Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tomayto Tomahto

So it's been only forever and a half.  Let's just say the winter months keep me much busier at work than in the summer.  I wasn't really looking to break out of this funk, but I can't help but wonder what will come of the Justin Upton deal that the Atlanta Braves completed with the Arizona Diamondbacks last night.

Reason being, I feel like this trade happened already.  In fact, I'm sure it did...nine years earlier.  Last night, the Braves shipped a number of prospects, including top pitching prospect Randall Delgado, and All-Star Martin Prado.

I was oddly surprised that a number of outlets called the Braves out on this deal because of letting Prado go.  Don't get me wrong, Prado is a good solid player, who would be helpful to any team if only because he can play across he infield and outfield as needed.  He gets on base at a nice clip, and has a little bit of pop which always helps.  Nonetheless, I'm surprised that so many are upset with him leaving being that he is only 29-years old, and only played in more than 140 games once (this past season).  Regardless, that wasn't the point of this, but still.

Look past Prado, and we find a nearly identical deal that took place in December 2003.  That winter, the Braves completed a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for J.D. Drew.  Ironically, Justin Upton has spent his entire career playing alongside J.D.'s younger brother, Stephen Drew.  Coincidentally, Justin Upton's young career was very similar to Drew's early career with the Cardinals.

Both young stars were very early draft picks, Upton 1st overall, Drew 5th overall (selected 2nd by the Phillies the year before, but didn't sign).  Both were rather disappointing despite flashes of prominence with their original teams.  Upton spent five and a half seasons with the Diamondbacks.  He made the All-Star game twice, and even a run at an MVP in 2011.  He numbers were very good for a couple of seasons, solid the others.  More importantly, he only reached under 140 games twice in his time in the Arizona.

Rewind to J.D. Drew who spent his first five plus seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Drew was the first NCAA player to post a 30/30 season (home runs/stolen bases).  He was selected 2nd overall by the Phillies in the 1997 draft, but didn't sign, holding out for more money.  After a year in an independent league, he was drafted 5th overall by the Cardinals in the 1998 draft.  Like Upton, expectations were very high for Drew, a five-tool player.  Unfortunately, Drew never lived up to the high expectations.  He had good seasons, but never great.  Worse, he played in 135 games twice, but never more than that.

After the 2003 season, the Cardinals dealt Drew to Braves along with Eli Marrero.  In return, the Braves sent three players back, middle reliever Ray King, a 25-year old Jason Marquis, and a top pitching prospect at the time, Adam Wainwright.  Not exactly the same return that Arizona got for Upton, but one has to acknowledge that Randall Delgado is on a similar track to Wainwright.  Both were traded at age 22 to their new team.  Delgado has made his MLB debut, much earlier than Wainwright, otherwise are on a similar track.

Wainwright has since gone on to win a World Series, and finished second and third in the Cy Young voting in 2009 and 2010.  Of course, he had to undergo Tommy John surgery in Spring Training of 2011 and missed the season.  The Cardinals obviously got a far greater return than what they were getting out of Drew previously.  The question becomes whether the Diamondbacks will see that same net positive with Delgado.

Of course Drew was not a complete disappoint after that trade.  He was a free agent after the 2004 season, and signed with the Dodgers, thus spending only one year with the Braves.  However, that one season, he was by far and away the best player on the team.  Drew played in more than 135 games for the first time in his career, and made a run at the MVP.  The Braves continued their streak of winning the NL East that season, but likely would not have been close without Drew.

Fortunately for the Braves (and unfortunately for the rest of the NL East), Upton is under contract for three seasons at a very reasonable price for the Braves.  Even better, his agent is not Scott Boras (like Drew's), and therefore Upton's success in Atlanta could lead to even better things.

This post isn't to suggest that one team made out like a bandit, or that the teams didn't address their needs.  Rather, just to point out similar transactions the Braves have made for similar players.  Unfortunately, I suspect it will lead to similar success in Atlanta.