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.

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.