|Behind the Plate||
Justin will be joining his brother in the Atl
By: Aidan Flynn
Finally! Finally! The general public is finally pardoned from hearing another Justin Upton trade rumor (at least for the near future), as Upton was mercifully traded to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday morning. Upton, 25, will join big brother, B.J. Upton, 28, in an already extremely talented Atlanta outfield in hopes of achieving another playoff berth. In exchange for the services of Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson, the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired 3B/LF Martin Prado, and minor leaguers Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury.
The obvious headliner in this trade is Upton, an incredibly gifted, yet enigmatic and inconsistent player who is coming off a disappointing 2012 in which he only hit .280/.355/.430 and put up an underwhelming 2.1 WAR. However, Upton has also shown the ability to do great things, and at times, has lived up to the ceiling that made him a number one overall pick in a loaded 2005 draft class. Just one year ago, with the same trade rumors swirling about, Upton was coming off a career year, in which he finished fourth in the NL MVP and had an excellent .289/.369/.529 line. Keep in mind, Upton produced this career year at 24 years of age; one would rightfully assume that he would only continue to improve as he matured both physically and as a ballplayer. Instead, here we are one year, later, wondering what kind of player he really is and what the Braves are getting.
Looking at Upton's career numbers, he is owner to some interesting trends. First is his affinity for alternating successful seasons with lackluster seasons sandwiched in between. Just using OPS+ to demonstrate, Upton's full seasons (with his age in parenthesis) look like this:
2008: 107 OPS+ (20)
2009: 129 OPS+ (21)
2010: 110 OPS+ (22)
2011: 141 OPS+ (23)
2012: 107 OPS+ (24)
Clearly, Upton has an interesting little trend going on here but honestly seems purely coincidental as I could not find anything explaining this oddity. Nevertheless, it could very well portend good things for Upton this upcoming season. The other interesting quirk with Upton is much more definite and serious than the previous example, as it is one that could very well have an impactful difference on his future performance. That quirk is that Upton has quite noticeable home/road splits, and going from hitter haven Chase Field to more neutral Turner Field certainly shouldn't help his cause. In the desert, Upton has hit a red-hot .307/.389/.548; on the other hand, away from his friendly home park, Upton has hit only .250/.307/.406 and is undoubtedly a below-average hitter. This obviously is a huge cause for concern, and one that should clearly be watched as the season progresses. This is not a definitive declaration that Upton can't hit away from home. In fact, there are a decent number of examples that have transitioned very well after leaving friendly home parks and going to pitcher's parks (Carlos Quentin is a good, recent example). Furthermore, Upton faced a slew of extremely tough pitchers parks while playing in the NL West (see AT&T Park, Petco Park, and Dodger Stadium), all of which probably helped skew his aforementioned poor road performance. Just as things usually aren't as extreme as they first appear to be, I would figure Upton's 2013 performance will fall somewhere between his home/road splits; the law of averages eventually have to give in. One final note with Upton is that he will probably play left field in deference to Gold Glove right fielder Jason Heyward. Upton's defense in right has been slightly above average for his career, always with at least a positive DRS rating but never more than 8 runs saved in a season. Thus, a move to left could result in an even stronger defensive performance considering that left field is an easier position to field.
As for the return package for Upton, it is quite underwhelming in my opinion. My favorite player going to the desert is utility man Martin Prado, at the heels of a 5+ win season for Fredi Gonzalez's Braves. Prado is an extremely well rounded player, one that can hit for average (career .295 hitter), has excellent gap power (career high 42 2B last year), play solid defense (18 DRS last year), and can even run a bit (17 SBs in 2012). Prado is expected to play third base for the Snakes this upcoming year and is a +23 run defender at the hot corner for his career. One catch with Prado is that he is only under contract for one year. Upton, on the other hand, has another three years of extremely affordable club control (only $38 million due over that time). If the Snakes can't resign Prado, they take an already disappointing haul and make it an even harder pill to swallow. Essentially, if Prado walks, the Snakes are stuck with a back end starter in Randall Delgado and three fringy prospects that have miniscule big league chances. Speaking of the prospects in the trade, the only one of real note is Randall Delgado. Delgado possesses a low 90's fastball and a decent curve, both of which inducing plenty of ground balls (50 % last year). Delgado still faces control issues, as evidenced by below average 4.1 BB/9 rate; if he cleans this up he could be a solid mid-rotation starter; if not, he should fit nicely into the back end of the starting rotation.
