Two offseasons ago, the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks had agreed to a trade built around Upton and pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, only to have Upton veto the trade when he invoked his limited no-trade clause.
Well, two years later, the Mariners still need a right-handed-hitting outfielder and Upton has reportedly removed the Mariners from his no-trade list.
So maybe general manager Jack Zduriencik re-kindles the Walker-for-Upton idea. Clearly, the Braves are looking for cost-controlled young players, as evidenced by the Jason Heyward trade. The Mariners wouldn't trade Walker for Upton at this point, considering Walker is under team control for six seasons versus one for Upton, so the trade would have to be expanded.
The Braves need a second baseman. The Mariners happen to have two shortstops in Brad Miller and Chris Taylor but are rumored to be interested in Hanley Ramirez. So here's an idea: Walker and one of the shortstops for Upton and Evan Gattis (the Mariners also need a designated hitter). The Mariners then sign Ramirez to play shortstop. With a hole in the rotation, they sign a second-tier starter like Chris Young or Jason Hammel, or splurge a little more on Ervin Santana.
Seattle's lineup would then look something like this:
3B Kyle Seager
RF Justin Upton
SS Hanley Ramirez
DH Evan Gattis
That's a pretty deep lineup in this era and the Mariners fix their righty-lefty imbalance that plagued them last year by bringing in three good right-handed hitters.
The rotation would have Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Roenis Elias and the veteran starter. The bullpen, one of the best and deepest in the majors in 2014, returns everybody except free agent Joe Beimel (who could re-sign). That rotation is a little thin, so the Mariners could shop Michael Saunders -- a solid-if-injury-prone outfielder and not a favorite of Zduriencik or manager Lloyd McClendon -- for another back-of-the-rotation type.
Does all that fit into Seattle's payroll? Baseball-Reference estimates the Mariners' payroll right now at $100.5 million (almost half of that for Cano and Hernandez), including estimates for arbitration-eligible players. Upton makes $14.5 million. Ramirez may require an average annual salary of $18 million or so, but the Mariners could backload that and pay him, say, $14 million in 2015. A pitcher like Young or Hammel would cost about $6 million to $8 million on a one-year deal. Gattis isn't even arbitration-eligible until 2016, so he's still making less than a million.
You'd be looking at a $135 million payroll or so, after sitting at about $90 million in 2014. That's a big hike but considering Cano and Hernandez aren't going to get any better, and considering the American League hasn't been so wide open in years, the Mariners' window to strike may be right now.