this production, Upton is due to get quite a lot of money in the offseason and it will most certainly be out of the Padres budget even with the new mindset and increased spending in the AJ Preller era. With the large contracts of Matt Kemp, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. already on the books for the next three-four years, there seems to be no logical place for another exorbitant contract on the Padres roster.

It has long been argued that pitching wins championships and the Padres have long bred winning pitchers. With that being said, an adequate offense, and in some cases, above average defense is needed to bring a team from being a good playoff team to winning a World Series championship. Aside from the trades of Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, every other Padre trade in the offseason was focused on acquiring developed major leaguers who were not only A) proven talents with some established track records but also B) young and cost controlled for the next three-five years (including Norris, Middlebrooks, Myers, and even Kimbrel.

These acquisitions, while putting a bit of a question mark on defense, have set the Padres up with some strong, young talent for the next three to five years. While the Padres have a higher payroll and some larger contracts on the books, the key for a small market team to have success is having consistent, young, and cost-controlled talent all around the diamond. These offseason trades has been a good start that can be built upon. Rather than superstars at certain positions, what a wining team more than often has is consistency at nearly every position. That is what the Padres should be building for going forward.

While AJ Preller’s win now formula may not be working for this season, with a couple extra pieces added the Padres have set themselves up nicely with a three to five year window for a potential championship or even championships. They have acquired young, cost effective talent that can turn this team from the perennial losers the organization has been into a perennial playoff team. The Padres are in a good place as an organization for years to come with or without the talent of Justin Upton. Trading Justin Upton at the deadline for more major league talent is just one more step down that road. With parity seemingly at an all time high, the Padres can quickly transition into sellers (with Upton, Kennedy, and Benoit as prime pieces) and get back much of the near major league ready talent they lost in the offseason. If AJ Preller can make the transition to seller smoothly the Padres organization could set itself up nicely to win for years to come. Padre fans may hate hearing “there’s always next year” but in this case those words couldn’t ring more true.

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