The Atlanta Braves pulled off a blockbuster trade on Thursday, as the team completed a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks that brought outfielder Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson to Atlanta and sent utility man Martin Prado, pitchers Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, shortstop Nick Ahmed and first baseman Brandon Drury.
The deal sets the Braves up with arguably the best outfield in the majors, as the team will have Justin Upton, his brother B.J., and Jason Heyward all in the same outfield, putting together a trio that last year combined for 72 homeruns with 227 RBIs and a batting average of .265.
Although Justin Upton appears to have a ton of upside for Atlanta, the team was forced to part ways with Prado, a fan favorite and a player that was ability to hit and field no matter where he was placed in the batting lineup or on defense, and Delgado, who Keith Law ranked as the Braves’ fourth-best prospect prior to the start of the 2012 season. Prado hit .301 with 10 homeruns and 71 RBIs in 2012, while Delgado finished the year with a 4-9 record with 76 strikeouts and an ERA of 4.37.
Even though this deal puts pressure on the rest of the NL East to sure up their rosters in order to match the Braves on paper, it leaves one very significant weak spot for Atlanta: third base. The retirement of future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones left Prado as the heir apparent at the hot corner, but Prado’s exit leaves a huge question mark. It is currently assumed that Johnson, who hit .281 with 15 homeruns and 76 RBIs last season in stints with the Astros and the Diamondbacks, will compete with Juan Francisco for playing time at third base.
Personally, I have been on the fence about this deal since I learned earlier today that it had in fact become official, but after looking at it from all angles, I believe that the Braves made the right choice dealing for Upton. While I am not crazy about dealing such a great player like Martin Prado, the fact of the matter is that 2012 marked the end of Prado’s current contract, and in the offseason he was looking to make over $10 million, something the Braves were not prepared to pay him. I always advocate making a trade when it is clear that the player will not be back for the next season, so in that sense this trade was solid.
Also important in the deal is the fact that the Braves were not willing to meet the Diamondbacks’ initial high demands. According to reports, Arizona initially coveted shortstop Andrelton Simmons in the deal, a player that Braves general manager Frank Wren had no interest in sending off. After much discussion on the subject, Atlanta was able to settle on giving up Delgado, a young pitcher that has shown some promise but definitely has some things to work on.
With the trade now official, it appears that the 2013 Atlanta Braves with feature the following lineup:
C – Brian McCann
1B – Freddie Freeman
2B – Dan Uggla
SS – Andrelton Simmons
3B – Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco
LF – Justin Upton
CF – B.J. Upton
RF – Jason Heyward
This lineup, along with a great pitching staff and killer bullpen, makes the Braves one of the favorites in the NL East and possibly in the entire National League. With that in mind, the 2013 season will prove to be crucial for Wren and more than likely manager Fredi Gonzalez. If Atlanta gets on a hot streak and sees the Uptons propel the team to a nice playoff run come October, expect these two men to receive all sorts of praise for the success; if the team struggles through their first season without Chipper Jones, do not be caught off guard if one or both of these men are shown the door.