The Braves' trade for Justin Upton on Thursday may be even better than it looks at first. And it looks pretty good at first.
In broad strokes, the value is obvious: Atlanta acquired an absurdly talented young veteran in Upton, without dipping too deeply into its trove of prospects. That in itself is nice work by general manager Frank Wren. But there's a lot of cleverness to the deal beyond the face value of adding a 25-year-old star with a reasonable contract.
Atlanta sent third baseman/outfielder Martin Prado, starting pitcher Randall Delgado, pitching prospect Zeke Spruill, and infield prospects Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury to the D-backs for Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson. The Braves get the best player in the deal, and they do so at a much lower cost than the reported return in a deal to Seattle that Upton blocked earlier this month.
This is a cleverly put-together deal by Atlanta, one in which the full makeup of the 25-man roster and the organization were clearly significant considerations. That's not easy to do while still meeting the other side's demands.
Even the most valuable pieces that the Braves traded came from areas of depth and strength within the organization. Johnson, meanwhile, is a smart fit for the Braves' needs, rather than just an extra body to balance things out.
Arizona received a quality player in Prado, but the acquisition of Johnson makes for a third-base situation that should cover for Prado's loss in Atlanta. The Diamondbacks got an assortment of young talent, but none of the players headed west are among the irreplaceable members of the Braves organization. Players like Andrelton Simmons, Christian Bethancourt and even Julio Teheran would have created much bigger holes than the players the Braves dealt.
As usual, Atlanta is up to its ears in young starting pitching. Delgado, one of the two centerpieces of the deal for Arizona, has already contributed at the Major League level, making him a much safer bet than many pitching prospects. But Delgado is more of a safe-and-solid type than someone who profiles as a potential ace. Parting with him and Spruill doesn't significantly weaken the depth or top-end potential of Atlanta's pitching ranks. The Braves held on to their highest-upside pitcher, Teheran, as well as the emerging J.R. Graham and nearly Major League-ready Sean Gilmartin.
Ahmed, meanwhile, is a well-regarded prospect, but he ranks at best third on the shortstop depth chart in the Atlanta organization. Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky remain, meaning that neither young shortstop depth nor quality is an issue for the Braves. Dealing Simmons was a non-starter for the Braves, even though he was coveted earlier in the winter by Arizona. Getting the deal done while keeping him is a coup.
Then there's the Major League portion of the deal. Parting with Prado will hurt. He's a popular, versatile and valuable player coming off a big year. He's also signed for just one more year. Upton is signed for three, at the very club-friendly price of $38.5 million for his age 25-27 seasons. Even if Arizona signs Prado, it will be for his age-30 season and beyond, and surely won't be anywhere near the bargain that Upton's contract is.
And in the short term, the Braves got a piece in Johnson who makes the loss of Prado much easier to swallow. He should form a very effective third-base platoon with Juan Francisco.
The left-handed-hitting Francisco has serious power but has been fairly helpless against lefties. Johnson has shown a reverse platoon split in the Majors, but had a large and conventional split in Triple-A, and at any rate, will be much more effective against lefties than Francisco. The two of them form an inexpensive and likely potent platoon that should make up for Prado's lost production.
The Braves added a star on Thursday, and that in itself is a victory. But to do so without creating any new weaknesses in their system or on their roster is a massive triumph, one for which the Atlanta front office deserves a great deal of credit.
Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.