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Notes and thoughts on the Justin Upton trade

Jan 24, 2013, 2:10 PM EDT

Martin Prado Getty Images

Braves acquire OF Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson from Diamondbacks for 3B Martin Prado, RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Zeke Spruill, SS Nick Ahmed and 1B Brandon Drury.

– As some probably guessed, I’m a big fan of this deal for the Braves. I wrote an entry trying to pair the Upton brothers in Atlanta before the Braves had B.J. signed.

That said, I would have liked this deal a bit more two months ago, when the Braves would have had more flexibility to deal with the losses of Prado and Delgado. I still think it’s a great value trade, and I expect that the competitive Upton brothers could push one another to new heights. Prado is a very good player right now, but he was under control for just one more year and I don’t think he’ll live up to his next contract. I’ve never seen Delgado as much more than a No. 4 starter. None of the prospects are elite talents. I’m surprised the Diamondbacks didn’t insist on right-hander J.R. Graham in the deal.

– As for the Diamondbacks, well, there’s really been no plan from the beginning. They’ve now parted with two terrific young talents in Upton and Trevor Bauer and still haven’t set themselves up as obvious contenders for 2013.

Here’s a possible lineup:

CF Adam Eaton
3B Martin Prado
2B Aaron Hill
LF Jason Kubel
1B Paul Goldschmidt
C Miguel Montero
RF Cody Ross
SS Didi Gregorius/Cliff Pennington

That’s certainly not bad. A rotation of Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy and Delgado/Tyler Skaggs/Patrick Corbin is also pretty good.

Still, this is a team without a definite All-Star and it’s going up against a Dodgers club full of them and the defending world champs in San Francisco. Towers did add some nice minor league depth today, but he’s still given away arguably his two top talents and inflated the payroll, all for an 85-win, third-place team.

– The Diamondbacks just keep backing themselves into corners. It’s what forced them to trade Upton. And now it’s going to force them to give Prado a big extension, since there’s no way they’re going to let the key piece in the deal leave after one year.

Prado has hit .300 and topped a .350 OBP in three of his four full seasons in the bigs. I’ll be curious to see whether his terrific 69/58 K/BB ratio from last season holds up or if he reverts to previous form (86/40 K/BB in 2010, 52/34 in 129 games in 2011). A quality walk total will make the difference between him being an above average regular or an overpriced mediocrity in those seasons in which he hits .280 or so. And he will have those seasons after turning 30. The Diamondbacks are probably going to have to give him $30 million-$36 million for three seasons, and I have my doubts he’ll prove worth it.

A Prado extension would also cut off prospect Matt Davidson’s current path to the majors, though I don’t really see that as a problem. He projects better in left field than third base anyway. And if the Diamondbacks did want to leave him at third base, they could put Prado back in left field in 2014.

– This trade does leave the Braves lineup in a bit of a weird place. Prado was their only great option to bat first or second this season. Right now, we might be looking at:

SS Andrelton Simmons
CF B.J. Upton
RF Jason Heyward
LF Justin Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dan Uggla
C Brian McCann
3B Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson

With McCann set to miss at least the first few weeks following shoulder surgery, the third baseman will likely bat seventh, putting Gerald Laird in the eighth spot.

This arrangement will work out just fine if Simmons builds on his .289/.335/.416 line from his rookie campaign. I’m not sure the Braves can count on that, though.

And then there’s B.J. Upton, whose OPS went from .331 in 2011 to .298 last year. If he comes back in at .330 or so, he’d be an asset at the top of the order. If not, he’s a problem.

The Braves could always drop either Simmons or B.J. and simply move everyone else up a spot. I’d be good with Heyward batting second and Justin hitting third. I’m guessing that’s not how Fredi Gonzalez will want to play it, though.

– At third base, the current play should be to play Francisco versus righties and Johnson versus lefties. Johnson will get a chance to win the starting job outright, but I’m not a fan at all. He’s a poor defender, and while he does have pop, I doubt he’ll hit .281 again.

