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.