Justin Upton was the crown jewel of the Diamondbacks’ future. They even went so far as naming the right field bleachers in his honor, installing a large semi-permanent sign labeled “Uptown.” Yet following Upton’s lackluster 2012 season when measured against his limitless abilities, the Diamondbacks decided to retool, scrapping their plans for Upton.
Trading Upton was a controversial move on a number of fronts. First, Upton had a relatively reasonable contract that would have fit into the Diamondbacks’ budget through 2015. Further, despite having now seven years of major league experience under his belt, Upton is still young (25) from a growth potential standard. From the fan’s perspective, the D-Backs did not get enough in exchange for Upton. Leaving were Upton and short-term cure at third base, Chris Johnson. Coming were Martin Prado and little known prospects: Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Brandon Drury and Zeke Spruill.
The dissatisfaction over the Upton deal reached its crescendo by late April of this season. As of April 28, 2013, just compare these numbers: Upton was off to a potential MVP season, hitting .308 with 12 home runs and 18 runs batted in. He also had three stolen bases and was leading the Atlanta Braves during their torrid start to the season. In Phoenix, the numbers for the Diamondback end of the deal were heading in the opposite direction. Martin Prado was hitting just .208, with only 3 home runs and 7 runs batted in. As for Delgado, Ahmed, Drury and Spruill, their names were as well known to the D-Back faithful as the “player to be named later.”
However, unless you are part of a regime such as George Steinbrenner’s Yankees of the past (which was controlled by the “what have you done for me lately” philosophy), it would be ridiculous to assess a trade of this nature less than one month into the season. For some perspective on the Upton-Prado deal, let’s just consider the past three months since the April 28th benchmark. Over these three months, Upton has been down, hitting a paltry .230. If we exclude his very productive three game series against the D-backs (when he returned to Phoenix from May 13-15 and went 5 for 10 with a home run), Upton’s numbers are even more anemic. His adjusted batting average is .220 over these three months and he has only 3 round-trippers in those 268 at bats.
Now let’s focus on the D-back side of the equation. Since April 28th, Prado has been hitting .284 with 6 home runs and 34 runs batted in. As importantly, he has become a great clubhouse guy, credited by many for his support of this relatively young roster. Additionally, with the departure of Upton, fan-favorite Gerardo Parra has been a day-to-day starter and his value, both in the batter’s box and in the outfield, has been immeasurable.
And let’s not forget about Randall Delgado. He joined the starting rotation on June 18th and, following his first three starts, has since compiled a 4-1 record with an ERA of 2.16. The most impressive of his outings was on July 26th, when he pitched a three-hit complete game shutout over the Padres. He is garnering not only the attention of his teammates, but also the fascination of the fans while starting pitchers such as Cahill, McCarthy and Hudson have been out and the real Ian Kennedy has been missing in action.
Additionally, the “players to be named later” have been showing sparks of potential. For example, as reported by Jared Cohen in his “Dbacks On Deck” series, shortstop Nick Ahmed was last reported to have been hitting .325 over his last ten games for the Double-A Mobile Bay Bears. Pitcher Zach Spruill made four relief appearances with the D-Backs earlier this season and compiled a 2.08 ERA. He had an impressive 1.42 ERA while pitching Double-A ball in Mobile at the start of the season and has done relatively well in his ten starts for Triple-A Reno. Third baseman Brandon Drury has a season batting average for the Single-A South Bend Silver Hawks of .314 with 11 homeruns in 82 games.
So there are many indications to suggest that over time, it will be shown that the D-Backs did not get ripped off when the deal was made, despite their profound determination to send Upton packing. There is, however, one wildcard to the equation. Third baseman Chris Johnson is posting some pretty impressive numbers for the Braves (hitting .338 and with 6 homeruns). This is not a big surprise since Johnson has shown over his career that he can hit major league pitching. If he continues on a pace anywhere near his current numbers, the trade could be measured by the throw-in player.
The jury is still out on Kevin Towers’ decision to rid the team of Upton, but the doubters who were so vocal back in January when the deal was made and were near irate by the end of April have been quiet of late. Who knows, they may soon be trying to jump onto the Prado-Delgado bandwagon. In any event, with the addition of Prado and the subtraction of Upton, the D-Backs have a roster that matches the gritty, blue-collar style of their skipper, Kirk Gibson, and are epitomizing the notion of team baseball. In an era where superstars are quickly falling from grace, to have a squad of Gibson-like players renews one’s faith in team as well the notion that the collective is more important and greater than the parts. That is baseball, and while I miss the great potential that Upton brought to the plate with each at bat, I like what I see.