Author: Matthew Pouliot

Martin Prado

Notes and thoughts on the Justin Upton trade


Braves acquire OF Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson from Diamondbacks for 3B Martin Prado, RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Zeke Spruill, SS Nick Ahmed and 1B Brandon Drury.

– As some probably guessed, I’m a big fan of this deal for the Braves. I wrote an entry trying to pair the Upton brothers in Atlanta before the Braves had B.J. signed.

That said, I would have liked this deal a bit more two months ago, when the Braves would have had more flexibility to deal with the losses of Prado and Delgado. I still think it’s a great value trade, and I expect that the competitive Upton brothers could push one another to new heights. Prado is a very good player right now, but he was under control for just one more year and I don’t think he’ll live up to his next contract. I’ve never seen Delgado as much more than a No. 4 starter. None of the prospects are elite talents. I’m surprised the Diamondbacks didn’t insist on right-hander J.R. Graham in the deal.

– As for the Diamondbacks, well, there’s really been no plan from the beginning. They’ve now parted with two terrific young talents in Upton and Trevor Bauer and still haven’t set themselves up as obvious contenders for 2013.

Here’s a possible lineup:

CF Adam Eaton
3B Martin Prado
2B Aaron Hill
LF Jason Kubel
1B Paul Goldschmidt
C Miguel Montero
RF Cody Ross
SS Didi Gregorius/Cliff Pennington

That’s certainly not bad. A rotation of Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy and Delgado/Tyler Skaggs/Patrick Corbin is also pretty good.

Still, this is a team without a definite All-Star and it’s going up against a Dodgers club full of them and the defending world champs in San Francisco. Towers did add some nice minor league depth today, but he’s still given away arguably his two top talents and inflated the payroll, all for an 85-win, third-place team.

– The Diamondbacks just keep backing themselves into corners. It’s what forced them to trade Upton. And now it’s going to force them to give Prado a big extension, since there’s no way they’re going to let the key piece in the deal leave after one year.

Prado has hit .300 and topped a .350 OBP in three of his four full seasons in the bigs. I’ll be curious to see whether his terrific 69/58 K/BB ratio from last season holds up or if he reverts to previous form (86/40 K/BB in 2010, 52/34 in 129 games in 2011). A quality walk total will make the difference between him being an above average regular or an overpriced mediocrity in those seasons in which he hits .280 or so. And he will have those seasons after turning 30. The Diamondbacks are probably going to have to give him $30 million-$36 million for three seasons, and I have my doubts he’ll prove worth it.

A Prado extension would also cut off prospect Matt Davidson’s current path to the majors, though I don’t really see that as a problem. He projects better in left field than third base anyway. And if the Diamondbacks did want to leave him at third base, they could put Prado back in left field in 2014.

– This trade does leave the Braves lineup in a bit of a weird place. Prado was their only great option to bat first or second this season. Right now, we might be looking at:

SS Andrelton Simmons
CF B.J. Upton
RF Jason Heyward
LF Justin Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dan Uggla
C Brian McCann
3B Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson

With McCann set to miss at least the first few weeks following shoulder surgery, the third baseman will likely bat seventh, putting Gerald Laird in the eighth spot.

This arrangement will work out just fine if Simmons builds on his .289/.335/.416 line from his rookie campaign. I’m not sure the Braves can count on that, though.

And then there’s B.J. Upton, whose OPS went from .331 in 2011 to .298 last year. If he comes back in at .330 or so, he’d be an asset at the top of the order. If not, he’s a problem.

The Braves could always drop either Simmons or B.J. and simply move everyone else up a spot. I’d be good with Heyward batting second and Justin hitting third. I’m guessing that’s not how Fredi Gonzalez will want to play it, though.

– At third base, the current play should be to play Francisco versus righties and Johnson versus lefties. Johnson will get a chance to win the starting job outright, but I’m not a fan at all. He’s a poor defender, and while he does have pop, I doubt he’ll hit .281 again.

One potential problem with the platoon: the right-handed-hitting Johnson has actually performed much better against righties (.283/.323/.452 in 896 AB) than lefties (.255/.294/.372) in his career. Still, I think Francisco will outhit him against righties.

– Now that the Braves have question marks at the back of the rotation and at third base, they should be in contact with some free agents. Roy Oswalt and Javier Vazquez would make tons of sense as the new fifth starter. Vazquez would likely come cheaper, and Atlanta is about as close as he can get to his home in Puerto Rico. Of course, he pitched for the Braves in 2009 and went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA. Some other inexpensive possibilities: Carlos Zambrano, Carl Pavano, Kevin Millwood, Freddy Garcia and Chris Young.

For third base, it makes plenty of sense to check in with Scott Rolen and see if he has any interest in a part-time role. I’d take him over Johnson to pair with Francisco. And I know this won’t be very popular, but it’s worth offering Chone Figgins a minor league contract. The smart money says he’s done as a useful player at 35, but if he does have something left, he’d be a pretty great fit on a team with little speed, no obvious leadoff man and no plus defensive third basemen.