One potential problem with the platoon: the right-handed-hitting Johnson has actually performed much better against righties (.283/.323/.452 in 896 AB) than lefties (.255/.294/.372) in his career. Still, I think Francisco will outhit him against righties.

– Now that the Braves have question marks at the back of the rotation and at third base, they should be in contact with some free agents. Roy Oswalt and Javier Vazquez would make tons of sense as the new fifth starter. Vazquez would likely come cheaper, and Atlanta is about as close as he can get to his home in Puerto Rico. Of course, he pitched for the Braves in 2009 and went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA. Some other inexpensive possibilities: Carlos Zambrano, Carl Pavano, Kevin Millwood, Freddy Garcia and Chris Young.

For third base, it makes plenty of sense to check in with Scott Rolen and see if he has any interest in a part-time role. I’d take him over Johnson to pair with Francisco. And I know this won’t be very popular, but it’s worth offering Chone Figgins a minor league contract. The smart money says he’s done as a useful player at 35, but if he does have something left, he’d be a pretty great fit on a team with little speed, no obvious leadoff man and no plus defensive third basemen.

  1. jjschiller - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Sure, Prado’s a really solid player. But he’s a year from free agency, and if the Dbacks extend him, he’ll be paid almost what Upton’s getting paid. And your ability to extend a player doesn’t make him more valuable in trade. You traded for 1 year of Martin Prado. Everything you get after that, you’re buying.

    I’m of the opinion that Kevin Towers blew this one. They bad mouthed their commodity, they shopped him over and over again, caused him to be disgruntled, made it a virtual necessity that he be moved, then they backed themselves into a corner by signing his replacement before he was gone, all while holding out so hard for the absolute best deal that some suitors (Rangers, for one) just moved on. He further reduced his leverage by actually agreeing to a trade with Seattle that the player TOLD him he would veto. That package from Seattle could be used as leverage until the player nixed it. As long as it’s hypothetical, it has value at the table with other teams.

    There have been comments in the past that Towers is difficult to work with, and it finally came back and got him. He ticked off his player, he ticked off teams that wanted to deal with him in good faith, and with his back up against a hard place, he accepted, maybe, 70 cents on the dollar for what his player was worth.

    • ptfu - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      What has happened to Kevin Towers? When he was the Padres GM, he used to be known as a sharp trader. The Jake Peavy trade to the White Sox–only recently have the ChiSox gotten anything from Peavy. Stealing Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young (the tall pitcher) from the Rangers. Trading spare parts for Phil Nevin (~13 WAR in 1999-2001). Trading for Greg Vaughn, who hit 50 HRs (and was worth 6 WAR) to the 1998 NL Champs. Towers didn’t have any real stinkers, except for the Randy Myers waiver claim gone to hell. In San Diego, Towers’ major league roster management was a definite plus.

      Towers’ weakness was bad drafts. The farm system didn’t produce much during his tenure.

      Towers also didn’t tolerate whiners in San Diego. When Nevin and Klesko complained about Petco Park, they were eventually shipped out (though they were also getting old). But has Upton been complaining or a malcontent or whatever?

      So what has Arizona done to Towers’ judgment? Now he’s trading for (and paying a lot for) ineffective Heath Bell? Signing Cody Ross (who’s older and maybe worse than outfielder Chris Young, who Towers just traded away) when he already had outfielders Upton, Kubel, Parra, and Eaton? And now this questionable Upton trade. Hmm…

  2. 13arod - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    not prodo

  3. icanspeel - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    It’s weird not seeing Chipper Jones name in their lineup. I pretty much grew up with him always playing 3b for the Braves (minus injuries)

  4. greymares - Jan 24, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    of course you can’t help losing chipper but replacing Jones, Bourne and Prado with the Uptons does not make the Braves a better team.

  5. paperlions - Jan 24, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    I suppose I have a lot of thoughts about this trade, but all of them boil down to: damn, that is a steal for the Braves, WTF is Towers thinking?

    • jl9830 - Jan 24, 2013 at 7:50 PM

      I wouldn’t really say a “steal.” The Braves got the best player in the long term, but it’s not the worst trade ever for both sides.

