Breaking Down the Justin Upton Trade to the Braves

We’ve been hearing a lot of Justin Upton rumors over the last two years. The Pirates were involved in some of those discussions around the trade deadline. Today Upton was dealt to the Atlanta Braves as part of a seven player deal. Here is the breakdown of the trade, including their trade values.

Atlanta Gets

Justin Upton – Upton is owed $38.5 M over the next three years. I put his WAR at 4.2 per year, which is the average of the last four seasons. The high was 2011 (6.4) and the low was 2012 (2.5). That gives him a trade value of $25.1 M. If you’re paying for the star version of Upton (5-6 WAR), then the trade value goes up to just over $40 M. I’m guessing that’s what most teams would have been paying for, including Atlanta, so we’ll go with this figure.

Chris Johnson – The third baseman is Super Two eligible this year, and I used a 1.7 WAR. That gives him a trade value of $17.2 M.

Total Trade Value: $$57.2 M

Arizona Gets

Martin Prado – He’s got one year of control remaining, and is arbitration eligible. I put his salary at $6.85 M, which is the mid-point of the figures that were submitted. I put his WAR at 3.8, which is the average over the last four years. He’s ranged anywhere from 1.6 (2011) to 5.9 (2012) in that span. That gives him a trade value of $12.4 M.

Randall Delgado – He’s not prospect eligible anymore, but was ranked #46 in Baseball America’s 2012 top 100. He put up some decent numbers as a starter in the majors in 2012, but at 22 I wouldn’t say he’s reached his potential yet. He had a 1.0 WAR in 90 innings in 2012, and has six years of control remaining (he will be Super Two eligible). If we give him a 2.0 WAR for those six years, we get a $40.2 M trade value.

Nick Ahmed – The shortstop was named the best defensive infielder in Atlanta’s system by Baseball America, although he didn’t make their top ten. John Sickels had him in the top ten, as a Grade B- hitter. That’s $5.5 M in value.

Zeke Spruill – A right-handed pitcher who profiles as an innings eater and a number 4-5 starter in a contending rotation. Baseball America had him 9th in Atlanta’s system, and Sickels had him 5th as a Grade B- pitcher. That gives him a trade value of $7.3 M.

Brandon Drury – A first baseman who wasn’t in the top 20 for Sickels. That means he’s a Grade C hitter, and since he’s 19 years old he gets a slight boost. The value is still pretty low at $0.7 M.

Total Trade Value: $66.1 M

Value Breakdown

Arizona got more value in the trade, but I can’t say I’m impressed with the long-term return. Prado brings a lot of that value, but he’s only under control for one year. Delgado has just as much value as Upton, but that’s mostly because he’s younger and cheaper. He could eventually become a strong number two starter. Ahmed and Spruill both have some value. Spruill is more of the “major league ready starter” type of value, while Ahmed hasn’t played above A-ball, but is a shortstop with strong defense and the chance to be a decent hitter.

It’s really a question of whether you want a star for three years, or a more balanced approach for six years. Then you consider that Arizona already had some of the more valuable pieces here from other trades. They got a defensive minded shortstop when they traded Trevor Bauer. They’ve got plenty of strong pitching depth. Those are two areas where it doesn’t hurt to add depth, but when you’re trading one of the top young players in the game you’d expect to get something you don’t already have.

Of course the Diamondbacks pretty much had to deal Upton. The relationship was falling apart, forcing a trade. They got fair value, but the value was more of the quantity approach, and less of the quality approach. That’s probably because of the situation they were in. They were trading for major league ready pieces who could help them in 2013. The problem with that approach is that most teams willing to trade for Upton are looking to add to their major league team, not trade from it. The Braves are one of the few teams who could give up a young Randall Delgado and not feel the impact in the short-term. They see a downgrade going from Prado to Johnson, but Johnson is a pretty decent third baseman.

Looking at this from the Pirates’ perspective, I don’t think the Pirates would have had the pieces to make a deal, simply because they wouldn’t be able to afford giving up the major league ready talent. If Arizona was willing to accept prospects who weren’t ready in 2013, teams like the Pirates could have had a shot. Arizona might have gotten more long-term value if they weren’t focused on getting help for 2013. That’s kind of a strange strategy when you’ve just traded Upton, Chris Young, and Trevor Bauer in the same off-season.

So the values here match up, and Arizona got more value in their deal. As for the quality of the deal, Atlanta clearly wins that one, since no other player in this deal comes close, or can come close, to Upton’s value over the next three years.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • joe g.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Upton’s best baseball is behind him. I don’t see him duplicating his 2011. Something just doesn’t seem right with him.

    • Ian Rothermund

      Yeah, that’s kind of harsh criticism for a player so young that spent an entire year in a situation where the team was constantly releasing information about how disappointed they were in him and how badly they wished someone would take him off their hands.

      • whiteAngus

        are we talking about Bauer or Upton?
        anyway, its not a harsh criticism. it was a guestimation. and for the kind of money that Upton would demand, a reasonable one.

