Losing a quality thirdbaseman in Martin Prado is tough for the Braves. The state of the thirdbase position in major league baseball isn’t great. Prado would have given the Braves one of the best in the National League. Throw in that he could fill in at multiple other positions, and it’s a significant loss.
However, Prado is entering his age 29 season, is coming off a career year, is arbitration eligible and is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. Players tend to peak in their late 20’s so it’s very possible we’ve seen the best of Prado. Certainly we shouldn’t expect him to be much better. And, while Prado is a very solid player, it’s not as if he’s consistently been an all-star caliber talent. His career OPS+ is 109, which is good but nothing special when you consider a good portion of that production came in what are likely some of his peak seasons. The Braves did well to sell high on Prado, coming off a career year when he is due for a noticeable raise.
But Prado, in addition to prospects like Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill and Brandon Dreary, aren’t the type players a team trades for any mere upgrade. The Braves traded that package for an all-star, perhaps MVP, talent in Justin Upton.
On the surface there doesn’t seem to be much difference in Justin Upton and Martin Prado. And for the next season or two there honestly may not be a huge difference in these two players, in terms of overall value. But because it seems he’s been around forever, we tend to forget how young Upton is and that there’s a very good chance we haven’t seen his best. Plus the Braves have Upton through 2015.
Upton was the first overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft by the Diamondbacks and he reached the majors at age 19 so no one has ever questioned his talent and potential. However, after playing parts of six seasons in the majors, he’s only displayed his talent and potential in a couple. After six seasons, it seems the Diamondbacks grew tired of not winning with this supremely talented player and weren’t fond of his perceived laid-back style of play. The perception is that he hasn’t lived up to his potential.
But what if Upton had come to the majors at, say, 22 and was entering his fourth season instead of coming up at 19 and entering his seventh? We would probably be talking about potential a heck of a lot more. Why is it that some think his experience makes his age not worth considering? Honestly I’ve never seen a study on this issue but I would think players peak in their late 20’s, regardless of the age in which they first entered the majors.
Upton has posted a 117 OPS+ so far in the majors, in his age 19 to age 24 seasons. Now that’s by no means indicative of a Hall of Fame career or anything. And Upton may never win an MVP. But a player with the talent to go first overall in the draft as a high school player and who has produced solidly against major league pitching before what is typically peak ages is a good player to have and to take a chance on over the next three seasons.
One concern some have is Upton’s home/road splits. Upton is a career .307/.389/.548 hitter in Arizona’s hitter-friendly Chase Field but a career .250/.325/.406 hitter in all other parks. This should not be a huge concern, mostly because he’s played plenty of road games in pitcher-friendly parks. Most of his career road games came in Dodger Stadium. Yes, he’s played the second-most in Coors Field (where his stats look just fine) but he’s played the third-most in San Francisco’s AT&T Park and the fourth-most in San Diego’s Petco Park. He has over 160 plate appearances in all of these parks. He has no more than 78 plate appearances in any other park.
Another concern about the trade is that the Braves will now strike out too much. We should all know better by now that how often a team makes outs and how much extra-base power it has is much more important than how often it strikes out. The Oakland A’s led the major in strikeouts in 2012. While their offense wasn’t great, it was good enough and they won. The Washington Nationals finished fourth in the majors in strikeouts. The teams with the fewest strikeouts in the majors: Kansas City, Minnesota and Cleveland. In most cases strikeouts are no different than other outs. In some cases, if given a choice, a strikeout is preferable to a groundball to keep the team out of the double-play. Groundballs seem more indicative of a sorry offense but no one ever mentions whether a team grounds out too much. We shouldn’t be obsessed over team strikeouts.
Yet another concern is the fact that the Braves still have no prototypical leadoff hitter. It seems as though they may try Andrelton Simmons in the leadoff spot, something that no one should endorse. However, batting order just doesn’t matter that much and plenty of teams throughout baseball history have scored runs and won without much production from the leadoff spot. The Cincinnati Reds won last season with perhaps the worst leadoff hitter in baseball in Zack Cozart and his .262 OBP. Did you know Jimmy Rollins had a .296 OBP (playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park) for the 2009 NL Pennant winning Philadelphia Phillies? Having quality hitters is more important than where they hit or whether the leadoff hitter is prototypical or even productive.
This is a great trade for Wren and the Braves, not because it is guaranteed to make them a much better team. Yes, there is a chance Justin Upton breaks out and is a legit MVP. But it’s possible that this trade just keeps the Braves at 90-something wins this coming season. The brilliance of this trade is that they were able to get a very talented player who is just entering his age 25 season and who is under contract through 2015 for a player coming off a career year who will get a raise then become a free agent. From the Diamondbacks’ perspective, they do get quality prospects, and I don’t think the trade is as bad for them as some are making it out to be. But from the Braves perspective, they needed a big-time right-handed outfield bat and were able to sell high on a quality player, no doubt, but a player they were likely going to have to overpay beyond 2013.