Okay, I guess I’d better eat some crow. I didn’t think we’d get Upton, at least not during the offseason, because we didn’t have the prospects to match the rejected Mariners trade. And, of course, we didn’t have the prospects to match it. But boy, am I happy to be wrong.
The Braves acquired a player they’ve been sweet on for a while, and cemented their outfield for the next three years. First they drafted Jason Heyward. Then they got a power-hitting center fielder, B.J. Upton. Then they got Justin Upton, who pretty much was Jason Heyward two years before Jason Heyward was, except that Justin Upton was taken first overall in the draft and Jason was taken 14th.
But when they were in the minors, they were basically the same player: raw at age 18, an unholy destroyer at age 19, and in the majors for good by age 20. Jason was better as a 20-year old, Justin was better as a 21-year old, and Jason’s poor, injury-riddled 2011 season is a good match for Justin’s poor, injury-riddled 2010 and 2012 seasons.
They’re both powerful hitters who control the strike zone, play good defense, and run the bases well. Especially now that Heyward appears to have sacrificed some of his 2010 plate discipline for his 2012 power, they are two of the more similar players in major league baseball. And they will man the outfield corners in Atlanta until 2015.
Justin Upton and Jason Heyward have the same strengths. They also have the same weaknesses: they’re a little injury-prone, and you’d like to see them walk a bit more. And while they’ve both demonstrated that they’re on the cusp of greatness — Upton in 2009 and 2011, Heyward in 2010 and 2012 — they haven’t quite pulled it all together for an MVP-contending campaign.
Atlanta seems like an excellent place for both of them to do it. They’re both Southerners and they both have family nearby: Heyward’s from McDonough, where his parents and brother still live; Upton’s from Virginia, and his closest family will be in the same dugout. Atlanta will provide an oasis for both Uptons, who were dogged by disappointment in both of their original cities when they didn’t immediately become superstars.
Atlanta is a lot of things, but it is not a harsh media market. Both Uptons will be given ample chances to succeed — especially since it will be almost impossible for them to disappoint as badly as Dan Uggla or Derek Lowe.
One thing that needs to be mentioned: the home/road splits. In addition to his up-and-down career, Upton has a .937 career OPS in Phoenix and a .731 career OPS on the road. But this actually isn’t as big a deal as it seems. First: Arizona is one hell of a hitters’ park, so hitters there are going to have more of a skew than other guys. As Keith Law writes: “Talented players in extreme parks often produce extreme splits where neither half measures their true talent, with Matt Holliday a solid recent example.”
Moreover, as Dave Cameron writes, “Pretty much any west coast hitter is going to be at a disadvantage in road stats compared to an east coast hitter, due to the unbalanced schedule and the summer climate of the two sides of the U.S.”
Upton is leaving a really good hitters’ park, but there are two important things that he’s leaving behind. First, as Law points out, “Upton had a thumb issue all year, and some timing issues at the plate, and if those go away, he’ll pick up more than enough offense in 2013 to cover any possible (superficial) loss from leaving a good hitter’s park.”
Second, he finally won’t have to worry about being traded. For the first time in years, he can relax and feel certain that he’s going to stay in one place. An ESPN story in September made it clear that the trade worries never really went away, even after the trade deadline passed:
You know, I got tired of the questions… All the time, people coming up to me and asking if I thought I was going to be traded. I got tired of going to the clubhouse and not being able to play Angry Birds because I had to answer questions. Sometimes I want to play solitaire and be left alone… I’m definitely relieved, though. There isn’t going to be any more talk about me being traded this year.
The Braves have a happy outfield. And a powerful one. All three of them are genuinely excited.
Bittersweet day for me. So happy to get the chance to play with my brother in Atlanta but will miss the city and the fans here in Phoenix.