Let’s take a look.
Upton is not a free agent until after 2012; Beltran is a free agent after this season.
Because Scott Boras ingeniously inserted the provision that Beltran couldn’t be offered arbitration, there will be no compensatory draft picks when and if he leaves as a free agent—he’s a pure rental.
Beltran has a no-trade clause and it’s repeatedly reported that he doesn’t want to go to the American League. The Mets are severely limited in what they can do and they have no choice in the matter in trading Beltran—they have to trade him. The Rays are under no such constraints. They can trade Upton, keep Upton, whatever.
You can pretty much bet heavily that Boras will be after Upton at some point. And he’ll get him.
Beltran and Upton have experienced seminal moments in their perception and both occurred in the post-season.
Upton’s was failing to run hard on a double play ball in the 8th inning of game 5 of the 2008 World Series with his club down a run.
Both are taken grossly out-of-context but have contributed mightily to the view of both players.
Beltran is considered a failure in the clutch when he’s been exactly the opposite; it was his ridiculous hot streak in the 2004 NLCS with the Astros in which he hit 8 home runs in 12 games that spurred the Mets to pursue him so avidly. With the Mets, he was excellent in the 2006 NLCS loss with 3 homers and a 1.054 OPS.
Upton has also been terrific in the playoffs. He homered 3 times in the 2008 ALDS and 4 times in the ALCS.
But it’s those prominent plays that are remembered even though they’re small parts of the whole story.
Beltran has always played hard and done the Mets uniform proud. Because he appeared to be chasing every last dollar and Boras offered his services to the Yankees for less dollars and fewer years, the Mets fans have never truly embraced him—it was a business relationship. He’s a quiet leader who has given everything he’s had on the field for the Mets.
The same cannot be said for the mercurial Upton. With his penchant for laziness and lapses; the frequent run-ins he’s had with teammates and management, his attitude is a question mark.
It’s easy to say a change-of-scenery will do wonders for him, but what’s the evidence of this? The Rays have catered to him and let him get away with everything; little punishment has been doled out and it hasn’t done any good in improving his on-again/off-again decision to play hard.
The Mets want a top prospect for Beltran and, as said earlier, have to trade him.
The Rays can hold out with Upton and choose not to trade him until the winter if at all.
Interested clubs know this and will react accordingly using the availability of Upton to lever the Mets into lowering their demands for fear of a club backing away and going after Upton instead.
The Rays also know this and they’re not going to trade Upton before the Mets trade Beltran. Hoping that the availability and cost-certainty of Upton will yield a greater return, they can simply dangle him out and bank on someone panicking and offering a ridiculous return for a player the Rays are under no mandate to trade.
Upton’s low financial cost and that he’s going to yield at least an extra draft pick after he departs as a free agent in 2013 make him a viable alternative to Beltran.
Upton is a superlative defensive center fielder.
Beltran might be able to play center field for a couple of months, but it’s not an absolute that he can handle it physically.
Upton’s history indicates that he’s going to do something to enrage whichever club trades for him—regardless of who they are and who’s running the team. They don’t know what they’re getting for the rest of 2011. In 2012 however, with free agency on the horizon, you can bet that Upton is going to be on his best behavior and probably put up a massive season.
Beltran will be around for 2 months plus the playoffs and that’s it.
Beltran’s the preferable all-around acquisition who’d be a greater help in the now.
Upton is more versatile with his ability to play center field and will be on his new club for at least a year-and-a-half at a reasonable price in terms of money.
Whom to pursue depends on immediate club needs. The Giants would be wise to go after Beltran instead of Upton; the Pirates would be better off pursuing Upton.
If I were making the call, I’d want Beltran and would steer totally clear of Upton. Attitude problems and selfishness aren’t superseded by “upside” and “cost-certainty”. Upton’s never gone all-out, all the time; what makes anyone think he’ll suddenly reach that epiphany now?
You know what you’re getting with Beltran; with Upton, you have no idea.
If it’s one or the other, Beltran’s the better option.