Justin Upton AP

The Justin Upton trade: The Braves get their man, the Diamondbacks do better than expected

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Justin Upton was being dangled by the Diamondbacks forever, but he’s finally out the door. It’s a five-for-two deal:

  • Braves get: (OF) Justin Upton, (3B) Chris Johnson
  • Diamondbacks get: (3B) Martin Prado, (RHP) Randall Delgado, (SS) Nick Ahmed, (RHP) Zeke Spruill, and (1B) Brandon Drury.

For all the talk that the Diamondbacks’ leverage was gone when Upton blocked the proposed trade to the Mariners, Kevin Towers did pretty well in this deal.  In Prado he gets a solid starting third baseman who can play second and left field as well. They also get a guy who is coming off  a year in which he hit .301/.359/.438 with 10 homers and 70 RBI. And it wasn’t an outlier kind of year for him.

Delgado, who turns 23 in a couple of weeks, wasn’t spectacular in his 18 appearances for the Braves last season (4-9, 4.37 ERA 76 Ks and 42 BB in 92.2 IP), but he remains a solid pitching prospect who has stuck out 9.6 batters per nine innings in six minor league seasons. Spruill is a year and a half older and hasn’t hit the bigs yet. The Braves likely didn’t have him penciled in to their rotation any time soon. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys but doesn’t walk many either. Ahmed, a second rounder in 2011 out of the University of Connecticut, hasn’t been above A-ball yet. He has promise, but is blocked by Andrelton Simmons. Drury is 20 and struggled in low-A ball last year.

No one piece of that package is spectacular, but there is a lot of upside in it, particularly with Delgado, and in Prado the Diamondbacks have upgraded their offense a great deal.

As for the Braves’ side of things: they got their man.  Upton may have struggled at times last season, but he has shown that he is capable  of elite performance at a young age, being only a year removed from an age-23 season in which he hit .289/.369/.529 while playing strong defense.  The biggest question will be how he does outside of the extremely friendly confines of Chase Field, where he boasts an OPS of .937. Compare that with his road OPS of .731.

In addition to Upton Atlanta gets Chris Johnson who may form the right-handed sign of a platoon at third base with Juan Francisco.  At least if no one tells Fredi Gonzalez that Johnson has hit righties better than he’s hit lefties in his career. For his part, Francisco is basically helpless against lefties.  Not the best third base situation in the world for the Braves, but Prado was entering his walk year and it’s doubtful that the budget conscious Braves were going to shell out big dollars for him when he became a free agent.

On balance, you have to invoke the “the team that got the best player won the trade” rule and say that the Braves won this trade, at least at the outset.  With the addition of Justin Upton the Braves have a middle-of-the-order bat they’ve lacked since Chipper Jones was able to play a full season. A middle-of-the order bat that’s under team control for three more years for $38 million, which isn’t too bad if he maintains his recent level of performance and is a downright bargain if he breaks out like many think he might. And putting him next to B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward, the Braves have one of the best outfields in baseball.

Whether this puts the Braves in a position to truly challenge the Nationals is an open question. But they have improved themselves.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.