Thursday, January 24, 2013

Swagalicious: Justin Upton is a Brave

This morning, the Braves completed a trade for Justin Upton and became the NL favorites (more on this later). The long-rumored trade seemed improbable, the type of trade you make on an Internet comment thread, but not one that actually takes place. However, Braves fans' dreams came true. After vetoing a trade to the Mariners, Justin Upton will join older brother B.J. in the Braves' outfield for the next three seasons.

The Braves also acquired third baseman Chris Johnson in exchange for Randall Delgado, Martin Prado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury. Chris Johnson is penciled in as the Braves starter or will at least split time with Wily Mo Pena 2.0 (in that he is fat, strikes out a ton, and on any pitch thrown by a righty the ball might go 500 feet) Juan Francisco.


The focus of this trade and post will be on Justin Upton. But first, I'd like to say goodbye to Martin Prado. Prado is the living embodiment of every sportswriter's and announcer's wet dream. His grit, toughness, and playing the game the right way-itude combined with him actually being a really good player made him one of my favorite players. His WAR over the past three seasons is nearly as good as Justin Upton's (11.8 v. 11.9), but with free agency approaching and a chance to get five years younger, the Braves let him go. He played above average defense at three different positions (2B, 3B, and LF) and was a solid right-handed bat in the lefty-dominant Braves lineup.

Now to the good stuff. Justin Upton was basically run out of town by Arizona Manager Kirk Gibson and General Manager Kevin Towers despite being a 25-year-old two-time All-Star with power, speed, and defense. Upton appeared to be hurt much of last season, which sapped much of his power. His disappointing season contributed to the Diamondbacks' failure to repeat as NL West Champs and opened the door to a trade. For some reason, the D-Backs also traded Chris Young (a young defensive player with power) and spent $26 million on Cody Ross. That coupled with the presence of Jason Kubel, Geraldo Parra, and Adam Eaton left the D-Backs with five outfielders. Never mind that Upton is currently the best outfielder and has the most potential; inexplicably, they had to trade him. The Braves happily swooped in and are now, in my opinion, the favorites in the National League.

This picture would be better if they'd had a press conference.
The Diamondbacks didn't get fleeced in this trade, but as far as this season goes, it takes the Braves from a Wild Card team to a team with the chance to win 95+ games. Randall Delgado has good stuff and will ultimately end up as a #3 or #4 starter. Spruill, Ahmed, and Drury all have potential, but this isn't exactly Teixeira for Saltalamacchia, Andrus, Harrison, and Neftali Feliz. If the Diamondbacks fail to resign Prado, they will be shit out of luck. Even if they do keep Prado, he is likely to cost nearly as much as Justin Upton, who has 3 years and $38.5 million left on his deal. The Braves didn't give up their best prospects, keeping Sean Gilmartin and Julio Teheran (the favorite for the 5th starter's spot now), and still managed to get Justin Upton's age 26-28 seasons. Justin Upton made the Major Leagues at 20 and finished fourth in the MVP at age 24. He is an incredibly talented player who isn't even in his prime. Players like Justin Upton fetch 9 figures as free agents, yet the Braves have him for 3 years and $38.5--Victorino money if you will.

Justin Upton has been called a malcontent and traded barbs with his manager and general manager throughout a disappointing season in 2012. However, playing with his brother in Atlanta on a winning team that clearly values his talent can only help whatever attitude issues he supposedly had. Chemistry might not matter that much, but it probably doesn't hurt to be playing with your brother. He'll miss playing at Chase Field, but the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward make the Braves an exciting, young team. Hopefully, this is the year we finally figure out which brother is married to Kate.

Another fun sub-plot is that Atlanta's status as a crappy sports city might have to be revisited. The Braves' fans trashed the field after the infield fly fiasco, the Falcons nearly made the Super Bowl, and the Hawks got rid of Iso-Joe--not too shabby for a city that, you know, doesn't show up and care most years. The Braves have found their replacement for Chipper and it is their new swagged the fuck out outfield. All three players could go 25-25 and they will all be Braves for at least the next three seasons. The Braves are going to lead the NL in swag and wins next season.

Turning back to the big picture, the Braves to me (and if you haven't figured out by now that I'm biased, well...) are the new favorites in the National League. They've turned 120 games of Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn into Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, and Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco. This is probably a push, but given the potential for the Uptons to have a breakout year, I'd take the latter three. Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward will likely improve, Uggla can't be worse, and McCann will finally be healthy and in his free agent year when he returns in late-April. Andrelton Simmons at shortstop for an entire year will upgrade a position that saw Jack Wilson and Tyler Pastornicky split time in the first half of the season.

Their starting pitching will be slightly above average--a full season of Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen plus the continued improvement of Mike Minor (2.74 ERA in his final 20 starts of the season) and return of Brandon Beachy in July is good. Also, fat Tommy Hanson will give the Angels his 5 innings, 3 runs, 7 Ks, 4 BBs, and 110 pitches (the John Lackey special) this season. The Braves' bullpen will continue to be the best in the NL with Kimbrel, Venters, O'Flaherty, and the newly acquired Jordan Waldren heading a deep unit.

Last season, the Braves won 94 games despite playing veterans like my beloved Chipper (and more importantly their backups), counting on injured players (McCann), and using replacement players in key spots (Chad Durbin, Tyler Pastornicky, and Jair Jurrjens). This team will have a deep lineup capable of playing above-average defense and closing out leads. Sounds like a great recipe for 97-99 wins and the NL East crown. Justin Upton to the Braves--swagalicious.

1 comment:

  1. B.J. Upton = Bossman Junior Upton?!

    Baller of all ballers right there.