Biggest Winners and Losers of the Justin Upton to the Braves Blockbuster
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Justin Upton's long national nightmare is over.
Heading to the Arizona Diamondbacks—as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien—are Martin Prado and Randall Delgado, along with minor league infielders Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury, and piching prospect Zeke Spruill.
At first glance, this seems like a good trade for both teams.
The Braves have the right-handed power bat they've been seeking for left field, and Arizona traded a player they've been looking to unload for quite some time. In return, the D-Backs received a major league third baseman and promising young pitcher, along with minor leaguers that could make a meaningful contribution within a few years.
But in taking a closer look, who are the winners and losers in this trade? Who benefits most from this deal and who gets hurt from it? Here's how it breaks down, in our view.
Winner: Justin Upton
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If for no other reason than the fact that Justin Upton will no longer be the subject of weekly trade rumors, he is a winner in this deal.
Barring something unforeseen, Upton knows where he'll be playing for the next three years—playing alongside his older brother B.J. in the Atlanta Braves outfield. Obviously, the Braves hope that stability and camaraderie, along with the change of scenery turns Upton around.
In 2011, Upton put up MVP-caliber numbers, posting an .898 OPS, 39 doubles, 31 homers, 88 RBI and 21 stolen bases. Last year, he was a disappointment, hitting 17 home runs with 67 RBI while battling a thumb injury.
One downside for Upton is that Turner Field isn't quite as hitter-friendly a ballpark as Chase Field, as ESPN.com's park factors illustrates.
Upton will also be playing left field for the first time in his MLB career. But as a player athletic enough to play center—which he did for 192 games in the minors—he should be capable of adapting to left.
Winner: B.J. Upton
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This has certainly been an offseason to remember for B.J. Upton.
First, he hit a big payday in free agency, signing a five-year, $75 million contract with Atlanta. He'll be the starting center fielder on a team perennially expected to compete for the NL East title and National League pennant.
Now, he gets to play with his younger brother Justin, something the two superstar siblings have talked about since they were kids.
"It's been a big conversation of ours," B.J. Upton said to MLB.com's Mark Bowman in late November. "Obviously, he's got another three years [before he's a free agent]. Is it a possibility? Yes. Is it going to happen? We don't know. But it's definitely something that we are going to talk about."
One can only imagine B.J. checking in with Braves general manager Frank Wren multiple times per day over the past few weeks, wondering if his new team could really make an Upton family fantasy into a reality.
Will playing next to his brother in the Braves outfield improve B.J.'s defense? Last year, Upton was slightly below average defensively, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. He gave up just over two runs more than a replacement level center fielder would have.
However, playing between Jason Heyward and Justin should help improve B.J.'s fielding immensely. Batting between Heyward and Freddie Freeman, or possibly Freeman and Brian McCann, ought to give him better pitches to hit as well.
Loser: Martin Prado
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Martin Prado has gone from playing left field and third base for an annual postseason contender to being the starting third baseman for an Arizona club that might finish third in the NL West.
Perhaps that's selling the D-Backs short. But they finished 13 games behind the San Francisco Giants in their division and seven games behind in the NL wild-card race.
It's surprising that the Braves were willing to include Prado in this trade, since he's been an important contributor for them the past four seasons. Prado also filled two key needs on the team in left field and third base.
But according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien, the Braves decided to trade Prado when the two sides couldn't work out a contract extension. Prado is in his final year of arbitration eligibility and will be a free agent after the upcoming season.
The D-Backs will surely try to sign Prado to a long-term deal, however, and could be willing to pay him the $11 million to $12 million per season he's seeking. Financially, Prado could come out a winner from this trade. Maybe he'll still compete for a playoff spot too.
Winner: Kevin Towers
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Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has been interested in trading Justin Upton ever since he took the job in 2010.
Maybe Towers didn't like something about Upton's game (perhaps his strikeouts) or attitude. Or, perhaps he felt Upton gave him the best chance to make the sort of trade that would bring in a load of prospects. Whatever the case may be, the D-Backs GM has frequently shopped his young right fielder around MLB.
Towers didn't get the starting shortstop that he was seeking, such as the Rangers' Elvis Andrus or the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera, but he did get the Braves' top shortstop prospect in Nick Ahmed with this deal. (He also acquired Didi Gregorius from the Tribe in a different trade.)
Martin Prado should also be an upgrade over the platoon of Eric Chavez and Chris Johnson, which was projected to be Arizona's starting combination at third base.
Randall Delgado gives the D-Backs a young starting pitcher to replace Trevor Bauer, who was traded to Cleveland, and Zeke Spruill provides minor league pitching depth, something every MLB club would love to have.
Ultimately, Towers may have gotten a better return from the Braves than he would have from the Mariners in the trade that Upton rejected. At least with Prado, Arizona got a player that can start in the majors right now. Delgado might be part of the D-Backs starting rotation as well.
Considering the limited trade market Towers had to work with, he didn't do badly at all.
Loser: Eric Chavez
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If Eric Chavez thought he would be a starting third baseman (or at least get the majority of playing time as the left-handed batter in a platoon situation) when he signed with Arizona, he has to change those expectations now.
Again, Martin Prado is going to be the D-Backs' starter at third, relegating Chavez to a reserve that will play when Prado needs a break or fills in for Jason Kubel in left field.
