Thursday, January 24, 2013

Instant Trade Analysis: Justin Upton to the Braves

Atlanta Braves get: OF Justin Upton, 3B Chris Johnson

Arizona Diamondbacks get: 3B/OF Martin Prado, SP Randall Delgado and minor leaguers SS Nick Ahmed, 1B Brandon Drury and SP Zeke Spruill

Since Ted Turner sold the Braves several seasons ago, Atlanta management has subtly turned a team with a nine figure payroll into shrewd, budget conscious operation with an eye always towards the future. Instead of spending multi-millions to sign or retain high-salaried veterans, the Braves have kept a healthy mix of older players with young, emerging prospects, which seem to sprout from their minor league system as steadily as Milton Bradley felony charges.

Although we had a couple initial thoughts here at MAMBINO HQ regarding this trade, we turned to resident Braves fan and writer The King for his thoughts. Let's get to it:

  1. The Braves have the best bullpen in the game, one of the best rotations and stellar defense. The lineup was the weak part of this team not because of depth, but because of a  lack of superstars (a problem that has worsened with Chipper Jones' retirement).  Justin Upton gives them a hitter that has the potential to be a superstar. 

    The King is right in his assessment; the Braves have one of the best young starting rotations and bullpens in the game, a raft of twenty-something pitchers with tremendous upside. More to the point, they're all on controllable rookie contracts, increasing their value tenfold--look at what 22 year-old pitcher Randall Delgado fetched, after all. The Braves absolutely need more stability in their line-up with a departing Chipper Jones (a legitimate All-Star in his age 40 season) as well as the departing free agent Michael Bourn. Grabbing a five-tool 25 year-old outfielder with a top-5 MVP finish to his credit should do the trick, right?

    While Justin Upton has tremendous potential to be not just an All-Star, but a perennial MVP candidate, there are the same concerns for the younger Upton that there is for the older Upton, as we went through months ago when BJ signed with the team. Justin has a prodigious power stroke, but hasn't been able to harness anything resembling steady production. Over the past five seasons, Upton has slugged .463, .532, .442, .529 and .430. Overall, those are some fantastic statistics, but it's a yearly ebb and flow of nearly .100 points that's been maddening to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    More to the point, I'm not completely sold that Upton is the finishing piece to Atlanta's line-up. Upton has some of the same problems as a lot of his contemporaries in his new dugout; fantastic power, but a poor batting eye. Justin joins a roster with four players that struck out 129 times or more. The good news is that one of them, Michael Bourn and his 155 strikeouts, won't be with the team next year. The bad news is that the brothers Upton are joining the Braves, adding nearly 290 strikeouts (!!!) between the two of them. If we're talking about the bright side of potential, let's talk about the downside to it as well: this team could easily turn into the 2012 Posteseason Yankees--big power, but no ability to get on base when faced with smart pitcher who can locate.
  2. This team is as deep as they come. I would argue that 3B is the only position (including pitchers) where the Braves are below average.
    Upton does add to an already stacked team--his acquisition was really just a punctuation on an already successful Braves offseason. Without Justin, there's little doubt that the Braves would have been in the mix for a wild card berth, at the least. Even as I discussed all the potential drawbacks to such a free-swinging line-up, both Uptons, First Baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and outfielder Jason Heyward are still malleable young players who can become better, more patient hitters. If a strong Braves coaching staff can get these guys to settle down, they'll become one of the most fearsome line-ups in the NL East.

    However, third base is now a liability. Martin Prado is a fantastic, versatile player who manned five positions last season, but was earmarked for the hot corner with Chipper Jones retiring. Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco are going to platoon, neither of which inspires any particular confidence. Johnson has shown a little pop (15 homers and 28 doubles last season), but is a poor fielder, while Francisco is the polar opposite. Prado has been a very steady, sure-handed player for nearly his entire Brave tenure, and to give him up in return for a risky player with upside and a third base platoon with visible flaws should make anyone uneasy.

