According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the Baltimore Orioles are on the prowl for an outfielder.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 19, 2015
With the rather nebulous mass of Travis Snider, Steve Pearce, David Lough, Nolan Reimold, and a few others combining for an abysmal .628 OPS out of left field — third-worst in the American League — it is clear that the Orioles are in massive need of an upgrade to their corner outfield positions. Chris Davis has recently shifted to right field, and has provided passable defense. Moving Davis to the outfield, however, leaves the Orioles with little choice but to play Chris Parmelee Pearce at first base. For a team that has struggled to score runs at times this season, that is not exactly a palatable option.
If the Padres are to move Upton, it is difficult to gauge what exactly they would want in return. Despite the fact that he is batting .301 with 12 home runs and a .562 slugging percentage in just 42 games at spacious Petco Park this year, it does not seem likely that Upton would opt to return to San Diego upon hitting free agency this year. The Padres swung and missed on the trade market this winter, and it seems as though they would prefer to do a small tear down just a year after A.J. Preller made his grand entrance to the general manager’s office.
Determining the trade market for Upton is difficult. The Orioles are not the only team that will come calling as the deadline for deals approaches. Besides Baltimore, the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates appear to be potential landing spots. Both the Astros and Pirates are in the hunt for an outfield bat. The Astros have begun to slump and have fallen behind the Los Angeles Angels in the divisional standings but remain alive and well in the hunt for the Wild Card. Pitching has continued to be a hallmark for the Pirates this year, but an addition of a bat of Upton’s caliber could help them catch the St. Louis Cardinals and avoid the play-in game for the third consecutive year.
The Astros and Pirates both have more well-stocked farm systems than the Orioles, and if either decides Upton is a must-have, then the Orioles chances of acquiring him are bust. For the Astros, patience may be a virtue, as their rebuilding plan is well ahead of schedule. Despite having an offense that is prone to a boom or bust nature, the Astros should be able to stay in the playoff race without having to dip into their farm system. The Pirates do not have a history of pulling off blockbuster trades at the deadline, and they may prefer to stick to the philosophy that has made them into contenders after a long dry spell.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, their farm system is mostly devoid of high-end talent. More highly rated prospects like Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop are having an impact at the Major League level, while Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey continue to be beset by arm injuries. Bundy has been shut down for the year, and Harvey has yet to throw a pitch to a live hitter in 2015. Beyond Bundy and Harvey, there is little positional depth of note to be traded. Christian Walker stands out as potential trade bait, but he has batted just .254 in 131 career games at the Triple-A level. Beyond Walker, there are very few hitters in the Orioles system that could land a star like Upton in return.
If the San Diego Padres are smart, Justin Upton will be traded by the July 31st deadline. Just don’t expect him to land in Baltimore. The Orioles simply do not have enough depth in their organization at the positions of need for the Padres — middle infield — and injuries at the top of their prospect chain make it very difficult to justify trading some middle-tier pitchers like Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright. The Orioles also cannot really afford to risk further depleting a farm system ranked by many in the industry in the bottom-five of Major League Baseball for a rental player like Upton.
In the end, the Orioles will likely have to settle for forging ahead with their outfield as is, or adding a lower tier bat like David Murphy. It’s nice to dream of Justin Upton, but it’s just not realistic. The Orioles could emerge as front-runners to sign the Virginia Beach native in the offseason if he desires a return closer to home, but that is a conversation for a later date.