This morning the Braves and Diamondbacks finalized a deal that sent Justin Upton to Atlanta in exchange for Martin Prado, promising young pitcher Randall Delgado (bet the Braves are glad now that Ryan Dempster vetoed the Dempster-Delgado trade last July), and several prospects, according to Braves beat writer Mark Bowman.
The trade makes the Braves one of the early NL favorites after acquiring B.J. Upton via free agency and his brother Justin this morning. Also, this is the most adorable thing ever.
Since this isn’t an NL East blog, let’s focus on what this trade means for the Angels.* Obviously, this is great news for the Angels (and A’s) division title chances. It’s no secret that Texas highly coveted the Arizona star, but was simply not willing to part with Elvis Andrus or the #1 prospect in baseball, Jurickson Profar. When the Diamondbacks acquired SS Didi Gregorius from the Reds in a 3-team trade that also involved the Indians, Texas lost some bargaining power for Upton.
* Other than the fact that their reign as “Best Outfield in Baseball” ended before the season even started.
But still, Texas wanted him. If several tweets I saw this morning are any indicator, the Rangers had an offer for Upton centered around young third basemen Mike Olt. Jon Daniels and Rangers brass must have realized that trading for Upton would have checkmated the AL West for 2013 and for many years after (Upton is under contract through 2015 and will be a relative bargain if he produces like he did in 2011).
Yes, Upton did indeed struggle in 2012, as his slugging fell 99 points from 2011 and his fWAR fell 3.9 wins. But he was also bothered by a hand injury all season, not something to take lightly for a hitter. Upton is also only 25 years old and just two seasons removed from his 141 OPS+ season when he looked like one of the best young players in baseball. And let’s not forget that, even though Chase Field skews towards hitters, the Ballpark in Arlington is arguably THE premier hitter’s paradise. Between that and his natural abilities, there was a good chance that a healthy Upton would rake in Texas and prove the superior/younger/safer/cheaper option to the departed Josh Hamilton. Even though Texas lost Hamilton and Mike Napoli, it’s not impossible to think that an Upton-aided lineup would make them better in 2013, when you also factor in Michael Young and his allergy to OBP has been exiled to Philadelphia.
Now the Rangers have a hole in their outfield. It’s safe to presume David Murphy will start in LF after a career year, albeit one aided by a .333 BABIP that likely means regression this season. Nelson Cruz will start in RF, but he’s not getting any younger, he’s a virtual lock to miss significant time with injury, and his isolated power has decreased every year since 2008. So who starts in center? Craig Gentry? Julio Borbon? Leonys Martin? Not that those guys aren’t usable players, it’s just they don’t strike fear into the hearts of pitchers like Hamilton or Upton do. With the question marks in CF, 1B, and C (unless you believe A.J. Pierzynski’s 2012 wasn’t a fluke), the Rangers lineup certainly looks less dangerous than last year. For the first time in probably a decade, the Angels on paper have the more explosive lineup between the two clubs.
I still think the Rangers are the favorites to win the AL West. Their offense is solid and their starting rotation could be the best in the AL.** And the failure to acquire Upton doesn’t mean the Rangers can’t still make a move. Michael Bourn is still a possibility, and he could be had a decent price since the interest in him has been low this winter. Or maybe there’s a deal out there nobody has considered yet. With Texas and their bountiful farm, the possibilities are endless.
** I think Yu Darvish is scary good this year. He will be my Cy Young pick.
For today, though, Upton heading to Atlanta is another feather in the Angels’ cap. Breathe a sigh of relief, Angels fans. The AL West hasn’t been won, but it damn near could have been lost.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher.