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D-backs like 'different' feel after Upton deal

D-backs say they're different but improved after trading Upton, getting Prado in 5-for-2 deal.

PHOENIX — Cody Ross' acquisition two weeks ago seemed to demand another Diamondbacks move, and the other spike dropped Thursday when the D-backs traded Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves in a seven-player deal.
 
The five-for-two package sends third baseman/outfielder Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado and three prospects to Arizona in exchange for Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson.
 
D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said at the end of 2012 that any trade would not sacrifice the present for the future, and managing partner Ken Kendrick believes that is the case, even considering Upton finished fourth in the National League MVP race after his career year in 2011.
 
“I believe that the trade makes our team better now and in the future," Kendrick said when the deal was announced. "We have a realistic opportunity to be a better offensive team. This in no way should be seen as a criticism of Justin. I continue to be a big supporter of Justin. I want him to have a good career."

The deal removes an excess of outfielders on the roster and fills a needed hole at third base. In essence, they've added Prado and Ross to their lineup and subtracted Upton and Johnson. The net gain, they believe, will be a lineup that is less reliant on the long ball and more able to win in different ways. Plus, in Delgado they add a power-throwing young right-hander with high upside.

“We’re going to be a little different club," general manager Kevin Towers said. "I think we will still hit home runs, but I think the last couple of years we have relied too much on the long ball. 

“We wanted to have more of an offense where we had that speed dynamic. Guys like Prado, you can hit-and-run with, make solid contact and use the whole field. That’s not to say we are not going to hit homers, but I think it is going to be a different style of play, and the style of play I was hoping for when we first got here."

A key to the trade's long-term impact will be working out a contract extension for Prado, 29, who is eligible for salary arbitration after earning $4.75 million last season and would be eligible for free agency after the 2013 season.

Towers said Atlanta general manager Frank Wren indicated that Prado seemed receptive to the security of a long-term deal, and the D-backs already have reached out to his agent. Prado could command about $6 million-$7 million in arbitration this winter, but it might not get that far.

"This deal is much better if we are able to secure the services of Martin for more than one year, and we are hopeful and optimistic that we get that done," Towers said. "We’re going to work real hard over the next couple of weeks and hopefully get something done before we start playing spring training games."

Prado is a .295 career hitter who has topped .300 in four of the last five seasons. In 2012, he hit .301 with 10 home runs and 70 RBI, primarily playing left field.

Prado's WAR — wins above replacement player, a new-math calculation designed to determine a player's overall worth considering all phases — is 12.1 over the last three seasons. Upton's is 10.2. Prado had 38 home runs, 108 doubles and 193 RBI in that span. Upton had 65 homers, 90 doubles and 224 RBI. Ross has 50 homers and 198 RBI in the same time.

The new-look offense is expected to include Adam Eaton in center field, Ross in right and Prado at third base. Jason Kubel, who has drawn trade interest from Baltimore, among others, is expected to remain with the D-backs as the starting left fielder, with former Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra reprising his 2012 role as a super-sub. Manager Kirk Gibson said he envisions the four outfielders divvying up about 2,000 at-bats among them — including 100 or so when the D-backs use a DH in interleague road games.


The deal is expected to save the D-backs about $2 million this season, which means their payroll is likely to be in the $91 million range.

The D-backs and Braves talked about Upton at the winter meetings, but there was no match, because the Braves were not willing to include shortstop Andrelton Simmons or Prado, a scenario that changed when the Braves added Prado to the package recently. When Atlanta added minor league shortstop Nick Ahmed, the D-backs were persuaded.
 
The Diamondbacks acknowledged the possibility of Upton fulfilling his immense potential in a more comfortable environment in Atlanta, but they did not believe it would happen in Arizona.

Upton, the first player taken in the 2005 draft,  hit .278 with 108 home runs after being promoted to the big leagues at 19 in 2007, and he signed a six-year, $51.5 million contract in the spring of 2010 that will pay him $38.5 million over the next three seasons. The D-backs recently agreed to trade him to the Seattle Mariners, but the M’s were one of four teams on Upton’s no-trade list, and he rejected the deal. He hit .280 with 17 home runs last season while battling a thumb injury.
 
Upton could not help but feel pressure, Towers surmised, and the trade might be the best thing for him.

"He was kind of the face of this organization, the rising star," Towers said. "Everybody was jumping on his back. This was the guy who was going to take us to the promised land. And he did. He brought us two division titles here. I thank him for all of his contributions. He played hard. He wanted to win. There was lot of pressure on a young 22-, 23-year-old. The expectations were through the roof. When the team struggled, it seemed like it was always because of Justin. That’s hard.

"Now, having an opportunity to go to a different place to where he is going to fit in with some star players, to where he’s kind of a piece of the puzzle rather than the centerpiece and the big piece, I think some pressure will be off of him. He gets to reunite with his brother (B.J.). I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes out and has a very successful career, and I hope he does.

"I’m not looking into the art of winning a deal, I want a deal that benefits both sides. The more deals that benefit both parties, the more deals you are apt to make in the future."
 
Upton, 25, will join his older brother B.J., 28, and right fielder Jason Heyward, 23, to give one of the Braves one of the best outfields in baseball for at least the next three years. B.J. Upton recently agreed to a five-year, $75.25 million free-agent contract with the Braves, and Atlanta is relatively close to the family’s home in Virginia.
 
In Atlanta, Prado was a top-of-the-order hitter, but  D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said Thursday that he could also see Prado in a run-production spot such as No. 5, where he could hit with runners on base. The D-backs were not very efficient in those spots last season, when they were 81-81 after winning the NL West at 94-68 in 2011.

The D-backs graded Delgado higher than Atlanta prospect Julio Teheran, who some scouts believe has a higher ceiling. Delgado is expected to compete with left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin for the fifth spot in the starting rotation behind Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy and Wade Miley. Daniel Hudson, recovering from Tommy John surgery, is not expected back until the second half of the season at the earliest.

Delgado turns 23 on Feb. 9 and was ranked as the No. 46 prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 2012. He made 18 starts for Atlanta last season, going 4-9 with a 4.37 ERA in 92.2 innings. He struck out 76 and walked 42.

“Delgado is a guy who will be in the mix with Skaggs and Corbin for the fifth spot in the rotation,” said Towers, adding that he saw Delgado hit 96 mph with his fastball in winter ball. “We think the ceiling is very high there.
 
“I doubt we will go out and try to acquire another starter,” seemingly defusing rumors the D-backs would be in the market for Detroit's Rick Porcello.
 
In addition to Ahmed, the D-backs also acquired minor league right-handed pitcher Zeke Spruill and third baseman Brandon Drury.

Ahmed, 22, is a former second-round draft pick out of the University of Connecticut, he hit .269 with six home runs last year for Single-A Lynchburg. He was rated as the Braves' 10th-best prospect by MLB.com, and he impressed D-backs' scouts with his play in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .288 with 10 RBI, five stolen bases and an .814 OPS for the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
 
Spruill, 23, was a second-round pick in 2008 and was 9-11 with a 3.67 last season in Double-A. He was rated the team's sixth-best prospect by MLB.com.
 
Drury, 20, was a 13th-round pick in 2010 and hit .229 with six home runs for Single-A Rome.
 
After the trade, the D-backs designated first baseman Lars Anderson for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

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