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    Thursday, January 24, 2013

    Knee-Jerk Reactions: The Braves Continue Improving, the DiamondbacksContinue Being Confusing

    Justin Upton’s ticket out of Arizona has final been punched, after two years of speculation and one false start to Seattle. But he finally found his way to the Atlanta Braves, joining his older brother B.J. Yes, in one offseason, the Braves have collected the set of Upton Brothers.

    Overall, I like this move for the Braves a lot more, although its not necessarily bad for the Diamondbacks. It definitely beats the Chris Young-Cliff Pennington trade, or giving Trevor Bauer away to the Cleveland Indians.

    The Braves gave up a significant amount in their package, in Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury. But if you’re giving up that much, you should get a player like Justin Upton. Despite his down 2012 year, Upton is still just 25 and showed immense talent in 2011. I think he’d make a great bounce-back candidate, given his injuries last year. On top of that, he’s still under contract for three more seasons at a reasonable rate. If he can get back to his .289/.369/.529 line from 2012 (which, at 25, there’s a large possibility of happening), he’s a steal.

    I’m not necessarily sure that this move actually makes the 2013 Braves better than the 2012 Braves, actually. Even bringing in the Uptons, they need to replace Martin Prado and Michael Bourn, both of whom had fantastic seasons last year. I would argue that the Upton brothers have a better chance at replicating that production in 2013 than Prado and Bourn do, though. Both had career seasons, well above their normal levels. With those two leaving and Chipper Jones retiring, though, the Braves needed to be aggressive to not slide back. This deal is exactly that. And best case, an improving Justin Upton and Jason Heyward will give them quite the lineup to challenge the Nationals the next few years. Baseball should get a few interesting playoff races soon.

    Also going to the Braves is Chris Johnson. Johnson is a competent third baseman, which is in short supply on the free agent market. He’s easily replaceable should something better come along, but for the time being, he fills a hole opened by trading Prado.

    The Diamondbacks did decently in this deal, but I think the closest comparison is the Marlins side of the Blue Jays trade earlier this winter. The deal itself isn’t necessarily bad, but it says worrisome things about the direction of the franchise.

    Randall Delgado is the star of the deal, providing great upside for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s never bad to have too many pitching prospects, due to injury and uncertainty, which is why I don’t like this deal quite as much for the Diamondbacks. The margin of error is wide enough that this doesn’t look as great as, say, the Rays’ deal for Wil Myers. But given what the Diamondbacks were working with, it wasn’t an awful return.

    Martin Prado is a good third baseman, which should help the team in the immediate future. I’m not positive he can repeat his all-star level from 2012 (5.9 Wins Above Replacement, Fangraphs), which featured a large jump in his defensive numbers. But he will at least be useful as the team makes a playoff run.

    Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury are low enough in the Braves system that they aren’t major pieces right now. They could develop, but the upside right now is probably a starter-level position players several years down the road, and even then, it’s much to early to assert even that. Neither has hit much professionally yet. More likely, they’re filler right now.

    Pitcher Zeke Spruill has shown promise in the minors, but his development seems to have slowed a bit lately. Not bad, but more a bit piece in this deal. He’s been solid in the minors, at least, if not overwhelming.

    Really, this deal boils down to Upton for Prado and Delgado. And that’s a little worrisome for Diamondback fans. It’s a solid return*, but the bigger question is: why did this need to be done?

    *I do wonder what happened in the Rangers trade talks, though. I would probably have taken Andrus over this package if it was offered, as thought. Maybe it's fair to say the Diamondbacks should have gotten more? Especially since Prado is a free agent for 2014. Maybe this isn't as fair a deal as I first thought.

    Arizona is clearly trying to win this season, otherwise the deal wouldn’t have included Martin Prado. The most obvious answer is that the Diamondbacks had a crowded outfield, with Young, Upton, Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra, and Cody Ross all vying for playing time. But the Diamondbacks have been shopping Upton for close to two years, during which time they’ve acquired Kubel and Ross as free agents (Ross as recently as a few months go). And if you’re going to try to win in 2013, I would think a starting outfield with Upton instead of Ross or Kubel is the better bet.

    There really wasn’t an excuse to trade a young talent like Upton. The team isn’t into rebuilding, and he was signed to a more-than-reasonable deal. The team shouldn’t be making its job more difficult than it is; its already hard to acquire a superstar player. Deciding that your superstar needs to have the right personality on top of that is ridiculous. Delgado may surpass Upton in the long run, but it’s not certain. Why make that gamble when your goal is to win in 2013?

    On top of that, there’s the overall direction the Diamondbacks have been taking, which is to say, there doesn’t appear to be a clear one. The Young-Pennington deal showed a definite under-appreciation of Young and what he could get the team in a trade. Bauer also appeared to be sold low. There really was no reason to bring in Ross, as the team had more than enough outfield talent without him. All it did was speed Upton’s ticket out of town, partially by telegraphing to the rest of the league that they were set on starting 2013 without him.

    Really, this deal could have been much worse for Arizona. They brought in talent, even if there are reasons to be hesitant. The Braves made a savvy deal bringing in Upton, and while it may not make them favorites in the NL East, it does put them in a good place to compete and match or improve on 2012. Right now, I would say the Braves “won” the deal.

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