St. Louis Cardinals: Is Justin Upton worth it?


Is Justin Upton a worthy chase for the St. Louis Cardinals or is he “the rebound” off missing Jason Heyward?

Now that Jason Heyward is a Cub (he changed his Twitter imagine, ladies and gents) and the times have changed, it’s time for John Mozeliak to look in other directions. Justin Upton, perhaps? On a podcast with Cardinal Blogfather Daniel Shoptaw Friday night, I was less than hot about Heyward departing the St. Louis Cardinals, because I knew there was still hope out there on the market.

Instead of crying about losing one player, re-route and push your team in a new direction. Yes, The Cardinal sway is dying. Free agents are flying north to Wrigley. How do you deal with losing a Heyward? You go out and sign something different? Is Upton a suitable option? My colleague Steven McNeil doesn’t think so, but I am going to pursue this in a different way.

On KMOX Sunday, Mozeliak pointed out that he wasn’t going to be chasing any outfielders, post Heyward pursuit. I got angered by this statement, and then remembered that this is another case of Mo playing cards at a poker table with agents and other GM’s.

He won’t tell a radio station, “Yes, we are still interested, so if any free agent wants to come play for us, please dial 1-800-HELP-A-REDBIRD.” He’s going stealth mode, hopefully. I picture Mozeliak as a calm, cool and collected piece of celery on a plate of hot wings. No matter how hot things get, he remains calm.

On Inside STL 920 AM this morning, St. Louis Cardinals’ beat reporter Derrick Goold told Tim McKernan that Upton may not be a “nine figure player” to the Cardinals. Is Upton a nine figure baseball player? If the Cards were going to give Heyward 200 million over 9-10 years, wouldn’t Upton command at least half of that?

Upton is only 28 years old and has played for three teams in his nine year career. While Upton doesn’t have the reputation on defense that Heyward has, he offers more pop. Upton has cranked 20 or more home runs in five different seasons, and collected OPS finishes of .800 or more in five different seasons.

His OPS career average of .825 and 121 OPS+ is also better than Heyward. Upton has played in 145 games or more in five straight seasons, so he is durable. He also cranked over half of his 26 homers in 2015 in the long ball barren park of Petco in San Diego. As Ron Burgundy would say, don’t argue with his power folks, it’s scientific.

Upton also has speed, something the Cards valued in Heyward. Upton stole 19 bases in 2015 and was caught five times. He is 115-159 on steals in his career, coming in at a 72 percent success rate. The 19 steals were more than double the previous two season totals so maybe he is gaining confidence there.

More from St Louis Cardinals News

The setback in Upton is his defense. If right field is his destination at Busch, Upton is going to be average at best. He played 54 games in right in 2013 and over 140 the year before, and each year registered a negative UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating via Fangraphs, which measures arm, range and error runs above average). It was only in his last two seasons in San Diego that he found a positive UZR and all those games played were in left field.

Upton found the pitcher’s park Petco to be a defensive wishing well. Can he find that balance in Busch? Can he play right field at an average level? He’s never played center field and with Matt Holliday in left, right field is Upton’s landing spot. He may cost you runs in right.

He would add runs on the offensive side. Only Matt Carpenter and Heyward had a higher offensive WAR in 2015 than Upton’s 3.5. He has averaged over 3 offensive runs a year over the past three years. Upton is a producer with speed and average defense.

Does that make him a 100 million dollar investment? Yes, especially in this market. Does that means the Cardinals will sign him? Doubtful.

There are warning signs on Upton. His brother B.J. broke down when he hit 28 years old, so teams may be weary of giving him a long term deal. Why hasn’t Justin be able to garner a decent contract with his production?

Will his defense suffer in Busch? Do the Cards want to invest 5-7 years in this player? I have never been Upton’s biggest fan but I can understand his appeal to a team that can use some power and speed.

The Cardinals scored 647 runs in 2015. The first team to win a 100 games and score that few of runs. In 2014, they won 90 games by only scoring 619 runs. Pitching has aided this team for a long time. The bats may need to carry more weight in 2016.

Upton could help there. There’s no doubt the Cards are interested but at what cost? And why haven’t other teams struck a deal with Upton after Heyward signed? He is the youngest outfield free agent on the market and the most consistent offensively. What’s the catch?

Whatever it is, it is keeping the Cardinals at arms length. Is that a smart strategy? Mo has time to make a move and if he so chooses, he can make a move that positively impacts the offense that has struggled for years.

Every remaining free agent or player has a bit of virtue and poison attached-

Upton has pop and speed but struggles on defense and carries a red flag that keeps team from buying in deep.

Yoenis Cespedes has pop but lacks consistency and carries the same red flag of multiple teams as Upton.

Alex Gordon has a Heyward build but will be 32 and could be heading down.

Chris Davis has unique power but little else.

Carlos Gonzalez has elite overall talent but is badly injury prone and would cost prospects.

Charlie Blackmon is a solid centerfielder with pop but his OPS outside of Coors is weak.

Next: Best hitters in Cards history

Who do you get if you are Mozeliak and at what price? Post Heyward, the market has changed. Does it make Justin Upton a 100 million dollar arm? On paper, yes. In reality, not yet.