Guerry Clegg commentary: Braves likely in first place even without Prado trade

June 29, 2013 

The night was reserved for honoring Chipper Jones. The moment, prompted by a classy gesture from Jones, turned into Martin Prado Appreciation Night.

The packed Turner Field crowd erupted in cheers as Jones acknowledged Prado, his long-time Atlanta Braves teammate now observing the festivities from the visitors' dugout.

The cheers burst forth again later on in the night as Prado was introduced for the first time ever as an opponent, an Arizona Diamondback. Prado had to step out of the batter's box, not just as a courtesy but likely to let the conflicted emotions settle. He was a Braves favorite, but now he's Diamondback.

If many Braves' fans had their way, Prado would still be a Brave, even if it meant that Justin Upton and Chris Johnson wouldn't be.

It's also natural to wonder where the Braves would be right now if the trade had never been made. It's conjecture, of course, and completely irrelevant now. Still, what if …

First, a review:

The deal was announced on the morning of Jan. 24, five days after the Falcons lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. One event had nothing to do with the other, but both left Atlanta fans a bit dazed. The complete deal was Upton and Johnson to Atlanta for Prado, pitching prospects Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, and minor league infielders Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.

Little was known of Johnson at the time. But even if we knew then that Johnson would come in and lead the starters in batting average through the first 80 games, many Braves fans would still

rather have Prado, despite his very uncharacteristically modest .243 batting average.

We can be almost certain of this much. The Braves would not have started 12-1 without Justin Upton's hot bat in the lineup.

What's much more unclear is where they would be now. Upton's stats since April are nothing short of abysmal: .243 batting average, three home runs, 18 RBIs. Since that 12-1 start, the Braves are 34-33 through Friday night's game.

Many of those losses have come with Evan Gattis and Jordan Schafer sitting the bench. Who knows how many of those games would have been won with either Gattis or Schafer in the lineup? Gattis has as many RBIs as Upton, 37 each. But Gattis has done that in 143 fewer plate appearances. Schafer has had even fewer plate appearances (144) than Gattis (183) and he scarcely played during that hot streak to start the season. Schafer is batting .309 with 22 runs scored and leads the team with nine stolen bases.

In other words, the Braves might not have maintained their hold on first place without Schafer's contributions.

The X-factor in all of this is Johnson, who may be hitting the quietest .319 in team history. He was spectacular in April (.369) and merely steady (.286) since then. He also leads the team with 16 doubles.

Regardless of what might have happened up to this point without the trade, here's another way to look at it. If you could reverse the trade today and put Prado at third and have Gattis and Schafer getting more at-bats, would you do it?

In a heartbeat.

From the sound of the cheers Friday night, many Braves fans would do the same.

Meanwhile, back to reality. Prado is a Diamondback, and Upton is the Braves' left fielder. He drove in the first run Friday night in the Braves 3-0 win -- off Delgado, by the way.

If Upton can be something between the MVP candidate he was in April and the liability he has been since, the Braves have a good chance to hold their division lead. If not, it doesn't matter any way. What's done is done.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com. Foillow him on Twitter @guerryclegg

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