Justin Upton was just named to the 2015 National League All-Star team. Yes, this is the same Justin Upton that the Atlanta Braves traded to the San Diego Padres in the off-season. This was, of course, a major part of the “talent dump” engineered by new General Manager John Hart.
The Braves received a quartet of young prospects for Upton. That group consisted of 21-year old left-handed pitcher Max Fried, 25-year old second-baseman Jace Peterson, 20-year old third baseman Dustin Peterson, and 22-year old outfielder Mallex Smith.
Of course, Jace Peterson has been the Braves starting second baseman this season and has put together a very good season. As the All-Star break approaches he is hitting .254 with 35 runs batted in. He looks like a guy who could hold down his position for years to come.
The rest of the group is still unproven. Mallex Smith is a very speedy outfielder who is hitting .340 at AA Mississippi after having a tough start at AAA Gwinnett. He also has 23 stolen bases and plays a quality centerfield.
Dustin Peterson is hitting .271 at high A Carolina. He does have 5 home runs as the Braves really need to find a power bat at third base.
Maz Fried is not playing now after undergoing Tommy John in August, 2014. He was rated as one of the Top 50 prospects in baseball before his injury and was a key to the trade.
With these young players playing relatively well this season and their futures still promising, although unknown, one may say that the Upton trade was not a bad one. I have a question however and that question is, did the Braves trade Upton too soon?
I’ll answer my own question by saying that I believe that they did. Upton will be a free agent next season and it was widely known that the Braves were not going to be able to pay him what he wanted in a long-term contract. Thus it was wise for the Braves to trade him and get the best talent that they could get in return. They did, but at the wrong time!
I contend that the Braves should have kept Upton and traded him at the trade deadline which is July 31. He is having a good year in San Diego with a .262 average, 14 homeruns, 46 runs batted in, and 16 stolen bases. The Braves could surely have used that out of their left field this year and they might be contending for the NL East lead if they had him.
I feel that at the deadline they could have gotten the same deal from San Diego if they were in contention in the NL West. Along with the Padres, there are a number of other teams who would have been very interested in Upton for the pennant run. It happens every year. Somebody pays too much for a player at the deadline. If Hart had waited, he could have had his choice of prime prospects in the last week of July. And I mean major league ready prospects!
The Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Twins, Astros and many others have well-stocked minor league systems and a shrewd GM could have picked one of them clean using Upton as bait. I think the deal would have been much better than the one they got from San Diego.
As an example, the Cubs stole Top-Five prospect Addison Russell from the A’s last year at the deadline for Jeff Samardzija. Russell now starts at second base for Chicago while Samardzija moved on to the White Sox in free agency.
I know that John Hart knows more about baseball than I do and there may be other inside information that I don’t know, but I do know that he traded Jason Upton too soon!
Jim Fowler is a sports columnist and retired teacher and coach who worked in the local school system for many years. He is a founding board member of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame and is also the statistician for the Upson Lee football team, and has written a book about the history of football at R. E. Lee High School.