Two significant events happened Thursday night that might actually help Atlanta in its quest for a true left fielder.
First, Arizona outfielder Justin Upton blocked a deal that would have sent him to the Seattle Mariners. He has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, and he did not want to play for the Mariners.
Second, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Rangers had made their “final offer” to Arizona for Upton and were “moving on” after the offer was rejected by Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers.
If the Rangers, who have been aggressive in their pursuit of Upton, are truly out of the picture, it gives the Braves even more of a chance to make a trade for the brother of their biggest acquisition so far this offseason.
When Atlanta signed B.J. Upton in November, there was a lot of speculation about having the two Upton brothers play together. It was obvious then and even more apparent now that Arizona wants to trade Justin, and the Upton boys’ father did not make it a secret of the family’s desires at B.J.’s press conference.
The Diamondbacks made it clear when they signed Cody Ross that an outfielder had to go. Now that they tried to trade Upton to Seattle, it’s obvious he’s the preference to be dealt away. Upton has three years remaining on his contract, so Towers will be able to get even more for Upton in return.
And if Seattle is out, and the Rangers are out, the Diamondbacks’ options are running out. They are losing their leverage, and with it not being necessarily quiet about Upton wanting to join his brother in Atlanta, it perhaps puts the Braves in the catbird seat.
So what would Atlanta have to give up for Upton? Well, look at what they were going to get from the Mariners. Taijuan Walker was the main player in the deal. Walker is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. The Braves have Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado set to battle for the fifth starter’s job, so there is excess there that can be dealt.
Atlanta would probably prefer to hold onto Teheran, only so they can finally see what he might do as a regular in the rotation. They know about Delgado, and why he did well last year in that role, they did have him on the table when they tried to get Ryan Dempster from the Cubs in July.
Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor were also going to Arizona in the deal. Furbush is a tall left-hander who finally stuck in the majors last year with 48 games in relief. Pryor was a rookie last season and pitched in 26 games.
The Braves could offer Eric O’Flaherty in a deal for Upton. He’s much better than the other two pitchers Seattle offered, with four outstanding years out of the Atlanta bullpen. The Braves can afford to part with O’Flaherty because they’d still have Jonny Venters in the pen. Plus, Luis Avilan did well last year as a rookie, and he could, in effect, take over as the second left behind Venters in the pen. O’Flaherty, who is a free agent after this season, should still have even more value than the duo of Furbush and Pryor.
The fourth player in the proposed deal between Seattle and Arizona was Nick Franklin, a shortstop who was rated as the Mariners’ fifth best prospect by Baseball America. The Braves could perhaps instead offer another Nick – Nick Ahmed – who is stuck behind Andrelton Simmons and is scheduled to be in Double-A this season.
Would Delgado, O’Flaherty and Ahmed get Arizona to pull the trigger and give Atlanta Justin Upton? Well, Arizona is scheduled to have Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin in its rotation. Delgado would give Arizona more depth.
Towers loves to accumulate relievers. He’s already acquired Heath Bell, Tony Sipp and Matt Reynolds this offseason. O’Flaherty would join those three, along with J.J. Putz, David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler to give the Diamondbacks a tremendous bullpen.
They’ve always been searching for a shortstop in a deal for Upton. They tried to get Simmons from the Braves, but those talks didn’t last long. They got Didi Gregorius in the three-team trade from the Reds, and Ahmed could give Arizona another long-term option at the position.
It’s not out of the question that Juan Francisco could be put on the table in a trade discussion. If the Diamondbacks believe Gregorius is their answer at shortstop, then they may hope Francisco could become their future third baseman.
If Atlanta acquired the other Upton, it would immediately solve the left field issue that has been a revolving door for more than a decade. Martin Prado could then take over for Chipper Jones at third base.
Atlanta would add another right-handed power hitter to the lineup, which was essential this offseason. Getting B.J. Upton was the first step, but his younger brother might help even more.
Justin Upton is 25 years old. He has averaged 22.75 home runs in his first four full major league seasons. And again, Upton is under contract for three more years. He’s due to be paid $9.75 million this year, followed by $14.25 million in 2014 and then $14.5 million in 2015.
So the Upton brothers would be guaranteed of playing together for at least three years. Would it be good or bad for the brothers to play on the same team? Well, who knows the answer to that question? But there is no doubt that both players would fill the main needs the Braves had when the offseason began.
Atlanta needed right-handed power hitters. They already have Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann – three power-hitting left-handed hitters. Prado and Simmons are both punch-and-Judy hitters who can run the bases well and do damage at the top of the order.
Of course, if we knew what Dan Uggla was going to do this season, the need for another power hitter would not be that dire. Uggla might bounce back and become the hitter he was with the Marlins, or he might continue to be a struggling power hitter who rarely shows enough power.
But if the Upton brothers could live up to their potential and put together solid seasons, the Braves would be a very tough team to beat in the National League East.
GM Frank Wren told Jim Bowden recently he hasn’t talked with Towers since before Christmas. Something tells me that has probably changed. Wren will undoubtedly check in with Towers, who doesn’t have much choice now but to find Upton a new home. It would be tough to bring him to spring training, knowing they tried to trade him to Seattle and he said no.
Give Wren credit for being patient. Everyone knows the Braves could go to spring training with the current roster, but most also believe they could really use another bat. If these two developments Thursday lead to the Braves getting Justin Upton at a good price, this offseason could go down as one of the best in many years.
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