Guerry Clegg commentary: Warming up to trade for Upton

sports@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 24, 2013 

I want to like it. This Braves' trade for Justin Upton, that is. I'm trying to like it. I keep reminding myself of all the positive aspects.

That Upton already has hit 108 home runs, driven in 363 runs, has stolen 80 bases and has a career batting average of .278 -- and he's still only 25.

That playing left field along side his big brother B.J. Upton could make him happy and motivate him to become the superstar that baseball scouts believe he should become.

That an outfield of the two Uptons and Jason Heyward could be -- offensively and defensively -- the best outfield in baseball for the next five years.

That several teams in both leagues coveted Justin, but the Braves prevailed.

And that Chris Johnson is more than just a throw-in. He hit .281 with 15 home runs last season with Houston and Arizona. Even the fact that Johnson's 19 errors tied for second in all the majors isn't as alarming as it might seem. Ryan Zimmerman also had 19 errors, and David Freese had 18. Zimmerman and Freese are generally regarded as the two best young third basemen in baseball.

Maybe in time, I will like it. But not just yet. Not considering the fact that the Braves had to part with Martin Prado -- possibly their most valuable position player over the last three seasons -- to make it happen.

Randall Delgado? Fine. He didn't fit into the Braves' rotation plan unless at least two other starters failed. And they have more quality starting pitching right behind him in the minor leagues. Three other minor league throw-ins, pitcher Zeke Spruill and infielders Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury, might develop into solid big league play

ers. But they were blocked within the Braves' system.

But Prado?

He's a career .295 hitter who just keeps getting better every year, a splendid defensive player and a clubhouse leader. In short, he's a ball player.

No, Prado's not the athlete that Justin Upton is. But neither is Pablo Sandoval, who was last seen holding up the World Series MVP trophy. As Bum Phillips, the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints coach, famously said, "Potential is what gets you fired."

That many teams wanted Justin Upton is offset by the fact that the team that had him, the Arizona Diamondbacks, didn't want him. They saw him put up 31 home runs and 88 RBIs just two seasons ago, good enough to finish fourth in the National League MVP voting, yet still shopped him around like a car with a bad transmission.

Isn't that a red flag?

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendricks publically called Upton "an enigma."

"He's certainly not the Justin Upton that he has been in the past and that we would expect of him," Kendricks said in a radio interview last season. "He's 24 years old, and it's time for him to be a consistent performer and right now this year he's not been that."

The Upton brothers have been hoping to play together, which is understandable. But both players to this point have been more promise than production.

Even if Justin Upton matures, there's another downside to the trade. Last year, the Braves struck out 1,289 times. Only six teams struck out more. And now, they've added three starters who struck out 422 times -- Justin (121), B.J. (169) and Johnson (132). Combined with Heyward (152), Uggla (168) and Freeman (129), that's 871 strikeouts. There's a good chance the Braves could lead the majors in strikeouts.

Of course, the upside is enormous. B.J. and Johnson are the old men of the bunch at 28. If the Uptons, Heyward and Freeman all blossom, along with Uggla and Brian McCann, they could easily lead the majors in home runs.

It was Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager who died last week, who said the easiest way to manage was to get good pitching, good defense "and wait on the three-run homer."

If only the Uptons can produce like the Robinsons, Brooks and Frank, this lineup overhaul just might turn out all right.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at

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