The price tag was a little steep, but the Braves solidified their outfield by trading for Justin Upton.
By ZACH DILLARD FS South
Bossman Junior has company of the familial variety in Atlanta.
When B.J. Upton signed as a free agent with the
Braves this offseason, he made no secret of his wishes for the team to pursue his brother, Justin, in a trade to bring the two dynamic outfielders together for the first time in the big leagues. After drawn-out trade talks between the Braves and Justin’s team, the
Diamondbacks, those wishes will finally become a reality.
Justin Upton, a two-time All-Star averaging 21 home runs and 70 RBI over the past five seasons, was acquired by the Braves in a blockbuster trade Thursday, presumably locking up the team’s void in left field for the 2013 season and beyond.
“We're extremely excited today to add a talent of the level of Justin Upton to our outfield, a young, dynamic player that arguably gives us one of the best outfields in the game,” general manager Frank Wren said in a conference call Thursday. “It puts us in a great position going into Spring Training. We feel like our club is greatly improved and we think it puts us in a position to really compete in the National League. It’s the piece we’ve been looking for for a long time.”
Atlanta gave up quite a bit in the process. The Diamondbacks received utility player and fan favorite Martin Prado, pitchers
Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill and infielders
Nick Ahmed and
The Braves will also receive third baseman Chris Johnson in the deal, who could potentially be utilized as a platoon player at third base.
With the deal, Atlanta has one of the best outfields in baseball locked up for at least the next three seasons, with plenty of room for improvement.
Justin has three years, $38.5 million remaining on his contract – he is owed $9.75 million this season, $14.25 million in 2014 and 14.5 million in ’15 – while his brother’s deal was inked for five years, $75.25 million in November. That’s plenty of money tied up in Manny Upton’s two sons, but, at least on paper, the move completes a young, talented roster the Braves organization believes has a World Series shot just weeks prior to Spring Training kicking off.
Add right fielder Jason Heyward, who could turn out to be the best of the bunch after investing his time and efforts into his first truly healthy offseason, into the mix and Atlanta now boasts three outfielders who have hit for 20 home runs and stolen 20 bases in a single season since 2011.
No other franchise has two such outfielders on its current roster.
"With B.J. being on the East Coast and me on the West, I received a text and a call while I was still sleeping. But getting a chance to talk to B.J., he’s excited. I’m excited to get out there and get on the field together,” Justin said. “Our goal is to get this thing started and try to win a World Series."
In the end, the Braves were in a strong position to pull the trigger on this deal. Justin exercised his no-trade clause just last week to nix a potential deal to the Mariners, but Atlanta was reported to be one of five teams he would want to go – B.J., certainly, had plenty to do with that. Earlier this offseason, when the Braves brought this trade up, the Diamondbacks were interested in shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who the organization was determined not to part with.
However, two months and a couple deals later, Arizona was overstocked in the outfield and in the market for young arms – and Delgado, at 22, is still considered one of the best prospects around. It was the perfect brotherly storm.
“I think from our standpoint, I remember being out to dinner with B.J., when we made the signing back in December, him mentioning that that’s always been a dream of his," Wren said. "And, really, we were already on it at that time. We were already trying to acquire (Justin) and seeing if it was possible, so it’s a good day for us.”
And for the two Uptons, this was a long time coming, a dream of theirs ever since playing in high school ball together.
“It’s been a big conversation of ours,” B.J. Upton said in November. “Obviously he’s up [for free agency] in about three years. Is it a possibility? Yes. Is it going to happen? We don’t know. It’s definitely something that we’ve both talked about and would like to have happen.”
Upton’s acquisition also settles Martin Prado’s immediate future. Although he and the Braves were still in arbitration discussions for the 2013 season – a mere $400,000 separated the two sides, an abnormally low number in such hearings – Prado is set to become a free agent after the season and his long-term future in Atlanta was undecided.
This leaves a significant hole at third base, though, where Prado was expected to replace Chipper Jones. That will likely fall to Juan Francisco and the newly-acquired Chris Johnson in a platoon scenario.
As far as what else the Braves gave up in the deal, Delgado was challenging for the fifth and final spot in the rotation, but nothing was guaranteed to him among a bevy of talented arms. A pitcher with dynamic stuff, Delgado went 4-9 with a 4.39 ERA last season, but his walk rates were a bit alarming.
The consensus is that any team that acquired Justin Upton this offseason was “buying low,” but giving up Prado and Delgado can hardly be considered a low offer.
Justin Upton is coming off a disappointing season in which he battled injuries and hit at a .280 clip, with 17 home runs and 67 RBI. That may be suspect production from someone who is now one of a franchise’s five highest-paid players, but the Braves had the cap space – even with Upton’s salary, they will fall below the $98 million ceiling they set for themselves in 2013 – and just acquired a 25-year-old who finished fourth in the National League MVP voting two seasons ago.
And for a team that finished with 149 home runs (tied for 19th in baseball) last season, its two biggest offseason acquisitions are expected to more than accommodate for the power lost in its three biggest departures, Prado, Jones and center fielder
Michael Bourn, who combined to hit just 33 home runs in 2012.
So get ready for all the corny “Up, Up and a Hey” monikers, because there’s plenty to feel good about in Atlanta at the moment: The Braves just pulled off the move many have been waiting for, the one that could prove to be a tipping point for franchise which has not won a playoff series since 2001.