Braves’ Big Outfield Additions Threaten Nats
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 18:01
Arguably the two greatest surprises in MLB’s National League East in 2012 were the lackluster performances of the newly christened Miami Marlins after an active offseason and the Washington Nationals’ ascendence to baseball’s elite.
With the District’s boys of summer finally significant, the rest of the division underwent massive makeovers to deal with the new situation.
The Marlins and Mets struck first, but instead of strengthening their chances for 2013, they unloaded several stars for prospects. On Nov. 14, Miami moved superstar Jose Reyes and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, among others, to the Toronto Blue Jays for a collection of young players and prospects not expected to make a major splash for several seasons. Likewise, New York moved 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey for two high-profile Toronto prospects — catcher Travis D’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard — who are close to major league ready but are more likely to be contributors in 2014 and beyond.
The Nationals’ most significant competitors for 2013, therefore, remain the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves — two clubs with excellent starting rotations, strong bullpens and formidable options in their lineups. Expected by many to contend for a World Series title in 2012, the Phillies sputtered to a disappointing 81-81 record after many of their bats, like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, failed to recover from injury as anticipated. Instead of making major additions, however, Philadelphia has only succeeded in modest acquisitions, signing reliever Mike Adams and trading for third baseman Michael Young and center fielder Ben Revere.
As a result, Atlanta, fresh off a 94-68 season and wild-card berth, remains Washington’s greatest threat to NL East supremacy. Hit with the loss of future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones to retirement, Atlanta signed center fielder B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million deal early in the winter, only to make an even greater move by swinging a blockbuster trade for Upton’s brother, Justin, from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a seven-player trade.
The collaboration of the Upton brothers with incumbent right fielder Jason Heyward elevates an above-average outfield to an elite trio. While Martin Prado (traded to the Diamondbacks but projected to move to third base) and Michael Bourn (free agent) were excellent producers for the Braves in 2012, the team’s outfield not only projects to perform well in 2013 but also looks as if it will be even better in the future. B.J. Upton, the elder brother at age 28, is fresh off a 28-home-run and 31-stolen-base season. Justin, 25, joins Atlanta after a “disappointing” 2012 campaign that featured a .280 average, 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases that followed a .289, 31 and 21 year in 2011. Jason Heyward, just 23, made strides in his third season with a 27-home-run and 21-stolen base year.
The Upton brothers ultimately fit perfect roles with their new club as right-handed bats to balance a previously overwhelmingly left-handed order. Replacing Bourn with Upton in center field is arguably a downgrade based on their 2012 performances, but Bourn, a player who relies on speed, projects to deteriorate at a greater rate in the future than Upton, who offers greater longevity with his power. Likewise, Upton offers superior pedigree as a former second overall draft pick and top prospect, while Bourn more closely embodies the profile of an overachiever, a player who was not projected to perform as well as he has to date. Though one could argue that, with six professional seasons under their belts, Upton and Bourn have developed into their final form as players, the former still remains closer to his prime to develop further.
The acquisition of the younger Justin Upton, however, remains the biggest wild card and potential lottery ticket. In acquiring Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado and three prospects for Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson, the Diamondbacks sold low on their former franchise player. As a former top overall draft pick who has yet to reach his peak at age 25, Upton still maintains the realistic possibility of blossoming into one of the best players in the game.
Even if the Uptons fail to develop as significantly as projected, the acquisitions nonetheless ensure that the Braves will remain a realistic contender for the division title in 2013 and beyond. As of now, the Nationals still project as the favorite to win the NL East — and arguably the entire league — but the Braves have vaulted themselves into baseball’s upper echelon as legitimate championship contenders as well.
It is only January, but baseball is right around the corner, and 2013 is shaping up to be another thrilling year for the NL East’s top two clubs.
Preston Barclay is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. TURNING TWO IN THE 202 appears every Tuesday.