By Mark Bradley
It wasn’t a great trade just because Justin Upton returned to Arizona on Monday and went 4-for-5 with a 440-foot home run interspersed. A baseball season contains 162 days and nights; Monday was one among many.
Nor was it a great trade just because Martin Prado, the principal outgoing piece, made a key error Monday and is having the worst season of his major-league life. Prado’s a good player; he’ll figure things out.
It was, however, a great trade for this reason: In Justin Upton, the Atlanta Braves landed the sort of player – a major talent who had already proved he can play at a high big-league level and who, at 25, is under contract for three more seasons at a not-oppressive price – who is almost never available in trade.
There are three ways of acquiring big-time baseball players. Drafting them takes skill, yes, but it also takes luck and requires patience. (Ask the Diamondbacks. They made Justin Upton the No. 1 pick of the 2005 draft; seven years later they were desperate to trade him.) Signing a big-timer as a free agent always involves overpaying. (Ask the Angels how Albert Pujols, who seemed the surest of sure things, and Josh Hamilton are doing.)
The third is via trade, and trades are by far the quickest and cheapest way to go. Here we need only compare and contrast the Upton brothers. The Braves will pay Justin, who has been terrific, $38.5 million over the next three seasons. They will pay B.J., who signed as a free agent and has been terrible, $43.35 million (counting a $3 million signing bonus) over those same three seasons – and then, in 2016 and 2017, be on the hook for $31.9 million more.
The trouble with trades, duh, is that there’s no guarantee a Kevin Towers will come along and be willing to part with a Justin Upton. For reasons still mostly unknown and perhaps unknowable, the Arizona general manager made it his winter’s mission to divest the Diamondbacks of their most gifted asset. He tried to send Upton to Seattle, but the player blocked the move. Then, just before heading off on safari, Towers shipped Upton to the Braves.
It would be wrong to suggest the move crippled the D-backs. They’re 21-18. (The Braves are 22-16.) First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has replaced Upton as the fulcrum of the batting order and is hitting .312 with 10 homers and 31 RBI’s. (Upton’s numbers are .289, 13 and 23.) Still, you wonder what Kevin Towers was thinking as he watched the player he cast aside wreck his team Monday night. “Time for another safari,” perhaps?