Throughout the offseason, everyone who follows the National League West expected the Arizona Diamondbacks to trade Justin Upton. On Thursday, the D-backs completed a seven-player deal with the Atlanta Braves to unite Justin with his older brother, B.J.
Many baseball people think this trade will help to make both the D-backs and the Braves serious contenders for their respective divisional titles.
Nevertheless, trading Justin Upton demonstrates the impatience of the D-backs and indicates their desire to have a scapegoat for their poor performance.
In 2011, when the D-backs won the NL West, Upton, as a 23-year-old outfielder, played a vital role in his team's success and finished fourth in the National League's MVP Award balloting.
However, Upton has been a source of frustration for the D-backs. Every time something doesn't go the way that the team wants, people blame Upton.
Since Upton has come into the league as a 19 year old, he has had to live up to huge but unreasonable expectations. Rarely has Upton been able to perform the way that Arizona wanted. In the middle of a pennant race in 2007, the D-backs rushed the talented kid to the Majors, and this prevented him from developing fully. Since '09, he has been a full-time player and his batting average hasn't fallen below .273. He has provided Arizona with power and speed. Whereas most D-backs strike out way too much, Upton has not.
What was the problem with Upton and the D-backs?
Since everything has been easy for Upton in baseball, the D-backs didn't perceive him as a hard worker. The D-backs are a young team with many free swingers, and they wanted Upton to be their offensive star. Not ready for this responsibility, he sometimes failed and made mistakes in the field. This angered the management, resulting in criticism. Being a sensitive young man, Upton didn't respond well to this. He developed a reputation as a moody player who didn't perform under pressure.
Baseball isn't for the tender-hearted. Players must develop a thick skin to deal with the constant criticism from the media -- and sometimes from their management. Both B.J. and Justin have had difficulty with this. After the 2012 season, especially when the D-backs signed free agent Cody Ross this December, most baseball people thought Justin's days in Arizona were numbered. In a different environment, especially with his brother, he may develop into the superstar that the D-backs envisioned.
Getting Martin Prado to play third base might help put the D-backs on the same level as the World Series champion San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the past several years, the D-backs have been hindered by the number of strikeouts that their hitters collected. They desperately needed a contact hitter who had a high batting average and didn't strike out much. Prado has a .295 career batting average and has not struck out more than 86 times in a season. In addition, he is a good third baseman, even though he hasn't had the opportunity to play there regularly because likely future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones owned that position for the Braves.
Although the D-backs lost Upton's power, they gained Prado's versatility. He can play all infield positions and left field. He has intensity about his play that should be contagious. The D-backs need to be more intense. The only drawback about acquiring Prado is that he will be a free agent after this upcoming season. However, this can inspire him to have a great performance, even though he was traded away from the only organization that he has ever known.
Signing Ross and acquiring Prado changes the complexion of the D-backs' offense. Instead of primarily having home run hitters who will strike out over 150 times and maybe have -- at most -- 30 home runs, the D-backs have gutsy players who understand the importance of getting on base. This will make them more difficult to pitch to. In the recent past, if a pitcher used a breaking ball a little bit out of the strike zone, an Arizona hitter would chase it. Now, both Ross and Prado usually will make the opposing pitchers throw strikes to get them out.
Even though the D-backs have made their offense more dynamic and obtained a quality closer in Heath Bell, many members of the media don't believe they will be a factor in the NL West race. The Giants have a proven track record with two World Series championships in the past three years. The Dodgers have made headlines with their enormous expenditures, acquiring superstars while their club already resembled an All-Star team.
However, baseball games aren't won on paper. The Giants could suffer massive injuries that would prevent them from competing for the postseason. More likely than that, the Dodgers probably will underachieve, since their expectations are too high.
No one knows what will happen in the NL West, but it should have a three-team race for the title.