PHOENIX — It was easily the biggest eye-catcher in the winter marketplace — one-time MVP candidate Justin Upton going to Atlanta, and less-heralded pro’s pro Martin Prado the principle component coming back to Arizona in a seven-player deal.
The national consensus at the time was that Atlanta “won” the trade, and it was hard to find an analysis that did not believe the D-backs gave up too soon on Upton, despite having seen him for six years.
The judgment a month into the season seemed to confirm it. Upton had 12 home runs by April 27, Prado was struggling to adjust to a new environment, and the other D-back included in the deal, Chris Johnson, had taken over at third base for the Braves.
As the teams meet for a three-game series this weekend, however, things are not as clear.
Like most trades, this one is going to take awhile to grade.
It is much too early to declare a winner.
While both the D-backs and Atlanta are in first place in their division by at least three games, neither has gotten exactly what it expected from the deal at the halfway point of the season.
Each can expect improvement down the stretch.
Each would do it again, in a heartbeat.
Upton has cooled appreciably, Prado has picked up his game — though not to where the D-backs expected — and the prospects that the D-backs received have made a splash in the minor-league system.
The two right-handers the D-backs received, Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, are on the big-league roster after injuries and a suspension thinned the pitching staff, with Delgado making his third start Friday in his old home at Turner Field. The D-backs also have liked what they have seen from minor leaguer third baseman Chris Drury and shortstop Nick Ahmed.
The numbers paint Upton and Prado with similar strokes.
For the last seven weeks, they have been about the same guy.
After his fast start, Upton has fallen into a prolonged slump. He is hitting .241 with 15 home runs and 39 RBI, but he has just two homers and 13 RBI in his last 34 games while striking out 43 times. Upton has put up some of the other numbers familiar to the D-backs. His 86 strikeouts are sixth-most in the National League, and his four errors are third-most among NL left fielders.
Prado is also hitting .241 this season, with six homers and 26 RBI. In his last 34 games, he has two homers and 16 RBIs. Prado has six errors while playing most third base and some second, with a few starts to left field. He puts the ball in play — his 34 strikeouts are among the lowest 10 percent of major league qualifiers.
“He holds himself to a high standard. I know he wants to do well because of the trade,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
Johnson is hitting .322 with five homers while taking over for Prado at third in Atlanta.
Like the Dan Haren trade that brought Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin to the D-backs in the summer of 2009, this trade will be best appreciated as the young players the D-backs received mature.
In Delgado, Spruill, Drury and Ahmed, the D-backs also added depth, which came in handy when Brandon McCarthy was placed on the disabled list with shoulder injury May 31 and Ian Kennedy served a 10-game suspension that will end with a Saturday start in Atlanta. Delgado made quality starts in two of his first three starts, limiting Miami to two runs in seven innings of a 3-2 D-backs victory on June 18 and Atlanta to two runs in six innings Saturday. The offense helped in neither game, but it appears Delgado is set to remain in the rotation through the All-Star break. Spruill was scored upon once in four relief outings before being returned to Reno when J.J. Putz was activated Saturday.
Drury, 20, has played well at Class A South Bend, where he was hitting .317 with a career-high 11 home runs and 52 RBI in his first 69 games. He led the Midwest League in doubles (27) and total bases (154). It is a long way to the majors from there, but that is a good start.
Ahmed is heating up at the plate (.292 in June) after enduring a horrible start to the season, though is average at Double-A Mobile is still just .193. But some in the D-backs’ organization believe he is as good in the field as Didi Gregorius, who has shown exceptional range and arm strength in his two months with the D-backs. His acquisition deepened a shortstop position that also includes top prospect Chris Owings, and it is conceivable the D-backs could deal from that depth if they go after a veteran starter at the trade deadline.
“I give K.T. (general manager Kevin Towers) credit. This guy does his homework every day, 24 hours around the clock. He has quite a database in there,” Gibson said, tapping his head.
“We needed depth, that was part of it. We realized organizationally that we had voids. He wanted to fill those voids. I guess it’s unfortunate we had to dig down and use some of these guys. You’d hope you didn’t have to do it, but that is why they are they are there.”
It is why the D-backs might get the best end of the Atlanta trade yet. That determination won’t be made in a month; it could likely be could be years off.