Could Atlanta Braves’ Deal with Nick Markakis Send Justin Upton to Cincinnati Reds?


Sep 19, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits a single against the New York Mets in the fourth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

When the Atlanta Braves signed free agent outfielder Nick Markakis on Wednesday, the idea that they would trade rightfielder  Justin Upton moved from speculation to near-certainty.  As Major League Baseball gears up for its Winter Meetings, is it possible that the Cincinnati Reds will be in the running to land Upton? After we learned yesterday that the Reds have interest in Melky Cabrera, we can’t necessarily discount any possibility until it comes off the board, but landing Upton would be a challenge.  

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As reported by Steve Adams at last month after the Braves traded Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta is said to be asking more in return for Upton than they received for Heyward. Considering that Heyward yielded a potential top-of-the-rotation guy in Shelby Miller PLUS a high-end prospect in Tyrell Jenkins, Upton’s price could be steep indeed.

Too steep, in fact, for the Reds, especially since Upton will be a free agent at the end of 2015 and that the Reds would be unlikely to pony up the money needed to sign him long-term.

One factor working in the Reds’ favor in this case is that other teams interested in Upton are operating with win-now attitude similar to the approach the Reds seem to be taking for 2015.  The Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners come to mind as teams that need outfield help and could definitely use Upton. In fact, it seems like the only teams who might pay a premium in players and/or prospects would be the big-market teams who would immediately sign Upton to a big extension.  Among the usual candidates, the Los Angeles Dodgers already have a roster full of outfielders, the Boston Red Sox seem to have turned their eyes toward bolstering their rotation and the Philadelphia Phillies do not figure to contend any time soon.

Of course, that still leaves the New York Yankees, who have been extremely quiet so far this off-season, and who need an infusion of talent and youth. At 27 years of age, Upton fits the bill in both cases, and it’s not hard to imagine the Yanks making a run at him, though it’s not clear who they could send back to the Braves to make the deal worthwhile for Atlanta.

If the Braves do find the market for Upton to be somewhat disappointing, the Reds could represent a nice trade partner. As the world knows, Cincinnati has four rotation members set to hit free agency after 2015, and any of them but Johnny Cueto could probably be had in a straight-up for someone like Upton.  It would be a one-year rental on both sides, and the Braves do need some depth and talent in their rotation.

While Upton-to-the-Reds would be a stretch given the Braves’ apparent asking price, it’s a deal that could eventually come together.  Next week’s Winter Meetings should tell us a lot.