Friday, January 25, 2013

Atlanta, The City of Brotherly Love?

The prospect thrilled me!  Two Uptons in a Braves outfield!?!  The rumor of serious trade talk between the two teams started earlier this week and since then I’ve been holding my proverbial breath, waiting for the announcement.  Adding Justin, the 25 year-old Diamondback outfielder to a roster that just signed his 28 year-old free-agent brother B.J. a mere eight weeks ago.  Was it too much to hope for?  Justin’s name had surfaced in serious trade talks twice within the past six months.  Immensely talented, he had reportedly fallen out of favor with the team’s GM.  B.J. was honest, once the ink was dry on his contract, he and Justin had talked about the possibility of playing together in Atlanta someday.  I don’t know if either of the two ever dreamt that the wait would be this short.  The Upton brothers, if they live up to their potential, will greatly strengthen the Braves defense and offense. 

The Uptons bring both speed and power to the team.  Their talents, combined with those of Jason Heyward, gives the Braves what looks to be the strongest outfield in the majors.  Offensively, they have a lot of bang in their bats.  The downside?  Strikeouts.  And lots of ‘em.

I have to admit, as excited as I was by the mornings events, when I heard the details, my heart sank.  Martin Prado was part of the deal.

Martin Prado was, without a doubt, the hardest working, most versatile player on the Braves roster.  During the 2012 season, Martin played five different positions.  Left field, third base, shortstop, second base and first base.  Like I said, versatile.  He played wherever the team need him to, without hesitation or reservation.  He kept his head down and played hard every game.  He was one of the most popular players in the clubhouse and one of the most respected.  Ego?  He didn’t have one.  In three of the last four seasons, Martin Prado ranked either first or second in team hitting.  His numbers?  In 2009 .307, in 2010  .307 and in 2012 .301.  Consistent.  You’re wondering about 2011?  Missing more than a month of the season battling a staph infection, Martin hit .260.  In his first game back from the DL  he went yard.  Martin has a career .295 average, with 52 home runs, 308 strike outs and 286 RBIs.  He was an All-Star in 2010.  All along, I believed that Martin Prado would inherit third base from Chipper Jones.  He earned with his play on the field and his loyalty to the team.  I felt great about the Braves infield.  It was only the outfield that needed to be shored up.

Arbitration never crossed my mind.  The Braves had six players who were arbitration eligible.  Five agreed to one-year deals which included pay raises.  But Martin and the Braves couldn’t come to terms on a long-term deal, even though their numbers weren’t too far apart.  His arbitration hearing was set for next month.  He’d be a free agent at the end of the season.  Frank Wren knew the Braves wouldn’t be able to keep Martin once he was on the open market and getting a player of Justin’s caliber would be costly.  The D-backs GM Kevin Towers had stopped talking to the Braves once he was told that Andrelton Simmons was untouchable.  As time went on, and other teams fell away, Towers was open to talking to the Braves again.  For Frank, the timing was right but the price was heavy.  “I think that was the most difficult part of this deal,” he said of parting ways with Martin.  “He’s such a professional.  He’s such a quality person.  We’re sad to see him go.  It was the toughest decision we had to make.”

I hate to see the Braves lose a player like Martin Prado but as we are regularly reminded, baseball is a business.  Martin Prado was consistent.  The word most often used to describe Justin Upton?  Inconsistent.  But a change of scenery, wearing the uniform of a team that truly wants him and playing alongside his brother, that could help create the consistency. 
What I’ve found most interesting over the past 24 hours, is the reaction of media outlets versus fan reaction.  I’ve watched, listened to and read everything possible.  The national media loves this deal, the local media loves it more.  Words like "blockbuster" and "coup" are being used.  The pundits are saying the Braves will have the best outfield in all of baseball and they’re not going to let the Nationals win the division and get stuck playing in another Wild Card game.  The fans?  That’s another story.  Although there’s a great deal of excitement, there is a huge sense of dismay in letting Martin Prado go.  Many, many people think that this trade could come back to haunt the team.  Why doesn’t the national media see it that way?  Because Martin Prado is one of the most underrated players in the game.  He hasn’t been playing in the biggest market and most of the headlines have gone to Chipper, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen and Jason Heyward.  Not that they don’t deserve the headlines, but Martin has always done the same thing.  Kept his head down and played hard, every single day.  Braves fans know what we’re losing.

The new wrinkle?  Instead of worrying about left field, the Braves can now focus their concerns on third base.  As it stand now, Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco will platoon at third base.  I don’t feel good about it, but then I have little confidence in Francisco.  As for payroll, the Braves are in good shape.  They still have $10 million of a $98 million payroll left.

All emotion aside, the Atlanta Braves outfield became much stronger today. The offense?  Maybe.  Again, if everyone lives up to their potential. 

These are the players involved in the trade:

The Braves get Justin Upton (LF) and Chris Johnson (3B).

The Diamondbacks get Martin Prado (OF/IF), Randall Delgado (P), and minor leaguers Nick Ahmed (SS), Zeke Spruill (P) and Brandon Drury (IF).