Upton clearly has his faults and remains a ways away from reaching his ceiling-less potential. With that said, Upton remains a very good player, one capable of playing on both sides of the ball and is still to reach his physical prime as a player. Even if Upton doesn't maximize his talents, the Braves did not give up much in return. I think at the very least, Upton and Prado cancel each other out and the Braves remain a playoff team while getting younger and more cost efficient in the process. At the very best, Upton matures into a perennial all-star candidate and closes the gap between the Braves and baseball's best team, the Nationals. In addition, one cannot overrule the change of scenery needed by Upton following the continuous trade talks. Overall, barring a complete collapse for Upton, I see this turning out well in Atlanta's favor.
A situation handled poorly from the start, the Diamondbacks finally rid themselves of the perpetual Upton trade rumor headache. Maybe the Diamondbacks had to deal Upton. They severed relations with him so badly it just had to be done. However, from a purely baseball standpoint, I don't think the package received was one worthy of Upton's talents. Although Prado is a very good player, he is only under contract for one year, and the rest of the prospect pieces honestly just are not very impressive. A player with Upton's current ability, future potential, and cost-controlled affordability should bring in a package better than the one received today. Five years from now, maybe Prado resigns and the prospects contribute at the big league level. However, I am highly skeptical of the prospects and wonder what the benefits of acquiring an older player with contractual uncertainty are. To me, the Diamondbacks are a clear loser in this trade.
There is a reason why Joey Votto collected just 56 runs batted in in 111 games in 2012. That reason is the guys hitting in front of him and not getting on base. The Reds had a league worst .254 OBP from their leadoff hitters in 2012. That problem was quickly solved in a deal that centered around outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. He was acquired, along with infielder Jason Donald and $3.5 million, from the Cleveland Indians in a trade that involved three teams and nine players overall. The Indians receive outfielder Drew Stubbs from Cincinnati and pitchers Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw from the Diamondbacks. Arizona gets minor league shortstop Didi Gregorius, lefthander Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson from Cleveland .
With few weaknesses remaining on the major league club, the Reds have finally found their guy to bat leadoff. Shin Soo Choo has consistently shown the ability to get on base at a high level throughout his career with a .381 career OBP. After being injured in 2011, he came back strong in 2012 with a .283/.373/.441 batting line. Along with getting on base, Choo has good power and speed numbers as well with 43 doubles, 16 long balls, and 21 stolen bases in 2012. Additionally, he was a 20-home run, 20-stolen base guy in 2009 and 2010. The one hole in Choo’s overall offensive game is the strike out. He did that 150 times in 2012, which is not ideal from a leadoff hitter. However, Choo’s walk rate (10.6%) and ability to get on base is what the Reds are looking for when they traded for him. However, one major question Choo's acquisition presents is who will replace Stubbs in center? He was a below average right fielder in 2012, with -12 defensive runs saved and limited experience in center (83 innings). It has been documented that Choo will be the starting center fielder next season, but should continue to be a below average outfielder as he makes this positional transition. Also, the Reds got utility infielder Jason Donald from the Indians. Donald has never played more than 88 games in his 3 year career. Overall in 170 career games, Donald has hit .257/.309/.362 with 7 home runs. The Reds can use Donald to play multiple positions as he has played shortstop, second base, third base, and even 8 games in the outfield (5 in LF, 3 in CF) in 2012. Statistically however, it is shown that he is a below average defender with -12 defensive runs saved for his career.