  • Tim Williams

    That would be unusual, since he’s only 25 years old.

  • mike_f

    It looks to me like the Pirates’ equivalent of the package that Arizona received would be Neil Walker, Kyle McPherson, Gift Ngoepe, Clay Holmes, and a throw-in. Too steep of a price for Upton, I think.

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    I wonder if the Marlin haven’t dealt Staton this time next year, will his asking price change? Next year he will be very similar to Upton. 3 year left under control and a team the probably will finish at or near the bottom of their division. What the Marlin want in return, right now, has to be hefty. But with their current rotation full of young arms they are not playing for now, but 4 to 5 years down the road. That would mean having to resign Staton.
    Every year they don’t trade him they lose that much more value. Last year the talk around Upton, was higher than what they got. It not any impressive trade from the state point of the d’backs?

  • Schide

    I’m not sure I understand some of the valuation here. According you your trade value post, Delgado as a top 26-50 pitching prospect would have been worth about $14.7M before the year. But then since he pitched half a year at 1 WAR he gets bumped all the way up to $40M? I just don’t buy that. I don’t think you can assume that much WAR for all six years based on just one half year of average performance. It just doesn’t jive with me. Sickels said in his post about this trade that if Delgado were still a prospect he’d give him a B grade, which would still be in that $15M range. I’d be willing to give him more value for his ML performance, but not quite that much.

    Also, Ahmed and Spruill are both B- prospects, although Ahmed is ranked lower on prospect lists than Spruill. I would like to know how exactly you calculated their values since the value post never delved beyond the top 100 prospect values. Do you acually have those potential values listed somewhere or do you just calculate them based on some sliding scale? Thanks.

    One more small thing, Sickels already edited his Braves Prospects list to remove the traded prospects, so the link you have that goes there is now kind of useless since the prospects here aren’t even on that page anymore.

    • Tim Williams

      It’s always difficult in situations like this. Delgado had a 1.0 WAR in half a season, so I gave him a 2.0 WAR value.

      The value of 26-50 pitching prospects is lower because they’re not guaranteed. Prospects can still fail, even with a high rating.

      What I’m doing here is basically guaranteeing that Delgado has a 2.0 WAR per year over the next six years. That’s something you don’t have with prospects who are graded in the top 100, or Grade B prospects.

      That might not be right. You could probably argue Delgado either way. It’s one of those things where he’s in between prospect status and established major league status, which puts his value up in the air.

      As for the Grade B values, Sickels had them both Grade B- prospects. I always use Victor Wang’s values of Grade B prospects. Here is a good chart for that:

      Sickels must have updated the list after I linked to it.

  • George Hareras

    I’m interested in the value you have on Prado. I feel that his WAR is higher due to his ability to play multiple OF positions as well as 3B. In Arizona he will be exclusively the 3B there. Will that change his perceived WAR value since he wont be playing OF now?

    • emjayinTN

      GH: Living in the South, I got to see a lot of Martin Prado and he is a strong player and a true professional. He was an All Star caliber 2B except they traded for Uggla and Prado had to find another position (Chipper was at 3B). He has an excellent bat, hits for average, very dependable OBP, medium power, and will be a better power hitter in Arizona. Upton has potential, but at 24 making $10 mil in 2013 and $14 mil in 2014 and 2015, his salary reflects as better than his best year, which happened 2 years ago. Prado will be the 3B at Arizona, and he also played at 2B, SS, and LF last year in Atlanta.

  • Steve Zielinski

    Given Upton’s age, pedigree, recent injury history and the toxic environment he just left behind him and given Prado’s contract soon-to-expire contract and the improbability of the prospects traded to the Dbacks ever producing in the majors, I’d say this was not a trade of equal value between these two teams. Of course, Upton needs to become once more the star player he was two years ago and the player observers expected him to be. Getting 6 wins from one player is far more significant that getting 6 wins from 6 players. That 6-win player is a major component of a championship contender. The 6 1-win players elevate a team from a replacement level to a near-to-replacement level.

  • Dean Manifest

    Using definitive statements like “Arizona got more value in the trade” and “Delgado has just as much value as Upton”, as if theyre facts just like “Prado can pay multiple positions” or “Upton is still owed $38 million”, bugs me a little bit. Look at all the variables you have to take a stab at, and that’s before getting into the formula

    We all acknowledge that player evaluation methodology was pretty unsophisticated for most of baseball’s history. But reading articles today you’d think we’ve done a complete 180 and now have an absolute bead on how to valuate these guys.

    This isn’t unique to this site or writer by any stretch. I’d like to see the entire community demonstrate a little more awareness that stats like WAR and ZiPS are simply intermediaries in the long journey that began with “LOL Batting Average” and doesn’t have a end point (as opposed to talking like we’ve reached the saber metric promised land and can begin speaking in absolutes). I’m sure this writer, and the majority of the individuals involved in baseball analytics realize this, but that doesn’t come across very often when you read most sites.

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