  6. gbrim - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    Having watched Upton his entire major league career, I am not sorry he has been traded (although I am appalled by how the process was handled). A few years watching skillet hands in the outfield, an inability to hit on the road, his streakiness, and little things like how poor he is getting runners in from third with less than two outs, are enough. He undoubtedly is a fine athlete, and by all accounts a good teammate and hard worker, but the total is less than the sum of his parts. He may thrive in Atlanta, but it was time to leave Arizona.

  7. gpatrick15 - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    When healthy, the starting rotation should be:

    When Beachy comes back, they’ll have to move someone to the pen. Unless Tehran just doesn’t cut it in Spring Training or the first few weeks of the season, I don’t see them reaching out to any of the free agent starters looking for work.

    • jl9830 - Jan 24, 2013 at 7:51 PM

      Yikes, Paul Maholm as your #2 starter? Not great. Hudson would 100% go ahead of Maholm in the rotation.

      • joegolfer - Jan 25, 2013 at 1:21 AM

        He’s simply alternating righty/ lefty, just as many managers do. He’s not necessarily saying that Maholm is better than Hudson.
        I agree that Hudson is far superior to Maholm, but it won’t matter much once the season starts.
        I once read an article on ESPN about #1 pitchers. Some readers wondered what percentage of the time that a #1 pitcher faces another #1 pitcher on the other team. They calculated it out. Yes it happens more right at the start of the year, but the percentage came out to just 19%.
        So it really doesn’t matter once the season gets underway, except for the egos of the pitchers.

  8. ncphilliesguy - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    Matthew, I apologize, as a I made some assinine comment on your first post proposing this. I NEVER thought this would happen in a million years. That was for 2 reasons, one, I never thought the Braves would spend that much money, and two, I thought they would have to include Simmons to get Justin, and I never thought they would do that. Turns out I was wrong, because Towers (?!) did the deal without him included and the Braves overpaid for his brother. Kuddos to you, I should just keep my mouth shut.

    P.S. Can’t keep my mouth shut, they have too many strikeouts in that lineup.

  9. thebadguyswon - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    Kevin Towers is an idiot. He got hosed.

  10. djjackson81 - Jan 24, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    When you look at Uptons home and away batting lines when in AZ clearly his home batting line at Chase field was his best away dips off big time away Chase field. Seattle s offer for Upton was better cause Seattle can’t get the big free agents to sign there. That’s why they had to over pay and were willing in order to get the big bat in Seattle. There is a reason why Upton had Seattle in his no trade clause. He knows his numbers would drop in Seattle. Atlanta fans knew what they were gonna get from Prado and hate loosing him he’s an all star period. Great average good defense and strikes out very little. When you have 600+ at bats and only strike out 69 times thats great contact hitting. Not to mention Prado’s HR will spike in AZ cause he is hitting at Chase field.

  11. djjackson81 - Jan 24, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    Braves in a majority hate loosing Prado and AZ embarrasses him. Az just got a hell of a player at the top of there order with Eaton and Braves have lost that. Plus the prospects sent with Prado are pretty good pieces to add in the mix as well. Lets not forget Atlanta sent 4million with this trade for Upton.

  12. djjackson81 - Jan 24, 2013 at 8:20 PM

    Atlanta got a good outfield yes, however the five players in the deal with the 4 million in Prado’s salary sent to Arizona is a good trade for Arizona. Until players make the bigs and show me there projected projections there just that prospects.

  13. djjackson81 - Jan 24, 2013 at 8:22 PM

    Kevin Towers as his job has improve the organization as a whole. We only had one, Chris Owing’s was our only prospect in the organization now we have three highly regarded prospects in the organization.

  14. mungman69 - Jan 24, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    Washington will win this division going away. Philadelphia? You ask. ALL of their good players are old cept for Hamels and they don’t even have one major league outfielder. Atlanta isn’t better, they will miss Jones big time. Washington is really stocked. The Mets & Marlins suck a lot.

  15. joejaws75 - Jan 24, 2013 at 8:52 PM

    Sorry but as a phillies fan the braves lineup minus chipper and prado and Bourne don’t scare me one bit

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