PHOENIX – The Justin Upton trade looked a little better Thursday, when Diamondbacks newcomer Martin Prado agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract.
The D-backs would not have made the seven-player trade that sent Upton to Atlanta last week had they not felt comfortable with their ability to retain Prado for several years, but getting it done is always the chore. So the D-backs will pay Prado, a 2010 All-Star who has hit .300 in four of the last five seasons, $1.5 million more for the next four years than they would have paid two-time All-Star Upton for the next three, and Prado’s presence gives them increased flexibility and security as they shape their team going forward.
Prado looks at it as the start of a beautiful relationship with manager Kirk Gibson, with whom he has spoken only briefly but with whom he shares values.
“From what I heard, he’s an aggressive guy. He likes the little things. He likes to move the runners. And I like that, man. He understands. He played the game a long time ago. He played the game the right way. He likes those guys,” Prado said.
“If we have a leader like him and we follow him, I think we are going to have good chemistry. I am looking forward to seeing all those guys in spring training and start from there and make a real good team and go all the way to the World Series.”
Prado, who is expecting to join D-backs catcher Miguel Montero on Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, prides himself on doing the little things.
“You know, in the National League, if you can do the little things right you can take advantage of the other team,” Prado said. “That’s my thing. Try to make that (small ball) a routine, because in a close game that can make a difference, and one game can make a difference at the end of the year. That’s the way I see it. That’s the way I approach the game.”
More than a few seem to believe that Atlanta, which received Upton and Chris Johnson for Prado and four minor leaguers, got the better of the deal, and Prado was diplomatic when asked about it.
“Justin Upton is a superstar-caliber guy, and Johnson has been in the big leagues a couple of years. Maybe in a couple of years, people will think a different way,” he said.
The D-backs’ payroll for the 40-man roster should be about $91 million this season after Prado agreed to play for $7 million in 2013, almost exactly the salary he sought from the Braves in his final year of arbitration. Prado asked for $7.05 million; Atlanta offered $6.65 million. Prado, who also will receive $11 million per season from 2014 to 2016, said security was a primary reason for signing away three free-agent years.
“Since I got to the big leagues, I’ve been looking for security, to be in the right spot and not have to worry about going to free agency. I’m happy. I’m going to play more relaxed. I played a couple of years with the pressure of” possible arbitration hearings. “I think we made a good deal. I made a good decision and I am happy.”
Prado, 29, is expected to replace Johnson at third base, and he said he has been working there to get more comfortable this offseason. Newcomer Cody Ross, a free-agent signee, will take over for Upton in right field. Prado has played 145 games at third base, 193 at second 205 in the outfield. He was expected to take over at third for the retired Chipper Jones in Atlanta this year.
“I haven’t played a whole year at third base, which is going to be a new thing for me. I’m open for anything.”
Going forward, Prado could shift to either left field or second base — or stay at third — depending on what the D-backs do with left fielder Jason Kubel and second baseman Aaron Hill after this season. Prado played 98 games at second and 43 at third in 2010, his All-Star season. Third base prospect Matt Davidson’s progress also will figure into the equation.
Kubel’s $7.5 million contract expires after this season, and the D-backs have a $7.5 million option with a $1 million buyout for 2014. If they do not accept the option, Prado or Gerardo Parra (who has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining) could play left field. Parra’s arbitration case is the only one remaining for the D-backs. He is seeking $2.7 million; the D-backs offered $2.1. His hearing date has not been set.
Second baseman Aaron Hill set a career high with 76 extra-base hits last season and has one year remaining on a two-year, $11 million deal he signed last winter. The D-backs have discussed signing several players to contract extensions, and Hill and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt are believed to be among that group.
Prado hit .301 last season with a career-high 42 doubles, 10 homers, 70 RBI and a .796 OPS. He led the National League with 60-multi-hit games.
Since joining Atlanta during the 2008 season, Prado has hit .296/.366/.375 with 164 doubles, 51 homers and 275 RBI. He hit first and second the great majority of the time with the Braves, more second than leadoff, and general manager Kevin Towers said he likes the way Prado can handle the bat. Manager Kirk Gibson said he also could see hitting Prado fifth, in a more run-producing role.
“That’s a process we need to deal with in spring training,” Prado said of fitting into the order. “I’m open. I know there are a bunch of good players on this team, and we are all in the same boat. I let my manager know I can do whatever he wants. I can adjust myself to the team.
“I’ve been in the second hole pretty much all my career because everybody is saying I can put the ball in play. I can hit the ball to right field and handle a lot of situations. That’s more me, but like I say, I can adjust myself to any situation in the game.”