91 – 89 – 94. The Atlanta Braves win totals over the last three years. For their trouble, the Atlanta Braves received zero National League East division titles in that time, even though just four teams have more wins in that time.
Last year, the Braves won 94 games but finished second to the Washington Nationals, who won 98. Then the Nationals acquired Denard Span, Dan Haren, and Rafael Soriano. They re-signed Adam LaRoche and traded away Mike Morse. The 98 win team got better, not matter how much regression you forecast for Ian Desmond and Gio Gonzalez.
The Barves lost OLE CHOPPER JONES to retirement but swapped Michael Bourn for B.J. Upton, signing the latter as a free agent but losing the former to the siren song of the open market. They were treading water, still stinging from their experience as the first casualty of the new Wild Card system.
The Braves needed to answer – not just now but for the future. The Atlanta Braves trade two non-insignificant pieces in Randall Delgado and Martin Prado for Justin Upton, a move which does plenty to address both “now” and “future.” There are other pieces — a platoon third baseman for the Braves, three prospects of a fringey nature to the Diamondbacks — but this deal is about Arizona giving up on Upton and Atlanta building an incredible outfield.
Earlier today, I wondered about the Diamondbacks decision making process. To their credit, adding Martin Prado addresses a pressing need in Arizona and Randall Delgado is much closer to big league ready than Taijuan Walker. The Snakes avoid a step back and can potentially compete in the NL West, though it is hard to argue the team is better now than it was one year ago. That said: this is the third straight trade made by Kevin Towers in which the return could best be described as “underwhelming.”
Solid players like Martin Prado in exchange a star four years his junior (in Upton), a highish-floor/limited ceiling prospect like Didi Gregoris for a potential number one starter (in Trevor Bauer), and a below-league average shortstop in exchange for an above-average center fielder (in Chris Young.)
The Braves went about addressing the very significant holes left by the departures of Michael Bourn and Chipper Jones. While keeping Prado is more ideal for the 2013 Braves, their 3B/LF man is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, very likely at a price ATL would not pay.
Instead they receive Justin Upton, still just 25 years old and with two near-MVP quality seasons on his resume. While there is a good chance Justin Upton doesn’t get any better than he’s already been over the last three years, the chance he breaks out and becomes the superduper star many expect is more than enough to justify the “risk” that Upton is “only” a 3-4 Win player.
Simply put: the opportunity to acquire players like Justin Upton does not come around often. When the asking price is one year of Martin Prado (though he figures to sign longer term with Arizona almost immediately) and Randall Delgado plus some non-premium prospects, you do it. When you are a good borderline great team like Atlanta, you do not think twice.
Braves gonna have the Uptons & Heyward through ’15. That’s before Kimbrel fades, Hudson retires, McCann becomes a pumpkin … 3 year window.
— Mike Axisa (@mikeaxisa) January 24, 2013
The Braves and Nationals are on the short list for the best teams in baseball. They both feature talent developed in house and have pitching for days. There is a very good chance that one of these two teams will be forced into playing a single game for their life in October. It hardly seems fair, but this kind of arms race benefits everyone in the end.
The Nats and Braves could emerge as the Red Sox/Yankees of the current NL East, pulling the rest of the division along. The futility of the Phillies recent moves stands in sharp contrast to the deft strikes Atlanta and Washington made this winter, with the Marlins and Mets lining up as short term cannon fodder.
It was going to take a lot of work to make the 2013 Braves as good as the 2012 Braves but, in one trade, they went a long way to accomplishing that feat. The Nats and Braves now boast two of the best outfields in baseball, two of the best rotations in baseball, and two of the best bullpens in baseball. Is that good?