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Philadelphia Phillies: Upton Signing, Hanson Trade Show How Far Ahead Braves Are

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Philadelphia Phillies: Upton Signing, Hanson Trade Show How Far Ahead Braves Are
David Banks/Getty Images
Yes, he strikes out a lot, but he hits home runs and steals bases. And now he will do it against the Phillies 19 times a year.

Hot-stove banter can be fun. If you are an Atlanta Braves fan this week, you have a lot to talk about.

Your team made a big splash in free agency, landing B.J. Upton to play center field for the next five seasons and paying $75 million for the privilege, according to Yahoo.com and the Associated Press.

Then the Braves turned around and moved downward, trading right-handed starter Tommy Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for erstwhile Angels closer Jordan Walden, per the Los Angeles Times.

These are the sorts of moves that keep baseball fans interested through the desolate winter months.

If you are Phillies fan, though, suffice it to say that this past week was not quite so thrilling.

The two big developments in Hot Stove Land this week for the Fightin' Phils were a trade that did not happen and a drug suspension to a key cog in the Big Red Phillie Machine.

Wilton Lopez was going to be a Phillie, came to town for a physical examination and suddenly he wasn't going to be a Phillie any more, per hardballtalk.com.

Phillies fans got their hopes up briefly. Lopez looked to be a credible answer to the question of what to do about the eighth inning, what with his earned run average just over 2.00 in 2012 and his penchant for throwing strikes.

Lopez' acquisition was going to take some of the sting out of Carlos Ruiz' 25-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program rules by taking a banned amphetamine, per ESPN.com and the Associated Press.

These developments of the past week underscore what every Phillies fan already knows, even if the die-hard nature of most Phillies fans precludes admitting even a shard of weakness.

Sad to say, but the Phillies are now the mediocre also-ran that they reduced their rivals to during their five-year reign in the National League East from 2007-2011.

Think about it. This week the Braves spent $75 million on a career .255 hitter with a career OPS of .758 and no All-Star Appearances. In seven full seasons in Tampa, the only category B.J. Upton led the American League in was times caught stealing.

Upton is 28 years old. The Braves are not paying Upton all this money based on his potential. Upton is a finished product. They're are paying him generational cash figuring that what they see is what they will get.

And here's the thing. When you have Jason Heyward in right field, Freddie Freeman at first base, Dan Uggla at second base and Martin Prado in left field, you do not need your marquee free agent to overachieve. You just need him to do what he has done before.

This is especially so given Atlanta's pitching staff. The Braves will roll out Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm. Some combination of Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran and Brandon Beachy will combine to fill the fifth-starter role. Those are seven credible major league arms.

Atlanta's starting pitching was so deep that they traded 26-year-old Tommy Hanson, he of the 45-32 career record, to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for their former closer, Jordan Walden.

That the Braves could trade a viable major league starter with some upside for a relief pitcher who will not close for them (not with Craig Kimbrel still drawing breath) tells you just how much pitching the Braves have.

The foregoing analysis relates to the Phillies in three ways, and none of them are good if you are a Phillies fan.

First, the Braves have plenty of money to throw around if they choose to. Upton instantly became their most expensive player at $15 million per season. Uggla will make $13 million this year. McCann will make $12 million and Hudson will earn $9 million. Those are the Braves' big earners in 2013.

Contrast that with the Phillies, who have well over $100 million tied up in six players next season (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon.) Even Jimmy Rollins is set to make $11 million in 2013, and he is way down on the list of high-priced Phillies.

And despite spending all that money, the Phillies are still not quite sure who will be playing center field, left field or third base on Opening Day.

Second, the Braves have pitching to burn. Their rotation is deep enough that they could afford to part with Hanson for what is essentially a spare part in Walden. The Braves' bullpen already had three of the most intimidating arms in baseball with Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty. Adding Walden is the equivalent of putting a sun room on a 35,000 square-foot vacation home.

By comparison, the Phillies had no one they could much rely on to get the ball to Jonathan Papelbon in 2012. They sent out the likes of B.J. Rosenberg, Joe Savery and Jakob Diekman in high-leverage situations in 2012, with predictably sorry results.

Finally, this week's goings-on illustrate what is possible when a team like the Braves has affordable talent at several spots on the diamond.

Freeman and Heyward, two of the most promising young hitters in the National League East not named Bryce Harper, both made less than $600,000 in 2012.

Going into 2012, would you rather have had Freeman and Heyward at those prices, or Howard and Hunter Pence at $20 million and $10.4 million, respectively?

The bottom line for Phillies fans is this, and it is not pretty: since the Phillies are not going to catch the Washington Nationals in 2013, passing the Braves for a wild-card spot is probably the best the Phillies can hope for.

But this week's hot-stove action illustrates just how far the gulf between the Braves and the Phillies really is.

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