Arizona manager Kirk Gibson will probably try his best to get Chavez in the lineup, considering he hit .298 with a .908 OPS, 16 home runs and 34 RBI against right-handed pitching last season.
But where will Chavez play? Maybe he can relieve Paul Goldschmidt at first. Perhaps he'll get to play third if Prado were to sub for Aaron Hill at second base. He'll likely see some time at designated hitter when the D-Backs are in interleague play.
Regardless, his situation looks far different now than what he likely thought he was getting into when he signed with the D-Backs back in early December.
Winner: Juan Francisco
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Juan Francisco looked like the favorite to get the majority of playing time at third base for the Braves, playing against right-handed pitching.
If the Braves had gotten a left fielder, however, that would have moved Martin Prado to third and Francisco would have been a reserve.
Atlanta did get a left fielder, of course, but they had to give up Prado to get Justin Upton. That essentially clears third base for Francisco, who will get the majority of playing time as the left-handed hitter in a platoon situation.
Chris Johnson, who came over from Arizona along with Upton, will likely play third base when the Braves face left-handed pitching. The curiosity about Johnson, however, is that he actually hits better against righties, batting .295 with an .819 OPS.
That's better than Francisco's .245 average, .768 OPS, nine home runs and 29 RBI versus right-handed pitching. But Atlanta presumably wants to see what Francisco can do with more than 165 plate appearances in a season.
Loser: Michael Bourn
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Michael Bourn just can't catch a break in this free-agent market.
A return to Atlanta seemed unlikely for Bourn, as the Braves figured they wouldn't meet the contract terms he was seeking. But the open market dried up as teams like the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies found center fielders elsewhere.
Additionally, teams with high draft picks didn't want to surrender their first- or second-round selections by signing Bourn, who was tendered a qualifying offer by the Braves. That limited his market even further, scaring off teams like the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners.
The current rumor has the New York Mets interested in Bourn, but that may be dependent on whether they can successfully lobby MLB to keep its first-round pick. The first 10 picks in the MLB draft are protected, and the Mets have the 11th selection.
As the New York Daily News' Anthony McCarron and John Harper note, the Mets would have the 10th pick if the Pittsburgh Pirates didn't get a compensatory first-round selection for not being able to sign Stanford's Mark Appel last year.
But Bourn would still have had some negotiating leverage with the Mets if the Braves were interested in re-signing him. While Atlanta was still looking for a left fielder and leadoff hitter, bringing back Bourn was increasingly possible.
So much for that.
Winner: Frank Wren
Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren went into the offseason looking to fill two needs.
The Braves needed a center fielder to replace Michael Bourn and a right-handed hitter to balance a lineup that featured lefties Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann.
Wren got his center fielder and right-handed hitter in the same player by signing B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75 million contract. But that still left a hole in left field.
Atlanta was prepared to play Martin Prado in left while Juan Francisco manned third base versus left-handed pitching. Against righties, Reed Johnson would be the left fielder while Prado moved over to third.
But the preference all along was to get a full-time player for left field. With Justin Upton, Wren got one who brings potential star power to the Braves lineup. This deal also carries the fringe benefit of uniting the Uptons.
With the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward, Wren has now assembled arguably the best outfield in the National League, if not all of MLB. The race between the Braves and the Nationals in the NL East could be the most exciting competition in baseball this season.
Loser: Baltimore Orioles
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With the Arizona Diamondbacks' outfield logjam, general manager Kevin Towers had to trade either Justin Upton or Jason Kubel to free up a roster spot.
While rumors of the D-Backs and Braves working out a trade for Upton gained steam, the Baltimore Orioles were also talking to Arizona about a deal for Kubel. Kubel and his 30 home runs would have been a nice fit in left field for Baltimore.
Judging from reports by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal and CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, however, the O's and D-Backs were never really close to a trade. As the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly also explains, Baltimore's interest in Kubel was "lukewarm," as Arizona's asking price was considered too high.
But with Upton being traded to Atlanta, the D-Backs will likely hold on to Kubel now. That's something of a disappointment for an Orioles team that could use another big bat to go with Adam Jones and Chris Davis.
It's been a surprisingly quiet offseason for Baltimore, following their surprising playoff run. Rather than capitalize on that success by adding to a talented core, the Orioles seem content to go into the season with basically the same players, hoping they can repeat a trip to the postseason.
Winner: Nick Ahmed
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According to analysts such as Minor League Ball's John Sickels, shortstop Nick Ahmed was a top-10 prospect in the Braves organization.
Ahmed had at least a couple of years before he was ready for the majors, having played last season with Single-A Lynchburg.
But even if or when he developed, Ahmed was going to be blocked from the Braves' major league roster by Andrelton Simmons. Simmons just finished his rookie season and looks to be the future at that position in Atlanta for years to come.
Moving Ahmed to second base was being discussed, but after being traded to Arizona, Ahmed's future looks a bit brighter.
The D-Backs did pick up shortstop Didi Gregorious in a three-way deal with the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians. But there is some doubt as to whether Gregorius—who batted .243 with Triple-A Louisville last year—will hit well enough to hold down a regular job in the majors.
Gregorius will almost certainly get to the majors faster than Ahmed. But the 22-year-old from Connecticut has a better shot at the big leagues now than he did in the Braves organization.
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