On Friday, I was in transit to New York to reunite with some friends from my time in Germany and a few old college buddies when news broke that the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres had agreed to a deal to send Justin Upton to SoCal. The deal wasn’t a big surprise for Braves fans. Having already said goodbye to Jason Heyward this month, the other corner outfielder seemed the next logical candidate for trade. Both are to be free agents following the 2015 season and Braves brass had little reason to be optimistic about chances to bring either back long-term.
Still, I really felt the need to provide some instant analysis in this space via my cell. It didn’t happen and the weekend of drinking/minimal contact with the outside world, plus a phone that dies with great frequency, meant that a post on the subject had to wait until today. As such, these are the thoughts of someone who has earnestly contemplated the deal and processed its repercussions. Since I’m a Braves fan, this will inevitably center on their next moves, but let’s tackle the Padres first.
On the Padres
AJ Preller apparently has heeded Max’s advice from earlier this offseason, in which he outlined the many things the new Padres GM should do. Among the points that Max brought up was the necessity for a “face of the franchise” type player whose jersey Padres fans could wear (and buy) with pride. Preller has accomplished that by bringing in three players who are nationally known and recognizable, in Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and now Justin Upton.
This Upton deal changes a lot of things in San Diego. It’s further proof that Padres leadership has a plan and a window in which they want to compete. For the first time in 25 years, we’re interested in the Padres and they have a compelling roster. Still, for one year of Justin Upton at $14.5 Million, they gave up their #4 and #6 prospects as well as two more young players who figure to be able to contribute in the Majors at some point.
The pieces don’t seem to really fit together just yet in San Diego. The three new additions to the outfield are all considered below average defenders (a characteristic undoubtedly exacerbated by PetCo’s dimensions), and the lineup is distinctly right handed. Rumor has it that the Padres are actively interested in Phillies starter Cole Hamels and ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned the possibility for Wil Myers to be the centerpiece of such a deal. I saw other possible trades based on a Jurrickson Profar-de Wil Myers swap.
They’ve been able to make all these moves without giving up their top prospects, and have kept the core of their rotation intact. It’s a team that has the Major League talent to win this year and has a few prospects to keep the future looking bright as well. One has to like these deals for the Padres. They’re finally relevant, and finally have an offense that will at least regularly threaten to score runs.
While this Upton deal should not be misconstrued as the great saving move of the Padres franchise–remember, he’s a free agent at season’s end–it does signal an attempt to compete right now. Which is an incredibly important statement for Padres baseball.
About the Braves
The Braves were 79-83 last year. They finished tied with the Mets and 17 (!) games behind the Nationals for first place. They weren’t good last year and weren’t going to get better in 2015 with basically the same team, minus Ervin Santana. Wholesale changes were needed and since Jason Heyward and Justin Upton represented marketable pieces on the verge of free agency, both were easy targets for trade talks.
My thoughts on the Heyward trade can be read here. I liked the deal since Heyward only held value in 2015 and the Braves were able to get 4 years of what could be a very good starter. It was major league talent for major league talent and the Braves focus had clearly shifted away from running it back with the same lineup that struggled so hard to score runs in 2014. It was a move that adjusted the focus from ‘win now’ to ‘sustain winning’ and I was OK with that.
The return for Justin Upton signaled something a bit different. Max Fried was the top prospect that the Braves got back and the 20 year old, who hasn’t pitched above low-A, had Tommy John surgery in August. Realistically, he’s not going to help the Braves until 2017. The other prospects that the Braves received were all much closer to the major league level, but none profiles as an above-average regular player. While there is definitely value in ‘not terrible’ depth across the diamond, this trade turns a star player into more playing time for lesser players.
Replacing Upton in left will be Evan Gattis, who was an absolute mess out there in his limited time in 2014. The hope is that with increased at-bats, Gattis will be a force in the lineup, whose defensive shortcomings will be covered up by the range of Andrelton Simmons and BJ Upton. I’m not so optimistic.
At catcher, Christian Bethancourt slides in. He’s an all-glove, no-hit prospect, who wasn’t all that exciting in his time up in September last year.
The Braves still have a hole at the back of their rotation, where currently the plan is to let David Hale and James Russel duke it out. The Braves are still in the market for another starter, but I’m not convinced that spending on another back end starter is a good idea considering the team has gotten worse since finishing 17 games behind the Nationals last year.
The casual fan will wonder how the Braves got here–even Braves executives will be tempted to wonder. I feel compelled to mention just how much losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to their second Tommy John surgeries last season hurt. The organization was built on those young pitchers (Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Mike Minor, included) and losing two basically derailed the plan.
The return from Justin Upton was good. It just wasn’t really what I expected. The Braves were looking for major league talent ready to help re-stock the club. Instead, they focused more longer term and expect a payoff in 2017. Realizing the very real payroll limitations that this team has, I don’t hate it, but Braves fans will need to temper expectations for 2015.