After a couple years of flirting with the idea and then really ramping up their efforts to trade him this winter, the Diamondbacks have finally dealt former franchise player Justin Upton, sending him to Atlanta to team up with his brother.
The seven-player trade has wide-reaching fantasy implications, as four of the players involved in the deal could have significant roles for their new clubs in 2013, and a handful more will see their roles change as a result of the swap. Let’s break down the fantasy impact for those guys now.
It’s no secret that Upton has had drastic home/road splits during his career. The former No. 1 overall pick has batted .307/.389/.548 with 67 home runs over 364 games at home since reaching the majors in 2007 while sporting a .250/.325/.406 line with 41 longballs in 367 road contests. It’s not a surprise, of course, as Chase Field is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball.
But, while Upton might not post the same kind of numbers at Turner Field -- a park that plays pretty neutral -- as he did at Chase Field, the drop-off probably won’t be nearly as big as many might think.
For starters, not everyone’s road schedule is equal, as Upton has had to play a good number of road games at the cavernous parks in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles due to the unbalanced schedule. Secondly, as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com points out in this terrific piece, most players are simply better hitters at home than they are on the road. And, lastly, when Upton hits home runs, they tend to go a long, long way. According to HitTrackerOnline.com, Upton averaged a whopping 423.6 feet on his homers in 2011 and 414.4 feet in 2012. Twenty-six of his 31 homers in 2011 would have gone out in 25 of the 30 parks, and 15 of his 17 homers in 2012 would have gone out in the same number of parks. If he connects, chances are it’s leaving the park, no matter where he is.
There’s also the matter of Upton’s left thumb, which he injured early in the 2012 season and some believe continued to hamper him throughout what was a disappointing year. And, while it’s impossible to quantify, Upton going from a place where he no longer seemed happy to a place where he can reunite with his brother probably can only help him. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest he could bounce back as a top-10 fantasy performer in 2013.
The other major piece involved in the trade is Martin Prado, who will take over as the Diamondbacks’ everyday third baseman. Prado has been one of the more underrated performers in the National League over the last four seasons, as he’s batted over .300 while averaging 12 homers and 40 doubles in three of the last four campaigns. His one down year over that stretch was sabotaged by injury, as a staph infection limited him to 129 games and affected him in many others.
Prado’s high contact rate should allow him to continue putting up a .300+ average, and he has pull power that should serve him well at Chase Field. He could easily make a run at 20 home runs in 2013. Even if Prado doesn’t repeat his stolen base outburst from 2012, he should hold plenty of fantasy value as a high-average, decent-power guy that’s eligible at multiple positions. Eric Chavez had been slated to serve as the regular third baseman against right-handers for the D’Backs, but he’ll now occupy a bench role.
The Braves are expected to use a platoon at third base, the position formerly occupied by Chipper Jones and where Prado likely would have played had he stuck around. The strong side of the platoon will be manned by Juan Francisco, who went from a guy destined for the bench to a guy that now should be in the lineup most days. Francisco, who will turn 26 in June, has huge raw power. He went deep once every 22.8 plate appearances in the minors and could easily run into 20+ dingers in 2013 if he garners 400 at-bats. The problem with Francisco is that he strikes out a ton and is allergic to walks. The average will never be pretty to look at.
Holding down the other side of the platoon will be Chris Johnson, who was acquired from Arizona along with Upton. Johnson has shown decent power during his career (he belted a career-high 15 homers in 2012), but, like Francisco, he also has majors K/BB issues. The 28-year-old has also been much better in his career against right-handed pitching (.283/.323/.452) than he has left-handers (.255/.294/.372). Francisco is the more intriguing fantasy option of the two, though there’s a pretty decent chance neither will be mixed league-worthy.
The trade of Upton has freed up some playing time for others in the Diamondbacks outfield, though they still have four starting-capable players vying for three spots. Manager Kirk Gibson said Thursday that he plans to give Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton, Cody Ross and Gerardo Parra 400-500 at-bats apiece, though that might not be feasible. Parra figures to be on the bench more days than the others, though that could change if the 24-year-old Eaton gets off to a slow start. Eaton holds plenty of intrigue if he can hold down a starting spot, as he batted a robust .375/.456/.523 with seven homers and 44 steals between Double- and Triple-A last year.
Randall Delgado will compete for the fifth spot in the Arizona rotation, though he’s probably running third in line behind Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin. Delgado gets lots of ground balls, making him a good fit for the Chase Field bandbox, and he has mid-rotation upside over the long haul. He’ll turn just 23 next month, though, and could wind up spending much of the year at Triple-A or possibly in the bullpen.
With Delgado’s departure, Julio Teheran becomes the clear favorite to lock down the final spot in the Braves’ rotation. Teheran had a rough 2012 campaign, posting a 5.08 ERA with just 97 strikeouts over 131 innings at Triple-A. He’s also just keeping a rotation spot warm for Brandon Beachy, who is expected back from Tommy John surgery around midseason. So while Teheran, who will turn just 22 over the weekend, has plenty of long-term intrigue, fantasy owners would be wise not to count on a whole lot in 2013.