NL East strengthens as Braves land Justin Upton

NL East strengthens as Braves land Justin Upton
January 24, 2013, 1:15 pm
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The Phillies added two Youngs this offseason. The Braves added two Uptons.

Atlanta and the Arizona Diamondbacks agreed on Thursday to a deal that will send 24-year-old, two-time All-Star rightfielder Justin Upton to the Braves for Martin Prado, 22-year-old righthander Randall Delgado and three more prospects.

It puts an end to the Diamondbacks’ long, strange quest to deal the younger Upton, a budding superstar who has hit .286/.362/.485 over the last four seasons with an average of 23 homers, 30 doubles and 19 steals per season.

Justin Upton is exactly the type of player the Phillies needed, and it was their division-rival that landed him. Upton is young, talented, plays the outfield and, perhaps most importantly, is under team control for three more years. He’s owed $38.5 million through the end of 2015, a very reasonable salary for a middle-of-the-order player soon entering his prime.

The inclusion of Prado in the trade was a bit surprising. In Atlanta, Prado quietly turned himself from a super-utility player to one of the best contact hitters in the National League. He’s hit .300 or better in four of the last five seasons with an OPS 10 percent better than the league. He’s also a smooth fielder who can play left field, third base, shortstop, second and first. The Braves will miss him, but Prado is a free agent after the season and the Braves weren’t going to commit to him long-term anyway.

It’s a solid deal for Atlanta, which now has the top outfield in the NL with the Uptons and 22-year-old Jason Heyward, another star in the making.

It pushes the Phillies further back in the NL East, behind the 98-win Nationals and the much-improved Braves. On the one hand, Atlanta experiences a third base dropoff from Prado to Juan Francisco or Chris Johnson, who was also acquired Thursday. Based on WAR, that’s a difference of about two wins for the Braves.

But Justin Upton is a four-win player himself, which is a healthy upgrade over the lineup spot which was previously penciled in for a Francisco/Reed Johnson platoon.

It certainly isn’t good news for the Phillies, who took a more conservative approach to spending this offseason. The Youngs (Michael and Delmon) cost the Phillies $6.75 million in guaranteed money. The Uptons cost Atlanta more than $110 million.

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