Coming into the 2012 season the Detroit Tigers had two glaring needs: a corner outfielder and a second baseman. Magglio Ordonez was on his way out, and former #1 draft pick Delmon Young has yet to put together a big league season that justifies Leyland putting him in the lineup everyday. So what did the Tigers do to fill these two holes? They signed another All-Star first baseman, leaving a platoon situation at second and Delmon Young in left field. We are half-way through the season, and the holes left by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski in the outfield continue to be of the cavernous variety. The Tigers have the least amount of production from their right fielders in baseball (-2.9 WAR) and Delmon Young has been the worst left fielder (among qualified players) in the majors (-.5 WAR). Young now splits time with speedster Quintin Berry, who spent the last eight years playing in the minor leagues before making his pro debut in 2012. While Berry has done well in a rather small sample size, if the Tigers are to contend in 2012 and beyond they will need another quality corner outfielder.
Last week, as if the baseball God’s had come to cure Dombrowski’s off-season hiccup, the Arizona Central reported that the Diamondbacks are interested in trading Justin Upton, their 24-year-old right fielder. Yes, that Justin Upton, the two-time All-Star that finished fourth in the National League MVP race in 2011. Upton is a young player that has yet to reach his prime. Why the Diamondback’s would consider trading such a young talent that happens to be signed through his age 27 season is a mystery, but it should not serve as a surprise. This is the second time in his short career the Diamondback’s have shopped their best player and it appears as if the club has reached the point of no return and must trade Upton. Outfielders typically don’t reach their peak until their age 27 season, a plus for any team contemplating trading for Upton. That being the case, his career numbers .275/.356/.475 & 12 WAR already trump those of each corner outfielder on the Tiger’s roster. The Tigers need to acquire Justin Upton and have the pieces to make it happen.
If you took the time to read the linked article from the Arizona Central you noticed that in return for Justin Upton the Diamondback’s are looking for a shortstop, third baseman, or star starting pitcher. The Tigers have a red-hot third base prospect in Nick Castellanos (20) who could serve as the center piece of a deal with the D-backs. In 2012 Castellanos is hitting .363/.406/.516 between A & AA Ball, was the MVP of the All-Star Futures game, and was recently ranked as the 15th best prospect in all of baseball by Keith Law of ESPN. Obviously, with his recent success Castellanos has generated a tremendous buzz among Tiger fans who are eager to see the him in the Bigs. With the recent success of Mike Trout (20) and Bryce Harper(19), I understand the source of their impatience yet realize the Tigers would be better served by moving the young third baseman now.
To the fans dismay, it’s unreasonable to expect Castellanos to play in the majors for the Tigers anytime soon. As a third baseman Castellanos is blocked by one of the best right-handed hitters in the game in Miguel Cabrera (signed through 2015). Moving Cabrera back to first base is out of the question as the Tigers expect Prince to be manning first base for the next eight years. Blocked at third the Tigers organization began playing Castellanos in right field for their AA affiliate. There are two issues with this move: 1) Castellanos loses some of his value moving from third to right field as third base is a more challenging defensive position; 2) Castellanos MAY become an All-Star right fielder or he MAY be the next Cameron Maybin. What we do know is Nick Castellanos IS a prospect and prospects are a gamble because they have yet to prove themselves on the Major League level. I’m sure many Tiger fans remember Maybin, our last major prospect. There was a time when Maybin was an un-tradable prospect until we were able to trade him to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera. You know the rest of the story, Cabrera (the proven commodity) is one of the best players in baseball for the Tigers, and Maybin (the prospect) has since been traded from the Marlins to the Padres and has yet to reach the potential Tigers fans had come to expect. A majority of fans tend to place a premium on prospects because they represent the unknown. In this instance, I’ll take the two-time All-Star who has shown he can play at or near an MVP level. Give me Justin Upton playing right field for the Detroit Tigers!