The rumor mills are grinding furiously again this afternoon regarding Justin Upton. Word circulated that the "Uptown" section at Chase was being dismantled - and, separately, it seems a deal with Seattle for the outfielder was almost consummated, until vetoed by Upton.
Like I said don't read into anything of word Uptown signs will be coming down - Both sides agreed it was a distraction at end of last season— John Gambadoro (@Gambo620) January 10, 2013
There has been no official confirmation - indeed, Gambadoro seems to be the only source reporting this rumor so far, and it appears the signs are still up in Chase Field at this point. Derrick Hall also discussed the topic in this afternoon's online chat: "The sign has not been taken down. Some of the railing signs were removed in preparation for Supercross. However, we have debated with Justin the last few years whether we should take it down or not. We do not want it to be a distraction or to single him out."
But it's difficult not to read anything, even into the fact that the demolition of Uptown is being discussed. It was an idea borne off the back of Justin Upton's All-Star appearance at the age of just 21 in 2009, in the expectation he would build upon that and become a perennial participant in the Midsummer Classic. It's not hard also to tie the move. to the long-term extension Upton signed in March 2010, with a resulting push to make Upton the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
However, it just never took off for one reason or another. Justin's relationship with the fans had been prickly prior to the creation of Uptown, and as the Diamondbacks season sputtered to a last-place finish, dumping their manager, GM and not a few players, any enthusiasm for Uptown was notable by its absence. An eye-witness account from the section in July that first year, illustrates the apathy that inhabited the bleachers during the team's participation in Tankapalooza 2010:
If there was a chant in UpTown for Upton I did not hear it. The interaction between player and his special section was minimal. Every other inning Upton would turn to face the fans and soft-toss a practice ball their way. That was it. It was a mindless toss, always to the same area. Like something he’d been told to do. Upton showed no feeling for anyone except his friend and center fielder Chris Young.
Upton's performance similarly failed to take off. While solid enough, his OPS since then is a few ticks lower than the number he put up as a 19-21 year old. Though injury almost certainly played a significant part there, he averaged 147 games per season in that time, and fans are notoriously blind to ailments that don't keep a player out of the line-up. There were good times, of course - you hardly heard any complaints about Uptown during the 2011 season. However, almost any occasion there was a slump, someone would mutter something about Upton not deserving the section, and that may be what Gambadoro means by it being a "distraction."
Like most similar ideas (how did 'Mannywood' work out for the Dodgers?), these things tend to work a lot better as organic ideas that come up from the fans, rather than being forced upon them by the team's marketing department. I'm pretty sure this was not an idea that came in any form from Upton - I'm not even sure if he was asked about the plan - but it may have backfired, reinforcing the sense, however unjustified, among a certain section of the fanbase that Upton's ego was bigger than his talent. You can kinda see their point: Albert Pujols never got a part of Busch Stadium, so why did Upton "deserve" his own section at Chase, after one 25th-place finish in MVP voting?
Perhaps more important than Chase Field signage is, whether this would be a portent of anything more - the obvious conclusion being an imminent(ish) trade of our right-fielder. USA Today's Bob Nightengale certainly seems to think so, telling Pros2Preps on Wednesday, "He’ll definitely be traded. It’s becoming a fiasco. The Diamondbacks have made it clear they want him out…I’d be stunned if he showed up at spring training." That level of certainty is beyond even Ken Rosenthal's wildest pronouncements, though Nightengale has been wildly wrong in his predictions before, not least in moving us to the American League.
However, it does seem that an Upton deal may have come closer to completion this afternoon than at any time this winter. As originally reported by Rosenthal and Jon Morosi (and confirmed by Nick Piecoro on Twittet), "The Diamondbacks were in agreement on a trade that would have sent Upton to the Seattle Mariners, but the two-time All-Star rejected the proposed deal." Arizona would have received a package of young players in the deal - described by Piecoro as "substantial" - but as the Mariners are one of the four teams on Upton's current no-trade list, he had to approve any deal. He didn't, and so it fell through
Rosenthal and Morosi note in regard to that: "Upton's rejection of the Mariners could be an attempt by him to leverage the Diamondbacks into sending him to a more preferred destination. The D-Backs, meanwhile, could be telling Upton that Seattle is his only option if he wants to leave Arizona, and for that reason it’s always possible that a deal could revive." I'd love to know exactly what we would have got back. But regardless, I doubt it will be the end of the matter: and it seems to me the odds of Upton not being a Diamondback in 2013 now feel a good deal slimmer than they were when we woke up this morning.