Just like beauty, MLB trade value is in the eye of the beholder. What one interested team deems as desirable may not float the next team’s boat and vice versa.
The non-waiver trade deadline is at the end of July (or in this case, the beginning of August) for a reason. Not only does it allow teams to figure out if they have a chance at contending, but it also gives players time to show whether or not they’re worth the inherent risk that comes with acquiring them.
Some players who carried trade value on Opening Day have either maintained or enhanced it – Jonathan Lucroy and Jay Bruce come to mind – while others lost what little value they appeared to have left – like Matt Kemp.
Then, there’s another group of players that already had zero value, but have surprised everyone with their current performance. And since this level of play has been sustained through the first half of the season, there’s a good chance they’ll be wearing a different uniform within the next few weeks.
Outside of relief pitchers, the midseason trade market may not be as robust as in recent years. Teams in need of a boost must overturn every rock to find the value needed in order to reach the postseason and find success. That can lead front office executives down some unlikely paths, but these two players in particular seem more unlikely than the rest.
Melvin Upton Jr., OF, San Diego Padres
A player’s trade value couldn’t have possibly gotten lower than what Upton’s was prior to last year.
It’s tough to watch a player sign a five-year, $72.25 million deal to be his team’s starting center fielder, only to be traded two seasons later as a throw-in because literally nobody wanted to take him. That’s what a .198/.279/.314 triple slash in 910 at-bats will do, though.
The elder Upton brother enjoyed a bounce back campaign in 2015 with San Diego, albeit in a part-time role (.259/.327/.429 line in 205 at-bats). His numbers seemed pretty ordinary, but his 1.6 fWAR was already higher than his two years with the Atlanta Braves combined (-0.2).
Melvin Upton Jr with an incredible catch and double play last night! pic.twitter.com/5d9Y0AM5CO
— SportsBlog.com (@SportsBlog) June 29, 2016
With Justin Upton leaving free agency and Wil Myers moving to first base, there was playing time available in the outfield, and he’s taken advantage of it more than many expected. Through 285 at-bats, he’s slashing .260/.312/.428 with 12 homers, 37 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
For what it’s worth, he’s also outperforming his fellow former Braves outfielders (Upton and Jason Heyward) by a pretty convincing margin. Better late than never, right? The trade market won’t have a ton of outfielders available, but big names like Bruce, Ryan Braun and Carlos Gonzalez will undoubtedly dominate the headlines.
However, Upton has pushed his way into the conversation. With Jon Jay’s forearm injury and Kemp’s inability to draw a walk, the former Craig Kimbrel blockbuster trade throw-in may represent the Padres’ only chance at dealing an outfielder before the August 1 deadline.
Bud Norris, SP, Atlanta Braves
While Upton used 2015 to slowly start building his value back up before putting it into overdrive throughout the past three months, Norris took a different route. He completely tore his value down in April before building it all the way back up.
Following a year in which he posted a 3-11 record with an unsightly 6.72 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 71 strikeouts in 66.1 innings, there weren’t many clubs in pursuit of his services last winter. That’s why he signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the rebuilding Braves, but it looked like he wasn’t even worthy of being on that roster by the end of April.
The right-hander started five games in the season’s first month and posted numbers so bad that Atlanta – a team in a daily fight for baseball’s worst record – pulled him from the starting rotation.
How bad was it? He went 1-4 with an 8.74 ERA and 1.99 WHIP in 22.2 innings.
After a solid month of May in the bullpen (2.08 ERA, 1.27 WHIP in 17.1 IP), Norris was inserted back into the rotation and is now actually generating trade interest. He’s fresh off shutting down the New York Mets – which hasn’t been hard for many hurlers lately – but his entire body of work in June has been stellar: 2-1 record, 2.08 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 30.1 innings.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs points to the use of his cutter for this drastic turnaround, which has skyrocketed. He also references how this pitch has helped him figure left-handed hitters out: they posted a 1.097 OPS in April and May, compared to a .569 mark in June.
Will these two still be playing for the Padres and Braves, respectively, by the time August 1 rolls around? The possibility is there, but as the deadline inches closer and pressure builds in contending front offices, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them packing up their bags and getting used to new surroundings.
(UPDATE: After putting Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list, the Dodgers swung a deal to acquire Norris. Maybe mentioning him in this article helped him out? Definitely.)
Who would’ve thought that was even a possibility at the start of this year? Baseball always seems to find a way to do that to us.
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