On the morning of January 24th, the Atlanta Braves swung a blockbuster trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks in order to acquire young superstar Justin Upton. The former 1st overall draft pick has been on the trading block for a few years now and after endless rumors and rumblings all across the MLB hot stove, a deal was finally consummated that would send a mix of MLB-ready players and high upside prospects to the Diamondbacks in exchange for the once-MVP candidate Upton, who is the brother of the other big-name acquisition the Braves made this offseason, BJ Upton.
The players involved in this deal are:
To Braves: (2)
Justin Upton RF
To Diamondbacks: (5)
Martin Prado 3B
Randall Delgado RHP
Zeke Spruill RHP
Nick Ahmed SS
Let’s analyze what each team is acquiring, and how much value they are truly getting on the field. I’ll begin with the Diamondbacks, who just traded away their franchise player:
Martin Prado– The longtime Braves utility man was thrust into a more prominent role with Chipper Jones’ imminent retirement and the Atlanta fan favorite was projected as the team’s third basemen moving forward. Boasting a career slash line of .295/.345/.435 it is apparent that Prado can swing a good bat and get on base pretty consistently. The soon-to-be 30-year old, who is one year away from free agency, is currently coming off a 2012 season where he batted .301 with 10 homers, 70 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Prado also posted a 5.4 WAR, and has had a WAR around 5 two of the last 3 seasons (4.9 in 2010). News has come out, however that Arizona will make extending Prado long-term a priority, thus securing his role on the club.
Randall Delgado– The young right-hander started 17 games for the Braves last season, posting a 4.37 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 92.2 innings pitched. The 23-year old utilizes 3 pitches: a mid-90’s fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. Though the former 3rd ranked prospect in Atlanta’s system is still raw, he is projected to be an effective back-end starter if he can further develop his changeup and keep the ball in the ballpark.
Nick Ahmed– The 22-year old shortstop out of Connecticut has not displayed much offensive prowess in the minor leagues, but the 11th ranked prospect in Atlanta’s system has a strong arm and good speed, as displayed by his 40 stolen bases in A-Ball. With Cliff Pennington fresh off a 2-year extension and recently acquired youngster Didi Gregorious patrolling the shortstop position, Ahmed will have time to develop in the minor leagues.
Zeke Spruill- In 2012, Spruill went 9-11 in 161.2 innings with a 3.67 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 106 strikeouts for the Mississippi Braves in Double-A ball. The big, lanky righty (6’5” 190 lbs) features a 92-93 MPH sinking fastball and a plus breaking ball. According to Mark Anderson of Prospect Nation, he is projected to be a number 4 starter at the big league level, but could use some seasoning at the triple-A level first.
Brandon Drury– The 20-year old first baseman hit .349 with 51 RBIs in class-A ball in 2011, but had a down year in 2012, posting a meager .229/.277/.333 slash line. Still rough around the edges, Drury needs work in the minors, but if he can recapture his pop from 2011, he could be a nice piece in the future.
Now, let’s look at the goodies that Atlanta acquired:
Justin Upton– The former 1st overall pick came into 2012 off a remarkable 2011 season in which he finished 4th in MVP voting and hit .289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs and 88 RBIs on an NL West-winning Arizona team. His 2012 season however, was not as impressive and even though his batting average and on-base percentage were nearly identical, his power dropped (.430 slugging percentage) and he only ended up hitting 17 bombs with 67 RBIs. Much of this however can be attributed to Upton playing a great portion of the year with injury that sapped his power and hindered his swing. Justin is still young and is under team control until 2016 during which he will only turn 28, meaning that not only is Atlanta getting a young superstar long-term, but that he will also hit free agency in the prime of his career; good for both sides.
Chris Johnson– The former Astros 3B spent the latter half of last year with the Arizona Diamondbacks after a midseason trade. The 28-year old played 136 games last year, during which he hit 15 homers and 76 RBIs to the tune of a .281 batting average and slugged .451.
So, how much did the Braves actually improve? Let’s take a look:
Player’s value lost (WAR in 2012)
Chipper Jones – 2.7
Martin Prado – 5.4
Michael Bourn – 6.0
Total: 14.1 games
Player’s value gained (WAR in 2012)
BJ Upton – 2.6
Justin Upton – 2.1
Chris Johnson – 0.7
Total: 4.8 games
Seemingly, the Braves did not improve enough to compensate for their losses, either through this trade, or due to retirement and free agency. One must consider however, that Justin Upton was playing the majority of the year injured, and if healthy should be able to play more like the 5.7 WAR player he was in 2011. BJ Upton as well should have a better year at the plate, seeing as last year was the first time in his career in which he featured an OBP under .300. With a career OBP of .336, he should have a bounce back year in that regard seeing as his batting average has remained consistent in the last four seasons. What this blockbuster indicates (if you believe in sabermetrics, that is) is that big names do not equal more wins, and sometimes the players that produce and contribute most to the team, are those that are hailed the least. But as all baseball fans know all too well, this game is not won on paper.