The Real Justin Upton Trade

On Thursday, the Atlanta Braves traded for Chris Johnson and Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who received Martin Prado, Zeke Spruill, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury.  It seemed like the mass reaction to the real Upton trade is that the Diamondbacks were somewhat fleeced, or did not get enough back from the Braves. Just looking at the names, it seems pretty clear that the Braves did not give up as much as the Mariners were going to give up for Upton.

Dan Symborski did post the ZIPs projections on all the players in the trade (except Drury) and has Atlanta getting 3.6 WAR for 2012, while the Diamondbacks get 5.7 WAR for 2012 in the trade, if you assume that Delgado and Spruill get around 140 innings each and Nick Ahmed playing everyday. It is doubtful that Delgado and Spruill will get a combined 280 innings, and Nick Ahmed has never even played in AA, making it doubtful he will even reach the Majors in 2013. ZIPs also has some serious problems when it comes to projecting rookie pitchers as well. With these qualifications aside, it still seems like it is hard to argue that the Diamondbacks were absolutely robbed in the trade. So we will break the trade down the trade by player, with some notes on each and then, at the end, compare it to the package the Mariners were willing to give up to get Upton before he declined the trade.

If you look at those ZIPs projections, you notice that Martin Prado is actually projected to be better than Justin Upton, and many have pointed out that he had a better rWAR in 2012 than Upton. Over the past 3 seasons, Prado has averaged a 2.3 WAA and 4.03 rWAR, which is quite impressive. He has had over 1 defensive win above average over the last 3 years as well, according to DRS. UZR likes him, but less, especially in 2010-2011 (before he was rated as 1.78 wins). If you replace DRS with UZR and add the “runs created above average” (RBAT according to BR), he still was worth 1 and a half wins above average (!) over those 3 years. One can discount defensive metrics, as they do have their problems (if you look at just the brute number of balls he is turning into outs, or range factor, he has been below average in left field over the last 2 years), but he does provide some positional flexibility. He can play 3rd, which is good considering Arizona had problems with that position last year and have traded away both Ryan Wheeler and Chris Johnson now, along with left-field and has even subbed in at shortstop and 1st base on occasion over the last two years. Even if he isn’t a great fielder, if he can hold his own at several different positions, like say a Zobrist or a Bonafacio, he provides quite a bit of value. With that said, one of the reasons the Diamondbacks made this trade was because of a created logjam in the outfield. So Prado probably won’t play much left field, and the Diamondbacks did sign Eric Chavez. Chavez is unreliable thanks to platoon and injury issues, but he is a decent player. The Diamondbacks could see him as more of a pinch hitter, which should help Chavez stay healthy. With the bat, he simply isn’t as good as Upton, and he is 4 years older, but this isn’t a 1 for 1 trade. I don’t think Prado is actually better than Upton, but that is why the Diamondbacks received some minor league players as well.

Randall Delgado was nearly a Cub in the middle of the season, before Ryan Dempster declined a trade. A 22 year old (will turn 23 before Spring Training begins), Delgado has been given 24 big league starts (127.2 innings) and hasn’t been spectacular (or even quite average, with a negative WAA and 113 FIP -), but he has held his own. The lack of strikeouts could be a little concerning, but he is getting ground-balls. He has a good fastball, averaging 92.5 MPH, actually throwing many moving fastballs (not surprising when you look at the ground-ball rate) reaching up to about 97 MPH. Many seemed surprised that the Diamondbacks didn’t get Julio Teheran in the trade, as he is the better prospect with perhaps a better fastball (averaging 92.8 MPH, reaching 96 MPH), but Teheran really struggled in 2012. Delgado also throws a healthy amount of changeups and curveballs, both reasonably hard with the changeup being the big strikeout pitch for Delgado. Since 2007, out of the 286 pitchers that have thrown at least 200 changeups, Delgado gets the 13th most whiffs out of swings on his changeup (Blake Beavan is last, King Felix is 39th). So he clearly has a good fastball and a big strikeout pitch, but his curve is lacking, as his curve is 202th in whiffs/swings since 2007, between Jo Jo Reyes and Randy Wolf. Delgado’s ability to develop a 3rd pitch, whether it is the curve or something else, will determine whether or not he becomes more than an averagish starter. But for now, the Diamondbacks get an okay cheap young starter with the potential to get better.


I wrote about Zeke Spruill here, so there is no reason to repeat myself when it comes to him. He seems to be pretty close to the Majors, but he doesn’t have great stuff, so his ceiling will be very low. While he may be able to keep himself in the Majors for a while, he isn’t going to be an impact pitcher. Despite some decent numbers in the minors, I wasn’t impressed with his breaking stuff, so a pessimist might say he becomes a long man/low leverage reliever/swingman. He will get some ground-balls, but he won’t strikeout a lot of hitters.

According to the data I collected here, Nick Ahmed, a former 2nd round pick who will turn 23 in Spring Training, was the best minor league shortstop according to FRAA in 2012 and he was the 2nd best (out of 116) according to Range Factor. He is also a good baserunner, as he was 19th best according to Speed Score and stole 40 bases. The question is the bat, as StatCorner rated his power as below average and he had a 104 wOBA +, which is above league average, but not overly impressive when he hasn’t even reached AA yet. He played in a slightly pitcher friendly park, but not extreme. He isn’t quite highly as rated as Nick Franklin is (more on that later), but there is a lot to like about his profile, and he doesn’t have to become a great hitter, he just needs to be adequate.

Brandon Drury is a 20 year old right-handed infielder that has mainly played 3rd base since being drafted in the 13th round in 2010 by the Braves. Defensively, he is clearly below average and may have to move to first long term (he has already played significant time there). This may be bad news for Drury, as though he was young for the level, he was considerably worse than league average offensively, not hitting for much power or average (nor walking very much). There aren’t a lot of reasons to expect Drury to amount to much.

So how does this deal compare to the one the Mariners and Diamondbacks concocted? The first thing you notice is the lack of big league players. The Mariners were going to give up Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Nick Franklin, and Taijuan Walker. All of these players were at least in AA in 2012, unlike the Braves trade. I was not a fan of this trade for the Mariners. While Pryor and Furbush are relievers, they are both good relievers, and the Mariners were giving up their 2nd best position player prospect, and their best pitching prospect (who is a top 20 and perhaps top 10 prospect in all of baseball). The Braves weren’t giving up this. Ahmed is further from the Majors than Franklin, and why there are less questions about positional certainty and the glove, there are more offensive questions. Drury appears to be nothing, while Spruill looks like a back of the rotation pitcher. While Delgado comes with a little less risk than Walker and is further along in his development, Walker has a better fastball and curveball and clearly has the higher ceiling. Even if the Braves had given Teheran instead of Delgado, that still doesn’t equal Walker in my opinion. I don’t think Martin Prado, as solid of a player he is, makes the difference of the upgrades of each player (especially when you factor in Chris Johnson, who seems like a serviceable player at 3rd, ideally not a starter, but provides some offensive value at the corners). The Mariners were willing to give up more than the Braves. I don’t think the Diamondbacks necessarily got embarrassed, and depending on how you value Prado, but they didn’t get the value they thought they were going to get from the Mariners.

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