Braves hope Upton brothers reach their potential

sports@macon.comJanuary 26, 2013 

If there’s anyone not named Ripken who should know a thing or two about brothers playing together on the same baseball team, it’s Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren.

His twin sons, Kyle and Colby, played together at Landmark Christian School and then at Georgia Tech. So when Wren made the trade Thursday that united the B.J. and Justin Upton, he had a pretty good point of reference.

“Watching my kids, they push each other,” Wren said. “They know each other’s swings better than anyone else. They’ve seen them since the day they started playing the game. They’re a big help for each other. They’re a big support to each other.”

Back in October at the team’s organizational meetings, Wren knew his team “needed to find that special player that could hit in the middle of the lineup, that had right-handed power and could be with us for a while,” as he put it.

Chipper Jones had just retired. The team has some money to play with to add to the roster. When it was obvious free agent Michael Bourn’s demands (seven years) were in a different ballpark than what the Braves were thinking, they had to move on.

Step one was to replace Bourn in center field, and Wren identified B.J. Upton as the best candidate. He’s 28 years old, still full of potential, with a tremendous amount of athleticism and talent.

Even before B.J. Upton was signed, there was another Upton in the conversation. His younger brother, Justin, had his name floated out there by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a potential trade chip.

“We came out of the general manager’s meetings in early November with at least with a feeling that they would talk about Justin,” Wren said.

The Diamondbacks asked for shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and that wasn’t happening. The Braves believe Simmons is another Shawon Dunston and that he can be in the middle of the infield a long time as one of the best defensive players in the game.

Those discussions didn’t get far. Wren then turned his attention back to B.J. Upton, who was a free agent and signed him to a five-year contract in late November.

It didn’t take long for the chatter to start up again. B.J. Upton was asked about playing with his brother, and since everybody by then knew that Justin Upton was on the trade market, it was a natural question.

Even Wren admitted the thought of having the two talented Uptons in the Atlanta outfield was enticing.

“I think we dreamed about it like he (B.J.) said he did,” he said. “But it was a very slim possibility, I thought, at the time. I just didn’t know if we would match up well.”

Then two things happened that made the Braves match up well with Arizona. First, the Diamondbacks traded for a shortstop, when they got Didi Gregorius from Cincinnati. Then, Justin Upton actually blocked a trade Arizona worked out for him to go to Seattle a few weeks ago.

The Diamondbacks lost their leverage, so when Wren called back to talk about Justin Upton, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers listened a little more closely.

The price was high. Martin Prado was a great player for the Braves. He was, in many aspects, the heart and soul of the team. But to get talent, teams have to give up talent. And the Braves just didn’t think Prado would re-sign with them next winter when he hits free agency.

It didn’t make it any easier for Wren to pull the trigger and include Prado in the deal.

“There was really no way to get him out of it if we wanted to entertain this,” Wren said. “We had to come to grips with that. What the fans see is what we see. He’s a quality, quality human being. He’s a gamer. He loves to play. We’ve loved having him on our team.”

But Prado is a second baseman who can play left and third base. Sure, he could have played third and then the Braves might have lost him next winter. There was no way they were going to jeopardize getting Justin Upton over that.

Atlanta needs a left fielder. Justin Upton played right in Arizona, but with Jason Heyward in place, he’ll gladly move over to left and create one of the best outfields in baseball.

Both of the Uptons have been criticized in the past for being lackadaisical and at times too laid back. Some believe neither has yet reached his full potential. But the Braves are banking that having both brothers in the same outfield will allow that to happen.

“It’s hard to find these kinds of players,” Wren said. “I think it’s got a chance to be a perfect situation for both of the boys to thrive and a perfect situation for us as well.”

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter at BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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