Trading the Heartbeat of the Team
Late last night it became obvious that the trade for Justin Upton would happen, the only question was who the D’Backs would accept in the trade. In the end the player I called the heartbeat of the Braves last week was the component that made it happen; Martin Prado. I said back in October that Upton the younger would look really good in Atlanta but never expected the Braves to let Prado go. Circumstances change however and Prado is now a Diamondback.
Why Trade Prado?
The Braves made Prado a multiyear offer but could never get to a number he would accept. I projected an average annual value of $11M for Prado and today we learned that’s what he wanted. The Braves wouldn’t go that far. Then last week the parties couldn’t bridge a $400K arbitration gap. Those two things meant that Prado would leave after next season without any compensation. That made him expendable for the right guy. Justin Upton is the right guy.
Also included in the trade were Braves prospects Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Brandon Drury, and Zeke Spruill. The Diamondbacks sent third baseman Chris Johnson along to keep Upton company. Bob Nightengale of USA today says that Ahmed would be flipped to Detroit with a reliever for Rick Porcello. If you haven’t seen all of Justin Upton’s numbers and why I like him take a look at my earlier piece. Chris Johnson is more of an unknown.
The right handed hitting Johnson was drafted by the Astros in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. Baseball America ranked him the Astros number five prospect in 2008 but he fell back to their number 16 in 2009. Arizona obtained him from Houston in an effort to solidify their third base position in July of 2012. He appeared in 136 games in 2012 – 44 for Arizona – and finished with a line of .286/.321/.503 in 147 ABs, walking 35 times and striking out 40. He showed little home run power however connecting only seven times At third base, Johnson has soft hands and a strong arm but isn’t particularly agile. At 28 years old Johnson should be in his peak years.
Is There A Downside
There’s always a downside. The loss of Prado means we have no obvious leadoff hitter. Andrelton Simmons whose speed was never fully realized batting in the eight spot was my first thought. Then on the MLB Network’s Hot Stove this morning Harold Reynolds suggested that the Braves ignore B.J. Upton’s horrible OBP in 2012 and make him leadoff man.I also saw Jason Heyward suggested for that role. That’s a question to be sorted out in spring training but I still prefer Simmons. The other issue is strikeouts
I said a few weeks back that we have too many strikeouts in our lineup. This trade makes that strikeout number even higher. I still believe the worst kind of out is a strikeout however, some things lessen their impact; like lots of home runs. Jeff Sullivan over at Fangraphs put together a piece on the effect of strikeouts on run production. His conclusion was that there’s no direct correlation between Ks and run production.
The A’s led the major’s in strikeouts last year but still won the AL West. They didn’t last long in the playoff’s however and that’s the real problem with a strikeout prone lineup appears; the post season when all you see are the best pitcher’s in the league. Having said that, no pitcher will enjoy facing this lineup.
Andrelton Simmons (R)
Jason Heyward (L)
Justin Upton (R)
Bran McCann (L)
B.J. Upton (R)
Freddie Freeman (L)
Dan Uggla (R)
Juan Francisco (L)
It’s highly unlikely that all of the quality bats from one through six will go cold at once and if you’re the opposing pitcher, where do you go to get an out? Anywhere you look in this lineup a mistake might well end up as a souvenir home run ball. There’s no place to rest. Even Francisco showed improvement in his winter league plate appearances and we’ve seen his power on display.
That’s A Wrap
I hated losing Prado as much as anybody but I hope fans understand that Upton is a far superior player and that this was a good deal for the Braves. Dave Cameron’s summation over at Fangraphs hit the nail on the head.
The calculus is a little different for Atlanta. They almost certainly weren’t going to re-sign Prado after this season, so this is a choice of a three year asset over a guy they saw as a rental. And, it’s also an upside play, as Prado at his best still isn’t as good as Upton at his best, and Upton’s heading into his prime, rather than out of it. . . . With Upton, the Braves are buying upside and team control, and it’s not costing them pieces of their organization that were considered parts of the core going forward.
Readers will know I’m not a great Frank Wren fan and honestly I’m not sure how much of this was a plan and how much of it fell in our lap as the best they could get for a player their owners wanted out of town. Whatever the case Wren did indeed pull off a pretty good deal this time. I still don’t think he’s a genius but my hat’s off to him for bringing Justin Upton to Atlanta.