For the past two years, the brass of the Kansas City Royals have put a heavy emphasis on having gritty, hard-nosed players take up space on their roster. Manager Neddy(Frank) Yost and GM Dayton Moore seem to have a bromance with these players, almost to a laughable degree. But just when you think Kansas City is the only franchise who would rather have a player who gets his uniform dirty than having actual real talent, along come the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This past week, Arizona pieced together a massive deal to send star Outfielder Justin Upton to Atlanta, reuniting him with brother BJ. Arizona had discussed trading Upton for awhile now, which perplexed a lot of people within the game. Upton is only 25 years old and has an amazing amount of upside. Just two years ago, he put together a breakout season, hitting over 30 homeruns, an OBP of .369 and an OPS close to .900. Add in him cutting down his strikeout totals and seemed that Justin was starting to put the numbers up that Arizona expected when they drafted him back in 2005. But even as early as last offseason, the Diamondbacks were trying to deal him. Upton stumbled in 2012, and it just added fuel to the trade rumor flames. So why would Arizona want to trade one of the most talented younger players in the game? One word could probably sum this up: GRIT.
Arizona manager Kirk Gibson was known for a variety of intangibles during his playing career. Maybe more than anything he is remembered for his hard-nosed, in the dirt type play and his win at no cost attitude. Right now you are probably picturing his walk off homerun in Game One of the 1988 World Series, limping around the bases and moving slower than former manager Tommy Lasorda. Gibson played the game like his hair was on fire, a model of the “take no prisoners” style of baseball. So it only makes sense that Gibby would prefer players that play the game the way he used to. There has been a thought that Arizona had a surplus of players that didn’t fit that mold. Chris Young was jettisoned early this offseason, shipped to Oakland. Stephen Drew: gone. Prospect Trevor Bauer was the most shocking trade this offseason, headed to Cleveland. Upton was thought to not fit the mold that Gibson wanted, as some within the organization felt he didn’t want to get his uniform dirty. Sure, Upton would spend extra time in the batting cage when struggling, trying to fix issues he was encountering last year. It’s not like JUp didn’t show a willingness to improve. He just wasn’t Kirk Gibson.
This brings up a bigger question, and one that will show whether or not Arizona GM Kevin Towers and Gibson are correct. Which is more important, an all-out balls to the wall attitude or actual talent? In some ways, I am torn on this subject. I will admit I enjoy watching the players who dirty up their uniform and play the game like there is no tomorrow. But most of the time actual talent trumps a player who gives 200% out on the diamond. Sure, Gibson was a player who played the game with a lot of GRIT. But he also had talent. Same for Pete Rose. Now, let’s not act like the Diamondbacks didn’t get any talent in return for Upton. Prado is a former All-Star, and Randall Delgado is a top of the line future starter. The Snakes have also added some quality guys this offseason, as there is no reason to sneeze at guys like Cody Ross and Eric Chavez, along with the prospects they have picked up. The argument is that Justin Upton isn’t just a future star. Upton very well could be a future MVP and a guy to build your team around. Instead, Arizona has valued a mindset over tools.
Arizona isn’t alone in this thinking. Over the past couple years, the Royals have gone out of their way to acquire players they think(and sometimes very heavy emphasis on the ‘think’ part)are hard-nosed, gritty players. The difference is that while the Diamondbacks have Prado and Ross, the Royals get Chris Getz and Jeff Francoeur. That is the difference between a team that can realistically make a go of the playoffs, and a team on the outside looking in. It is NOT the worst thing in the world to have players with those intangibles. It is bad when you don’t realize that talent will get you farther than the guy hitting .235 but gets his uniform dirty every game. I guess that begs the question: which would you rather have, Justin Upton, a guy who could be a future MVP, or Jeff Francoeur, someone who won’t even be an All-Star, but is a good character clubhouse guy(and someone who will deliver pizza to your fans)?
2013 will show whether Arizona was correct to build their ballclub around “Gibby Ball’ or they will have the proverbial pie in the face from traded talent like Bauer and Upton. Hey, it might work. If there was ever a guy I would trust to will a team to the playoffs, it’s Gibson. Talent is still there in Arizona, just no one player who can be the focus of the team. if it doesn’t work, Kirk Gibson’s head could be on the chopping block. If they feel like they aren’t quite there, Kevin Towers could always call the Royals. I’m sure Getz and Francoeur could be had for the right price.