In one fell swoop, the Atlanta Braves put an end to years of trade rumors, reunited a pair of brothers, and assembled one of the best outfields in all of Major League Baseball. Earlier this week, the Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks agreed to a seven-player deal to send Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to Atlanta. It’s a move that gives the Diamondbacks a hefty return for a young, all-star-caliber player and solidifies the Braves as an NL East contender.
Earlier this winter, the Braves made the first big splash of the offseason by signing B.J. Upton to play centerfield. Even with that signing, the Braves were still looking at adding another outfielder as Martin Prado was going to likely take over at third base to replace Chipper Jones. There were rumblings that the Braves could be interested in bringing back Michael Bourn if they were able to find the money, but, instead, fulfilled the elder Upton’s wish to play with his younger brother.
Justin Upton has been a constant in the Arizona outfield for the last several years. Since breaking into the Majors in 2007 as a 19-year-old, he has cemented himself as one of the young stars in the game. He is a career .278/.357/.475 hitter and has averaged 23 home runs a year over the past four seasons. He has made two All-Star teams and finished fourth in the MVP race in 2011. Like his brother, he also has multiple seasons of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
As much as he has been heralded as a budding superstar, though, he has been mired by inconsistencies. After his first all-star season of 2009, Upton followed that up by hitting just .273 in 2010, failed to reach 20 home runs or stolen bases, and had the ninth-most strikeouts in the league. He rebounded with the best season of his career the following year, but regressed last season. He again fell short of 20 homers and steals and was criticized by Diamondbacks leadership for underperforming, though some of that can be explained by injury.
The Braves acquired him with the expectations that he will build on the promise he’s shown. He will be the right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat Atlanta has been looking for. The team was below the league average in home runs last season and only one player had more than 10 homers from the right side of the plate. He’ll also help the team maintain its status as one of the league’s top defenses. All-in-all, with his brother and Jason Heyward, Atlanta will have no shortage of star power in its outfield with each player under the age of 28 and under contract for at least three more seasons. The Braves also acquired Chris Johnson in this deal who will likely split time at third base with Juan Francisco.
For its part, Arizona got a large package in return for their star outfielder. Much to Braves’ fans’ dismay, Prado is among them. He has been a very versatile and solid player over the past several years, playing six different positions and hitting .295. He will settle in at third base for the Diamondbacks, as the team already has a full outfield.
Arizona is also getting four other young players from Atlanta. They are Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury. Delgado, a 22-year-old starting pitcher, has spent parts of the past two seasons with Atlanta going 5-10 with a 3.95 ERA and once ranked among the top prospects in the game. Ahmed, a defensively-gifted shortstop, and Drury, a corner infielder, both played in Class A last year and have some work to do offensively before they are ready for the Majors. Spruill, meanwhile, is a righty starter who was the 9th-ranked prospect in the Braves organization according to Baseball America. He spent last year at AA going 9-11 with a 3.58 ERA.
Despite the large haul heading to Arizona, not everyone thinks the team got what it should for Upton. Even still, the Diamondbacks shouldn’t be any worse next year because of the trade and, for a team just a year removed from a division title, that’s not bad news. But, for the Braves, this deal sets them up with a great lineup for years to come.