The price was right for Delmon Young

Delmon Young

Knowing just how bad defensively Delmon Young is, it’s impossible to wholly endorse the Phillies’ signing today. Still, at some point, he was worth a try. And a one-year, $750,000 deal with $2.75 million in incentives reaches that point.

Of course, Young has now played six full seasons and performed as a quality regular in just one of them. That was 2010, when he hit .298/.333/.493 with 21 homers and 112 RBI for the Twins. For his career, he’s a pedestrian .284/.317/.425 hitter, which, combined with some of the league’s worst outfield defense, has made him a well below average player.

Young, though, does have some offensive upside. And maybe he’ll finally get a clue at the plate now that all 30 teams have essentially agreed he’s one step up from worthless as is. Young is a lifetime .351 hitter when ahead in the count. If he ever learns a little patience at the plate, he’d be dangerous.

And even if he doesn’t, Young will bring a career .336/.356/.488 line in 342 at-bats against National League pitchers with him to Philadelphia. Small sample size that it is, it can hardly be taken as a bad sign.

Given Young’s low base salary and playing-time-related incentives, there will be ample reason to cut him if he struggles early. Still, he’s likely to get at least a month or two in right field before any decisions are made. The addition means John Mayberry Jr., Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix will all battle for time in left.

Mike Napoli reveals hip condition: avascular necrosis

mike napoli getty

That Mike Napoli ended up accepting a one-year, $5 million guarantee from the Red Sox after originally agreeing to a three-year, $39 million contract suggested that something pretty bad was going on with his hip. The details came out today, courtesy of Napoli’s agent: Napoli was diagnosed with avascular necrosis in both of his hips.

Avascular necrosis is pretty much what it sounds like: the death of bone due to a lack of blood supply. According to Wikipedia, it’s most common in the hip, though it can also take place at the shoulder, knee and other joints.

The 31-year-old Napoli has experienced no symptoms as a result of the condition. According to his agent, it was caught at the very early stages, having been revealed in the Red Sox’s original physical. While people with avascular necrosis of the hip often end up needing a total hip replacement, that appears to be many years off in this case, if it ever proves necessary at all.

Bo Jackson’s is the most famous case of avascular necrosis, with his developing after he injured his hip in an NFL game. He later returned to baseball and the major leagues, but he was never the same kind of athlete.

Brett Favre was also diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the hip in 1992. He never required surgery and did OK for himself playing football for a couple of decades.

The Red Sox are planning on Napoli being their everyday first baseman this season after finalizing the contract. Playing the position should definitely be easier on his body than catching. Napoli said he’s on medication to help stave off any symptoms and that he’s really excited for the season to start up.

Scott Boras is trying to drum up interest in Jose Valverde

Jose Valverde

Now that he’s found a taker for Rafael Soriano on a heavily deferred deal, Scott Boras is trying to get teams interested in ex-Tigers closer Jose Valverde.

Valverde, 34, was 49-for-49 saving games for the Tigers in 2011 and 35-for-40 last season, but the postseason meltdown that saw him give up nine runs in 2 2/3 innings, combined with some declining peripherals from the regular season, has scared away seemingly every team this winter.

Boras knows he can’t use words to sweep away Valverde’s October struggles, but he does cite workload and fatigue as a possible reason for the sudden swoon. Counting the postseason, Valverde appeared in 81 games in 2011 and 75 last season.

“Closers normally have anywhere from 58 to 62 appearances and Valverde’s just had two years where he was used a lot,” Boras told George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. “It was a very unusual year this year, because he had so many non-save situations. He had like 31 of them, which normally they only have 17 or 18. So, it was a very unusual year.”

Those non-save situations are another thing working against Valverde this winter. He has a history  of struggling without a save on the line, so contenders aren’t looking at him as a potential setup man.

Realistically, Valverde is going to have to settle for a cheap one-year deal with a chance to rebuild his value. If he’s willing to sign for $2 million or so, then maybe the Mets, Astros, Marlins or Twins could give him the chance to close. There’s certainly no reason to give him anything more than that, not with Brian Wilson, Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Capps, Jon Rauch and Francisco Cordero all sitting around waiting for phone calls, too.

Reports: Shortstop Alexander Guerrero defects from Cuba

Alexander Guerrero

Rafael Rofes Perez writes on his blog, Pasaje Deportivo, that rumors in Cuba have placed former Las Tunas shortstop Alexander Guerrero in the Dominican Republic. makes the same claim.

Guerrero, 26, was sitting out the Cuban baseball season, saying he lacked the motivation to play. He expressed disappointment over not being selected for a spot on Cuba’s World Baseball Classic roster.

Guerrero has been one of Cuba’s best players the last few years, hitting .338/.408/.641 in 2009, .343/.414/.583 in 2010 and .310/.400/.599 in 2011. Between the three seasons, he delivered 60 homers in 886 at-bats. One imagines that if the reports are true and he eventually becomes a free agent, he could take over as a starting shortstop or second baseman for an MLB team in short order.