Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Justin Upton trade is latest chapter of Braves' strip down (UPDATED)


The Braves traded outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego Friday. For a fully updated column on MyAJC.com, click here.

Below is the early blog on the trade

So here's the good news from the Braves this week: They bought a parking lot.

While the franchise continues to release artist renderings and acquire land for a new stadium in 2017, the Braves' on-field product continued to be stripped down Friday. A month after trading one-time projected franchise centerpiece Jason Heyward to St. Louis, team president John Hart dealt the team's leading home run and RBI man Justin Upton to San Diego Friday.

No Upton. No Heyward. So the Braves are now looking at a starting outfield of Evan Gattis, B.J. Upton and Nick Markakis. Good seats still available.

The Braves have not officially announced the deal yet. But according to multiple reports, Upton, whose exit had been anticipated since the end of last season, was dealt to the Padres for a package of four prospects, including left-handed pitcher Max Fried. Fried is a former first-round draft pick and was considered one of the game's top prospects but underwent Tommy John surgery in August.

So there you go: The key to this deal for the Braves is a pitcher coming off major surgery.

Also reportedly headed to the Braves: second and third baseman Jace Peterson, third baseman Dustin Peterson and outfielder Mallex Smith. Jace Peterson is the only one of the three who played in the majors (27 games last season, hitting .113, 6-for-53).

After dealing Heyward to the Cardinals for pitcher Shelby Miller, Hart said the trade was as much about today as tomorrow. But make no mistake: All of these moves are about tomorrow, particularly this one.

Upton (scheduled to make $14.5 million in 2015) and Heyward ($7.8 million) become unrestricted free agents after next season. The Braves' chances of signing either will slim, at best, for two reasons: 1) The uncertain direction of a franchise that hasn't won a postseason series since 2001; 2) Self-imposed budget constraints, created in part by the $13.2 million still owed to Dan Uggla and the $46.35 million (over three years) still owed B.J. Upton, that would preclude the club from outbidding other teams.

So Hart and John Coppolella, the team's general manager-in-waiting, have shifted into full strip-down and rebuild mode. Don't be surprised. But feel free to look at them sideways next season when they're marketing season ticket packages.

Fried, 20, was San Diego's first draft pick (seventh overall) in 2o12. Before his elbow injury, he appeared in 38 games (37 starts) in the minors and went 6-9 with a 3.61 ERA in 147 innings.

Hart is determined to rebuild the pitching staff. But an already anemic offense will take a hit in the interim.

“Let’s be honest: This team finished 29th in offense,” Hart told me last week. “It’s not like I’m breaking up the ’27 Yankees.”

He's right. But in trading Heyward and Upton, the Braves' starting outfield right now suspect at best. At the other end of the spectrum: San Diego, whose new general manager A.J. Preller has put together a starting outfield of Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp.

The Braves' struggled to score runs in 2014. But Upton and Heyward created a significant portion of the offense they had. Upton led the team in home runs (29) and RBI (102), ranked second in total bases (278), third in batting average (.270) and second in OPS (on-base percentage and slugging percentage, .833). He struck out a lot (171) and ran hot-and-cold, but he was a solid player and not a problem in the clubhouse.

Heyward ranked second on the team in hits (155) and batting average (.271), third in total bases (220), third in RBI (58), despite mostly hitting leadoff, fourth in OPS (.735), tied for the lead in stolen bases (20) and third in runs scored (74).

Conclusion: The Braves won't be the '27 Yankees next season, either.


Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.