There were no losers in the J. Upton trade
Outfielder dominant with Atlanta, but time will prove D-backs made good deal
In a world driven by instant gratification, there's a knee-jerk reaction to proclaim the Atlanta Braves winners and the Arizona Diamondbacks losers in the offseason deal that sent Justin Upton to Atlanta.
Take a deep breath.
Truth is, there are three winners in the Upton-to-Atlanta trade: the Braves, the D-backs and Upton.
"Sometimes players need a change of scenery for it to happen," D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall said in a recent appearance on Phoenix radio station KTAR.
No player needed a change of scenery more than Upton, a true star-caliber player, who was saddled with an added burden by the previous management team in Arizona, which in its zest to cover up a gaping hole in right field during the 2007 drive to an National League West title shoved the 19-year-old Upton into the big league spotlight and proclaimed him the face of the franchise.
It was too much, too quick. The labels of an immature kid with raw ability but a lack of fundamentals stuck to Upton, even as he matured into one of the game's better players. It left him uneasy in Arizona, never really feeling accepted, and never able to really relax and be himself.
Dealt to Atlanta, Upton is finally able to be himself. He can be one of the guys, not having to carry that added burden of being "The Guy." He can have fun. And the fact that brother B.J. Upton also was an offseason addition for the Braves only adds to the comfort factor.
And it shows.
After the Braves' doubleheader sweep of the Rockies on Tuesday, Upton is leading the Majors with 11 home runs, and he added to the legend of the Upton family when he followed up B.J.'s leadoff home run in the fifth inning of a 10-2 victory in Game 2 with a home run of his own. It was the third time the two of them homered in the same game this year, the second time they had homered in the same inning, and it allowed them to become the second brother combination in history to hit back-to-back home runs. The Waners, Lloyd and Paul, did it with the Pirates back in 1938.
"You come into a season with a new team trying to fit in, just trying to be part of a team that was already good," said Justin. "I can't put my thumb on it for why I've hit the way I have, but I've just got to continue to work and keep it up."
One reason is that Justin can relax. He's having a great start, but he also is part of a franchise with a championship pedigree that has been earned because of a team effort, so even when a player of the ability of Upton shows up, he's not being counted on to lead the team to the promised land.
That wasn't the case in Arizona.
A shortstop at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va., when the D-backs made him the No. 1 pick in the country in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, Justin Upton made his pro debut the next April with South Bend in the full-season Class A Midwest League, and he began the conversion to playing center field.
Four months into his second pro season, having played only 216 games in pro ball -- 145 at Class A and 71 with Double-A Mobile -- Upton found himself in the big leagues, in a pennant race, hitting seventh and playing right field. He had played right field only eight times in his life and had committed two errors.
Upton had a strong but erratic arm. He had speed but was just learning how to read the ball off the bat. He had a big swing that often missed. And he was 19 years old, which meant his emotions showed more than he would have liked.
In those two months plus the 2008 season, Upton hit only 17 home runs, drove in only 53 runs and struck out 158 times in 496 at-bats. His mood swings led to disagreements between the folks in the Arizona dugout -- who felt Upton needed to be sent back to the Minors and given a chance to develop physically and emotionally -- and the front office, which wanted him on the fast track.
First impressions are lasting impressions.
Upton did become a force in Arizona. He received support for the NL MVP Award when the D-backs won the NL West in 2011. But it was never a comfortable fit, not like Atlanta has been.
Arizona general manager Kevin Towers, who inherited the situation when he was hired to run the D-backs' front office, could see that. He also knew that with Adam Eaton and Gerardo Parra, Arizona had two quality outfielders in need of playing time. Towers knew dealing a player of Upton's talent and potential was perfect to help change a clubhouse culture and infuse talent into a farm system.
Towers was able to land Martin Prado to fill an immediate big league need at third base, and he also was able to acquire four of the top prospects from an Atlanta organization known for its ability to sign and develop impact players.
Yes, Atlanta currently has the best record in the big leagues.
But no, Arizona has no reason to hide in the corner. The D-backs went into Wednesday just two games out in the NL West.
And they have Prado to bring an attitude adjustment to the clubhouse, plus the quartet of prospects that includes right-handed pitchers Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, third baseman Brandon Drury and shortstop Nick Ahmed to provide reinforcements for the future.
It's a win-win-win situation.