  3. Justin Upton is signed through 2015 as opposed to Prado who was signed through 2013. With this trade, the Braves have locked in a great group of young players for the next 3 years (though contracts for some key veterans are expiring, including Brian McCann).
    This is the caveat to everything. The Braves flipped one year of Prado, Delgado (who we'll get to in a second) and a handful of redundant prospects for three years of Upton, which is a gamble worth taking considering Upton's upside. In that sense, it was a matter of reallocating resources for the Braves--Prado is great and Delgado could be a future rotation fixture, but if you've ever watched Justin Upton swing a bat, you'd know why Atlanta couldn't resist this deal.
  4. Delgado is the only elite prospect the Braves gave up. More importantly, he's part of the Braves' enviable pitching surplus. Even after Atlanta cut Jair Jurrjens and shipped out Tommy Hanson, the team still has starters to spare. Delgado wouldn't be in this year's rotation, and there are still farm hands still in the system ready to roll if any injury should become any of the opening day roster, including Julio Teheran (who they like better than Delgado). Atlanta has shown an ability to restock the farm system with elite pitching propsects time and time again. It's a no-brainer for the Braves.
    And here's the second rub. Delgado has the upside of a number 2 pitcher, but for the time being, he's not in the Braves' plans. Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Teheran and a soon to be returning Brandon Beachy look like rotation locks for the next five seasons. Delgado would have been a nice addition to that group, but at this point, the Braves needed another bat more than another arm

  5. You can't forget about the business aspect here too. The Justin Upton and Jason Heyward mix is sexy. I know I plan to watch more games this year. Plus, how awesome are those Nationals and Braves games going to be?
    An incredibly important part of this package. The Braves will have two things no other team in the league can possibly compete with: an outfield with three African Americans, two of which are brothers. The latter aspect will play everywhere--after all, the nation is losing it's collective pants about two brothers coaching against each other in one (really important, but still, just one) game. Can you imagine the constant stream of publicity and marketing opportunities for the Uptons standing side by side in the outfield, or knocking each other in at the plate? In this sense, Atlanta has hit a gold mine.

    But in another sense, have three black players line up together all as potential All-Stars in a sport where the black athlete is disappearing is just as, if not more important. I imagine that this will go over well in Atlanta, a city with a rich African-American history. But if these three studs start mashing and unearthing webgems every night? It's a national story. The Braves will be printing money.

    In summary, the Braves have set themselves up to be World Series contenders for the next three years at a minimum while getting the superstar hitter they desperately needed. I couldn't be more thrilled with the trade.

I'm looking at this trade with guarded optimism for Atlanta. This all hinges on whether or not the Upton brothers--not just Justin or BJ--will grow up and harness their potential. Perhaps playing together (the two are notoriously close) will bring the best out of them, or maybe it will make as little difference as Joe Maddon, the best manager in baseball, did in terms of BJ's plate patience.

For Arizona, the team had the opposite problem as the Braves; too many bats and not enough arms. Now Gerardo Parra, Cody Ross, Jason Kubel and prospect Adam Eaton can slug it out for ABs, lessening a still existing logjam in the outfield. The Snakes are lining up Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy and Tyler Skaggs, but for those five, there are still a lot of questions. Kennedy and Cahill are steady top of the rotation guys, but Miley could be headed for a sophmore slump after a tremendous rookie year, McCarthy is coming off a skull operation (from an errant line drive to the head) and Skaggs is a rookie. Daniel Hudson will be coming back this year from Tommy John surgery, but Arizona knows better than to count on him for a return to form. Delgado, like Skaggs and Miley, has the same risks as a young pitcher, but better for the Diamondbacks to have too many options than none at all. In the NL West, every team seemingly has to have six pitchers to contend for the division, and the Arizona is completely cognizant of that. Prado is of course a great addition to the team, and if the D-Backs are being lapped by the Dodgers and Giants in June, they'll have a great rental player to flip for prospects.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome report from the Braves angle. Just one key to add from the DBacks side - they lost Trevor Bauer to Cleveland earlier this year. Bauer is probably someone who wore out his welcome when he stubbornly did his own routine rather than that of the team's coming up through the system. Delgado comes without the baggage and with some pretty high-end potential.