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Numbers Game: Justin Upton joins his brother in Atlanta

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Scott Cullen
1/24/2013 5:21:52 PM
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The Atlanta Braves bolstered their playoff chances by adding their second Upton of the offseason in a seven-player trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Numbers Game examines the Braves' acquisition of Justin Upton.

The Braves Get: RF Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson.

Upton, 25, is getting dealt at a relative low point in his value, coming off a season in which he had 17 HR, 67 RBI, 18 SB, a .280 batting average and .785 OPS. That OPS was Upton's lowest in the majors, aside from his 43-game stint as a 19-year-old rookie in 2007.

At the same time, Upton already has more than 3000 plate appearances in the major leagues, hitting 108 home runs and posting a career OPS of .832. It still feels as though he's just scratching the surface of what he might be able to accomplish as a major leaguer, but that's the point -- he's just entering years that should bring prime production.

At his best, Upton has hit 30 home runs (2011), stolen 20 bases (2009, 2011), hit .300 (2009), yet he should be approaching years in which he is able to exceed those thresholds.

Defensively, Upton has been above average, wiht 16 Defensive Runs Saved and a 2.3 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (www.fangraphs.com) but figures to shift to left field in Atlanta since Jason Heyward has been exceptional in right field.

Since 2008, Upton has a fWAR (www.fangraphs.com) of 17.5, which ranks 17th among major league outfielders over that time, falling between Ichiro Suzuki and Jacoby Ellsbury and four spots behind brother B.J. Upton, who the Braves signed earlier in the summer and has a fWAR of 18.9 in that time.

Upton is under contract for three more seasons, at a cost of $38.5-million (per mlbcontracts.blogspot.com).

A 28-year-old righthanded hitter, 3B Chris Johnson is a free swinger whose walk:strikeout ratio (0.19) is second-worst in baseball over the last three seasons (among players with at least 1000 plate appearances), ahead of only Miguel Olivo.

Even with his lack of plate discipline, Johnson played a career-high 136 games with Houston and Arizona last season, hitting 15 home runs, driving in 76 and batting .321 with a .777 OPS.

A concern about Johnson is whether he can maintain what appears to be an unsustainably-high batting average on balls in play. Last season, his BABIP was .354, which is very high, yet lower than his .387 BABIP in 2010. Trouble is, in 2011, his BABIP dropped to .317, which is still above average, yet he ended the 2011 season hitting .251 with a .670 OPS. Essentially, without an inflated BABIP, he's an offensive liability at a corner infield spot.

There is an opening for Johnson in Atlanta. With Chipper Jones retiring and Prado going to Arizona in this trade, that leaves Juan Francisco to battle with Johnson for playing time at the hot corner.

Johnson signed a one-year, $2.2875-million contract last week, avoiding arbitration, so he's a reasonably-priced option if he is getting regular at-bats.

The Diamondbacks Get: 3B Martin Prado, RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Zeke Spruill, SS Nick Ahmed and 1B Brandon Drury.

Prado, 29, is a utility player who has started at least 145 games at third base, second base and left field in his career but, with Johnson going to Atlanta, figures to fit at third base for the Diamondbacks.

While Prado lacks home run power, he's hit 146 doubles over the last four seasons, ranking 11th in all of baseball over that time. His tremendous glove work contributed to his earning a career-high 5.9 fWAR in 2012, when he ranked sixth in baseball in contact rate (95.2%) and fifth in lowest swinging strike percentage (3.5%).

For a Diamondbacks team that has been notoriously undisciplined at the plate in recent seasons, Prado's approach will help and he should get on base enough (career .345 OBP) to be an asset.

Prado earned $4.75-million last season and is set to go to arbitration to decide his 2013 salary.

A 22-year-old righthander with strong stuff, including a fastball, curveball and change-up repertoire, Delgado still has to harness his stuff and cut down on his walks (4.08 per nine innings in 18 appearances with the Braves last season) if he's going to earn a regular turn in the Arizona rotation.

In 25 career major league games (24 starts), Delgado is 5-10 with a 3.95 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Considering how young he is, those numbers are favourable indicators for future performance. If he turns into a quality starter for the Diamondbacks, that will help justify the cost of dealing a potential star in Upton.

23-year-old RHP Zeke Spruill has been reasonably effective at Double-A Mississippi, but his lack of strikeouts (5.9 per nine innings in 2012) doesn't project well to the majors. IF he makes it, Spruill will be a back-end of the rotation/fill-in starter or middle reliever.

Ahmed, a 22-year-old 6-foot-3 shortstop, was a second-round pick in 2011 and he can run, stealing 40 bases in 50 attempts last season at Advanded-A Lynchburg. Rumour is that Ahmed is going to be flipped in a deal for Tigers RHP Rick Porcello, but he needs a couple years to further develop offensively before he's given a chance in the major leagues.

Drury is a 20-year-old first baseman who was a 13th-round pick in 2010 and managed a .603 OPS in A-ball last season. He's a long way from the major leagues, if that even happens to be in his future.

Arizona faces real risk in this deal. If Prado doesn't stay around long-term and Delgado doesn't pan out as at least a mid-rotation starter, they could be left with virtually nothing in return for a potential superstar, a player who could hit 30 homers, steal 20 bases and provide at least five wins above replacement for multiple seasons.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Johnson and Upton (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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