The Diamondbacks have traded Justin Upton again. This time, he’s actually going away. After he rejected a deal to Seattle, they’ve found a new trade partner in the Atlanta Braves, and have crafted a pretty interesting deal that isn’t at all similar to the one they previously tried to make.
In exchange for Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson, the Diamondbacks reportedly are going to receive Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury. While they previously tried to trade him for a high risk/high reward pitching prospect and a middle infielder who is probably a year away from the big leagues, this trade doesn’t really make the Diamondbacks that much worse in 2013, and appears to be more of a win-now kind of trade.
With Prado, the Diamondbacks finally get the third baseman they’ve been looking for, and a pretty good one at that. No, he’s not going to repeat the +6 WAR season he put up last year, which was driven by an outlier UZR, but he’s got a nice base of skills that should allow him to remain an above average player. He makes a ton of contact and has some pull power that should play well in Arizona, and he’s probably at least an average defender at third base. In his career, Prado has averaged +3.4 WAR per 600 PA — exactly the same mark that ZIPS projected for Upton this year, by the way — and at age 29, he shouldn’t be in for a huge drop-off. The D’Backs probably get an equivalent upgrade at third base to the downgrade they’ll receive in the outfield, and then they also get some more pitching depth and three prospects of some value.
From just a 2013 perspective, this deal probably doesn’t move the needle that much. Both teams received one above average player, and no one else in the deal is likely to make a huge impact at the big league level this year. It’s the years after this one that will determine whether this trade was worth it for both sides.
Prado’s a free agent at the end of the season, and he’s not that different a player from Shane Victorino. Coming off a pretty poor season, Victorino just got 3/39 from the Red Sox. If Prado has a better walk year campaign, he could easily top that, especially considering that the market for available hitters next year is pretty weak. And, of course, if Arizona can’t re-sign him, then Prado simply represents a future draft pick in compensation, and the headliner in the deal becomes Randall Delgado, who is not exactly Taijuan Walker. Even with the extra value teams are placing on draft picks these days, the four prospects in the deal aren’t enough to justify trading away Justin Upton’s age 26 and 27 seasons. For Arizona, this deal likely hinges on re-signing Prado before he hits the free market.
Whether or not that’s possible, we won’t know for a while. But, Arizona’s a pretty nice place to hit, and by making this kind of move, the D’Backs are probably still going to put a good team on the field in 2013. Their pitching is deep and strong, and now they’ve filled their biggest weak spot on the field. Their outfield is now more of a collection of decent players than a huge strength, but their position players should be good enough to keep them competitive, and the pitching might be able to carry the day. The combination of a winning team and a nice ballpark to hit in could convince Prado to re-sign before hitting free agency, and if they can get him signed to a reasonable extension, then this will probably be a move worth making for Arizona.
The calculus is a little different for Atlanta. They almost certainly weren’t going to re-sign Prado after this season, so this is a choice of a three year asset over a guy they saw as a rental. And, it’s also an upside play, as Prado at his best still isn’t as good as Upton at his best, and Upton’s heading into his prime, rather than out of it. While ZIPS mean projection for Upton is +3.4 WAR for 2013, there’s still a decent chance he just goes off and has another +6 WAR season, turning into the superstar that most people believe he can become. With Upton, the Braves are buying upside and team control, and it’s not costing them pieces of their organization that were considered parts of the core going forward.
However, I’m not sure how much better this makes Atlanta in the short term. Prado was likely going to replace Chipper Jones at third base, but now they’re set to have 3B result in a Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson platoon of some sort, which isn’t exactly a stellar combination for a playoff contender. And, as Arizona found out this winter, there aren’t exactly a ton of available third baseman on the market, so turning around and making a follow-up trade to address that problem isn’t quite as simple as it might sound.
But, given the extra two years of team control and Upton’s potential for stardom, this is probably still a move worth making. They consolidated talent into one more valuable asset, and while it costs them depth in the process, mid-level prospects are easier to replace than high quality outfielders under team control through their age 27 season.
Overall, I expect that the sentiment on this trade is going to be mostly pro-Atlanta, as they get the big name player in exchange for an underrated high contact/gap power guy and a group of unexciting prospects, but I think this trade works for both sides. Arizona turns an outfielder into a third baseman, and given their depth at both positions, they’re probably not much worse off in the short term, plus they get some future value in the prospects to offset the chance of losing Prado after the season. Atlanta turns some pieces they didn’t necessarily see as foundational to their future into one big piece, and get to bet on both Uptons living up to their potential as teammates.
I don’t like how Arizona handled Upton’s situation over the last few years, and I don’t know that I agree with their desire to trade away a 25-year-old who is still one of the game’s best outfielders, but despite all the talk about the public nature of the rumors destroying his trade value, Arizona did okay here. They’ll probably come out on the short end of the stick if they can’t re-sign Prado, but now they get eight months to try, and they keep a competitive team together for the upcoming season as well.
Win-win trades aren’t that common in baseball anymore. From my perspective, this appears to be one of the rare instances where both teams made a good deal.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.