Comparing the 2012/career numbers of the principles, this is how it stacks up:
                                        Batting Avg         HR             RBIs          Strike Outs
B.J. Upton                .246/.255       28/118       78/447        169/1,020
Justin Upton             .280/.278       17/108       67/363        121/694
Jason Heyward         .269/.261        27/59        82/196        152/373
Martin Prado            .301/.295         10/52        70/286          69/308


  1. Crushing blow, no matter what the outcome.
    The main reason this Alabamian continues to love the Braves is because of the commitment of the organization to excellence, balanced with a commitment to its personnel, from the front office to the grounds crew. I realize that these two values do not always stay in balance and, often, one value must take precedence over the other. However, one of the reasons that Martin Prado is a fan (& manager) favorite is because he emulates these values of the organization; i.e. an undying commitment to excellence and an unselfish commitment to his team.
    Unselfishness results in consistency, because consistency is not based on one’s circumstances, but on a belief that others are more valuable than one self. Unfortunately, the converse is often true; i.e. selfishness can be the cause of inconsistency. Ultimately, a selfish player will become inconsistent when his circumstances do not meet his expectations.
    If Martin Prado goes to Arizona and becomes inconsistent, this theory will be disproved. However, it is my bet that, even being shipped to the desert will not affect his performance. It will be as a D’back that Martin should prove that a character guy is always a character guy and a great baseball player is always a great baseball player. It is my hope that being able to flourish in Arizona, despite playing in less than ideal conditions, will earn Martin the recognition/FAME he so richly deserves. If it does, I would argue that, just as he epitomized what it should mean to be an Atlanta Brave, he would further epitomize what it means to be a Hall of FAMEr.
    As Justin Upton comes to Atlanta, if he becomes consistent and lives up to his billing, my theory about selflessness producing consistency will not be proved, but it will have more credibility. It is my hope that Upton uses his talents consistently, and proves me wrong about my suspicion that he is a selfish player. It is further my hope that things go so well for him in Atlanta that the converse of my theory never gets to be proven. (Can you say “Yunel Escobar”?) If that becomes the case, the Braves have captured the pennant, and hung a second World Series banner at Turner Field. Go Bravos!

  2. Great post D...hate losing Prado and think the strikeout numbers are too high. Not sure this is a great deal for the Braves. Makes them so dependent on the 3 run homer. Good news is they may get enough of them...we'll see!

  3. Although the trade makes for a formidable outfield I'd take my chances with the Angles, Trout, Hamilton and Bourjos. All three go go get it and collectively don't strike out as much. If these outfields stay together this could make for an annual debate because both outfields are young. As always it will come down to health of the players. It would be fun to revisit the stats at the All Star break. Counting the days till my favorite 4 words," Pitchers and catchers report". P.V.

  4. What a coincidence Phil, those are some of my favorite words too! I like your idea of comparing what should be the two most exciting and productive outfields in the majors. I'll definitely visit that topic at the All-Star break. Hopefully by that point I'll be use to seeing Josh Hamilton in that Angles uni!

  5. Certainly a formidable outfield, but we all know championships are not won on paper. The Braves still have to contend w/division rivals Phillies and Nationals, both of whom could make deep runs if their pitching staffs stay healthy. Phils start and end the season in Atlanta--w/an aging team, this may be their last chance to make a run. Looks like it's shaping up to be an exciting season!
    D. Wilderman

  6. I think the NL East will be very exciting David and one of the most competitive divisions this season. I would never underestimate either the Phillies or Nationals. It took Washington longer than expected to build to the level where they are now but they look to be very good for many years. The Braves will have to play near-perfect games to beat them. The Braves have always had a tough time versus the Nats, even when the Nats were a bad-on-paper team.

  7. I think it was a trade that Atlanta definitely won. But, I still question whether their offense will be that much better than last year's offense and last year's Braves offense wasn't that great. Their biggest issues last year were situational hitting (.231 team average with RISP), strikeouts (4th most strikeouts in the NL with 1,289), and too LH heavy. They fixed the last one, but they actually managed to get worse in the previous two as Bourn hit over .300 with RISP, Prado was one of their better hitters with RISP and their toughest to strikeout, and then of course the loss with Chipper Jones.

    They will feature six regulars that have averaged at least 125 strikeouts over the last two-three years and then the pitchers spot had 144 last year for the Braves and an average of 124 over the last three years. Some people will argue that strikeouts are just another out, but when you have nearly an entire lineup that is prone to strikeouts, it makes it tough to get rallies going.
    - Michael D.

  8. I agree, Diane, that the NL East should be an exciting 3-team race (I'm pretty sure the Mets and Marlins will not be in contention this year). I was really hoping somehow the Phillies would pry Mike (oops, I mean, Giancarlo) Stanton from Miami--he seems lost on that team, now. And as Michael pointed out, losing Chipper is going to have a much bigger impact than most people realize (I don't think Chris Johnson will be an adequate replacement). I keep scratching my head about Davy Johnson and how the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg last year--I can't see Charlie Manual doing the same thing if it were a Phils pitcher! Wonder if the Nats will limit his spring innings or have him pitch every 5 days. Guess we'll wait and see.
    D. Wilderman

  9. Here's hoping that the trade works out big time for both players. Uptown just never could repeat his 2009 performance with the Dbacks. With the added lose of Chris Young for 2013, a change of scenery for Uptown was needed. ~ Kevin J.

  10. Just wondering. With respect to a winning team, is having two Uptons better or worse than having one? H.W.

  11. Great post D...hate losing Prado and think the strikeout numbers are too high. Not sure this is a great deal for the Braves.