Now, for the players the Indians received. Outfielder Drew Stubbs is a player who has flashed crazy tools, but has never compiled those numbers in a single season. Stubbs has shown to be a good speed threat with at least 30 stolen bases in his last 3 seasons. However, the trouble for him is getting on base. He has also struggled to hit for a consistent batting average with a career stat line of .241/.312/.386. Stubbs has not been able to walk much either, with just 44 in 544 plate appearances in 2012. A league-leading 205 strike outs in 2011, Stubbs' propensity to miss will not help his OBP as well. Throughout his career, he has just one defensive run saved and just two alone from last year, making him about an average defender in center. The Indians are hoping he can bounce back from a career worst -0.2 WAR in 2012 and add speed to their outfield and offensive game. Trevor Bauer may end up being the biggest piece of this trade, but he has yet to prove anything at the big league level. Bauer was drafted third overall in 2011, and was ranked as Arizona’s number one prospect in 2012. He has an extremely deep repertoire with a plus low-mid 90's fastball, elite 12-6 curveball, solid changeup, and his personally created "reverse slider" (as seen below for your viewing pleasure). Yet, he has shown little ability to throw strikes consistently, as evidenced by his below average 4.2 BB/9 rate in the minors.
Statistically speaking, Bauer struggled in 4 major league starts (6.06 ERA, 7.2 BB/9), but had very effective minor league numbers with AA and AAA. In 130.1 innings, he compiled a 2.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 157 strikeouts. Bauer will just be 22 years old in 2013 and the Indians are hoping he can live up to hype and be a productive starter for them in the future. The Indians will also receive bullpen help from Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw. Albers has struggled throughout his career with a career ERA of 4.68 and ERA+ of 94. However, still just 29 years old, Albers posted career-highs with the Red Sox and Diamondbacks in 2012. In 60.1 innings, he had a 2.39 ERA with a 181 ERA+. A hard thrower, Albers may have benefited from a lower walk rate in 2012. He walked walked 3.3 batters per 9 innings in 2012, compared to his career mark of 4.1 BB/9 and previous career high of 4.0 BB/9 in 2008 and 2010. Shaw, 24, is a young reliever with just 2 years of MLB experience. However he has shown he can be very productive in his 87.2 career innings pitched. He has an ERA of 3.18 and ERA+ of 129 for his career.
As for Arizona, they acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius, lefthander Tony Sipp and first basemen Lars Anderson in this deal. Gregorius, just 22 years old, has put up average numbers throughout his minor league career. He has batted .271/.323/.376 in 5 minor league seasons. Last year with AA and AAA he batted .265/.324/.393 with just 7 home runs and 3 stolen bases. He has the reputation of being a glove first, bat second, player capable of being a highlight film in the field. Lars Anderson, former Red Sox top prospect, has only played in 30 games in the big leagues and has hit .167/.268/.188. In the minor leagues he has hit .272/.369/.432 for his career with solid plate selection and a good glove. He has shown the ability to hit for power, although his home run total dropped to just 9 in 111 games in AAA. Lefty Tony Sipp has shown the ability to be productive, although very inconsistent during his four year stint in the majors. His ERA+’s from 2009-2012 have progressively worsened from 146 to 96 to 130 to 89. This inconsistency is a problem because of his wildness with a walk rate of 4.5 per nine innings.
Winners: Reds, Indians: Reds added the leadoff they desperately needed, even if he might not be the best suited to play in center field. By dumping Choo, who had just one year remaining on his deal and would not have resigned with the Tribe, the Indians acquired an extremely talented arm in Bauer and decent outfield option in Stubbs with a combined 9 years of team control remaining.
Loser: Diamondbacks: Arizona acquired the young shortstop they so desperately coveted, except that Gregorious profiles most likely as a glove first shortstop. Nothing against defensive first shortstops who are young and have potential, but usually the price does not involve dealing a top pitching prospect, which is the downfall in this deal. If Gregorious can correct his offensive issues, this trade could work out for the D-Backs, but seems unlikely given his scouting and statistical profile.
By: Nick Rabasco