The rumour carousel that Justin Upton has been riding on for the last few years has come to a stop. Acquiring the former first overall pick of the First Year Player draft was the Atlanta [redacted]s. In Atlanta, Justin Upton will have a chance to play with his older brother B.J. who signed a five-year, $75-million contract. Atlanta also acquired third baseman Chris Johnson in the deal and gave up third baseman and ourfielder Martin Prado, righthanders Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, shortstop Nick Ahmed, and first baseman Brandon Drury. Prado and Delgado figure to be a part of the Major League picture at some point in 2013, while Spruill, Ahmed and Drury are still a ways off.
Earlier this month Upton reportedly used his limited no-trade clause to block a trade to the Seattle Mariners for a package that included infield prospect Nick Franklin, righthanded prospect Taijuan Walker and a pair of relievers in lefty Charlie Furbush righty Stephen Pryor. On the surface, and in a vacuum the Seattle trade is a better package. Walker is one of the top 10 pitching prospects in baseball, and Franklin is a very solid infield prospect in his own right. Furbush and Pryor both can be good relievers, with Pryor capable of hitting triple digits. Despite looking like much better package, the haul Arizona received from Atlanta may actually be a better overall. Currently the Diamondbacks are a team on the verge of contending, not a team in the middle of a rebuild. In return for a very good young outfielder—where the D’Backs were crowded to begin with—and a sub-par starter at third base, Arizona netted a very good third baseman, a solid young starting pitcher, and two non-insignificant prospects.
The Seattle trade may have possessed more flashy trade chips, but Arizona received better fits for their organization in this trade than they would have with the other reported trade offer. They plugged their biggest hole, third base, and acquired depth and talent to help them in the years coming up. If only Kirk Gibson would platoon Cody Ross and Jason Kubel, start Gerardo Parra in Center and use Adam Eaton in right field—something he isn’t likely to do. If he used that lineup configuration this trade would look even better.
WHAT ATLANTA GOT:
In Justin Upton Atlanta gets a 25-year-old with boatloads of talent, both actualized and potential. Upton is a terrific defender in the corner outfield, and likely would be a solid centerfielder defensively. Offensively, Upton has terrific upside, with power, patience and enough speed to be a threat on the bases.
There is some concern due to Upton’s home/away splits where his wRC+ split is 138/96 in a fairly substantial sample size, but he has the natural talent to put up career numbers similar to his home numbers in any ballpark. From season to season, Upton has been somewhat inconsistent as well. In 2008, 2010 and 2012, Upton has put up wRC+ of 106, 109, 108. In these three seasons his wRC+ on the road averaged 82, while in 2011 and 2009, his wRC+ on the road averaged 117. His ability to produce on the road in 2009 and 2011 seems to be at a quick glance part of the reason for his inconsistency (though Upton was bothered with by a multitude of injuries in 2012).
Time will tell how he performs in Atlanta, but I wouldn’t bet against Upton. He has the type of talent that is capable of winning multiple MVP awards and is signed three more seasons at a very reasonable $38-million. The addition of Upton gives Atlanta one of the best outfields in the game with his brother B.J. and Jason Heyward.
Justin Upton career batting stats: .278/.357/.475/.832
The other member of this trade isn’t just a throw in. Chris Johnson is a useful piece for Atlanta. With the retirement of Chipper Jones, the plan was to start Juan Francisco at third against righties and have Prado move there from leftfiels against lefties while Reed Johnson took Prado’s spot in the outfield. Juan Francisco has major power (see clip below), but can’t hit lefthanded pitching (career 15 wRC+). Johnson does not hit lefties well but he is much better than Francisco, with a career 76 wRC+ against southpaws. Francisco will have the platoon advantage three out of four plate appearances, which leaves Johnson to start versus lefties who can also be used as a replacement should Francisco be pinch hit for by Reed Johnson late in games. Johnson isn’t an ideal platoon partner, but overall it upgrades their 3B situation substantially.He should see some time against righties too, likely giving Francisco a few days off.
With this trade, Atlanta solidified its outfield for at least the next three years and picked up a useful player for their bench.
WHAT THE DIAMONDBACKS GOT:
In Martin Prado the Diamondbacks get a very good third baseman. He is a good hitter, posting a 112 wRC+ since 2009. That number also suffers from a poor showing in 2011 where he posted an 88 wRC+. His average wRC+ from 2009-2010 and including 2012 is 119, which puts him on a level around Pablo Sandoval production. While not a star or an all-star, Prado will solidify the third base position for the Diamondbacks for three or four years if the extension rumor floating around is true. If that extension doesn’t happen, he’ll be a free agent after 2013.
Randall Delgado gives the Diamondbacks yet another quality starter after trading Trevor Bauer. With the injury concerns surrounding Brandon McCarthy, Delgado figures to be the first starting pitcher up in case of injury. There is a lot of talk about how Atlanta won the trade handily due to not having to give up Julio Teheran, but in my opinion, Delgado will be the better long term pitcher. He has a lower ceiling then Teheran, but a higher floor. I have to admit that part of my assessment has something to do with my love of groundball pitchers, especially in a hitter’s paradise such as Chase Field.
Zeke Spruill is not a slouch prospect himself. He has a good frame at 6’5” and 190 pounds and pitches to contact, pounding the zone with a sinking fastball that sits 91-94 that he commands well. Spruill uses his fastball command to set up his secondary pitches, especially his solid changeup. He throws a slider that is hit or miss, but when he is right it is above average. He can become a backend starter with that kind of profile and ranked ninth on Baseball America’s top 30 prospects prior to the 2012 season.
Brandon Drury is an interesting prospect who had his stock fall in his first full season of pro baseball. In 2011, he had climbed up to tenth in the Braves system, having posted a 135 wRC+ in rookie ball. He has shown above average bat speed and makes a lot of contact, though maybe too much as he doesn’t walk at all (35 walks in 965 minor league PA). He uses the entire field and has room to fill out yet and add strength. He is supposedly a good makeup kid and can play either infield corner.