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.

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

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There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at CNN.com from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.