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Time to up the ante with Upton

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  November 24, 2010 10:21 AM

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upton.jpgIt's time for Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to reprise his "guess who's coming to Thanksgiving dinner" role. He needs to go to Arizona again for Turkey Day, this time to feast with his friend/mentor Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers.

The same way he wined and dined Curt Schilling seven years ago, he needs to sweet talk Towers until he agrees to send Justin Upton to the Red Sox. Pass the stuffing and Jacoby Ellsbury to Towers. Ask him if he wants dark meat, white meat or Daniel Bard. Whatever it takes before the Diamondbacks come to their senses about dealing Upton.

It's early in the offseason to panic. However, yesterday's news that Victor Martinez is like the Patriots -- Motown-bound -- was greeted with groans and gripes because this third-place team needs to add impact pieces, not subtract them. The virulent reaction to Martinez's four-year, $50 million deal with Detroit from a frustrated fan base showed that this has the potential to be the offseason of our discontent on Yawkey Way. It's probably going to get worse before it gets better on the free agency front with third baseman Adrian Beltre viewed as being likely to bid the Hub adieu too.

That's why it's imperative that the Red Sox make the Upton move. It's bold, it's proactive and it will move the needle for a club that desperately needs some positive spin to sell to a now suspicious fan base. More importantly it could help the team in both the short term and the long term on the field. Yes, the asking price is very high, as the smoke signals from the Hot Stove indicate it would take both Ellsbury and Bard, plus another piece to make it happen. But so is Upton's ceiling.

The 23-year-old, righthanded slugger and former No. 1 overall pick is precisely the type of high-ceiling, power-possessing outfielder the Red Sox have not been able to produce via their farm system during Epstein's illustrious tenure. There is no such player on the horizon, unless you want to count 19-year-old Brandon Jacobs, who played for short-season Lowell this year.

Giving up the 25-year-old Bard is tough. But there is no proof that he'll be a 40-save guy - he has four career saves -- and even the best closers can have shorter-than-expected shelf-lives (see: Papelbon, Jonathan).

I'm a lot more confident that this organization can find another hard-throwing, righthanded reliever who can close in the next three to four seasons than I am that they can somehow produce or procure at a lower cost a player of Upton's immense potential. The last one they had was Hanley Ramirez, and Epstein has been trying to get him back virtually from the day the Theo-less Red Sox sent him away.

Save the trade chips for a certain San Diego Padres first baseman you say?

At this point it makes little sense to trade for Adrian Gonzalez because you're going to have to give up prospects and pieces and then sign him to a $180 million contract. You're better off waiting a year until he's a free agent and pursuing him there, or trying to get him at a lower cost during the season if San Diego falls out of the race. It's certainly possible Gonzalez could be traded elsewhere. But do you really think that would rule him out of a Red Sox rendezvous? He'd be a very bad businessman to pass up free agency knowing that the Red Sox have been saving up for him for a few years now.

Free agent Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth is not worth the dough. He turns 32 in May, has played the last four years in a tinderbox of a ballpark and was in a lineup that featured two National League MVPs in Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard and slugging second baseman Chase Utley. If the Red Sox went five years for Werth, his contract would run as long as the remainder of Upton's. Werth's cost would be $75 to $80 million. Upton has $49.5 million coming to him over the next five years.

Plus, judging by the Sports Illustrated piece on him, his irascible persona would not exactly be a ratings boon for NESN.

Carl Crawford, who has hit . 256, .269 and .248 the last three seasons against lefthanders, would give the Red Sox outfield a very lefthanded look.

That's hardly a replacement in the No. 3 hole for the switch-hitting Martinez, who pounded southpaws last season.

From May 1 on, no one in baseball had a higher average against lefthanders than Victor Martinez, a Red Sox appropriate .406, or slugging percentage (.789). His 12 home runs off lefties, trailed only Albert Pujols (16) and Carlos Gonzalez (14), despite missing a month with a fractured left thumb.

Upton, if healthy, can rake against lefthanded pitching, which, if your chief rival is going to sign a certain lefthander whose last name is Lee, might be a nice countermeasure.

In 2009, a healthy Upton, at age 21, sported the highest OPS (on base-plus-slugging percentage) against lefthanders of any player in the majors with at least 25 at-bats against a lefty. In 122 at-bats against lefties Upton posted a ridiculous 1.208 OPS. He batted .377 with 12 home runs, seven doubles, two triples and an otherworldly .762 slugging percentage. To put that in perspective, that same season, Pujols hit .338 against lefties with 13 home runs and a .696 slugging percentage in 148 at-bats.

Last year Upton's numbers against lefties dipped to .276/.356/.798 in 127 at-bats, with just two of his 17 home runs coming against lefties. I believe he's much closer to the 2009 batter against lefties than what he did last season with his ailing left shoulder.

Epstein has shown that he's not afraid to make bold moves, shipping out Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 and Manny Ramirez in 2008. But the Red Sox seem to be in a bit of a low-cost, no-risk rut, hoarding young players and limiting contract commitments while waiting for Gonzalez to become available.

Sometimes to win you have to go all in. It's time to up the ante with Upton.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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