The scene was right out of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Here was Justin Upton walking the plank from the ship Diamondbacks. With the wind at his back and the jolly roger blowing in the breeze, Ken Kendrick stood right behind, poking his dagger slowly and forcefully, until Upton disappeared into the turquoise waters.
As Upton fell into the sea, he saw a sighting just ahead and was eventually rescued by a row boat with an Atlanta Braves logo. A beaming manager Freddie Gonzalez stood, with open arms, and functioned as the welcoming committee.
For now, we’ll never know if Kendrick, the D-backs managing general partner, was the catalyst to the most dynamic trade in the history of the Arizona franchise.
One thing is certain and that has Upton united with his brother B. J., who signed a five year, $75.23 million deal with the Braves earlier this winter. They join Jason Heyward to form, many think, as the best outfield in baseball.
When Kendrick called Upton “an enigma” for what he considered underachievement last summer, the plank was readied. Nearly in the same breath, Kendrick called out shortstop Stephen Drew for what Kendrick considered a tardy recovery to Drew’s serious leg injury from the year before.
In short order, Drew was shipped to Oakland, and while Upton trade rumors circled Chase Field like a vulture, a similar trade scenario lingered. Not until the Braves stepped forward and offered a player who could not sign long-term was Upton dealt in a like manner.
Since the end of last season, general manager Kevin Towers said the only way he would trade Upton was if the transaction would clearly improve the Diamondbacks. In acquiring infielder/outfielder Martin Prado as part of the seven player trade with Atlanta Thursday involving Upton, Towers said he believed his baseball team was strengthened.
Towing the party line, Towers said all the right things when he met the media to discuss the trade, but it remains uncertain whether this trade truly makes the Diamondbacks a better team.
As well, speculation abounds whether Kendrick was the force behind the trade.
Prado, at 29, enters the prime of his career and considered one of the tougher outs in baseball. While playing essentially left field last season, he hit .301 for the Braves and, due to the retirement of Chipper Jones, was to be Atlanta’s third baseman this coming season. He is a career .295 hitter in five major league seasons.
Over the current off-season, Prado became expendable because of contract demands. As the only arbitration-eligible player who did not reach an agreement with the Braves, Prado asked $7.05 million. Atlanta offered $7.0 and Prado decline. In the end, he signed for $4,750,000 and becomes a free agent after the 2013 season.
Towers told the media Thursday he hopes to sign Prado, a native of Maracay, Venezuela, long-term by the start of spring training games.
In answering reporters questions Thursday, Towers said a plethora talent in the outfielder made Upton expendable. In addition to several moves during the winter, “right now, I think we’re a better team,” he said.
The likely replacement for Upton is Gerardo Parra, whom Towers said is playing mostly center field during winter baseball. Adam Eaton, who hit .259 in 22 games before breaking his hand, is projected as the lead-off hitter in center field and table-setter for the middle of the batting order.
Jason Kubel, who was the subject of trade rumors throughout the off-season, is likely the left fielder and Cody Ross, signed as a free agent, can play both corner outfield positions.
If Prado was the centerpiece of the deal, Towers also landed right-hander Randall Delgado, who will be 23 in early February. Delgado was considered the number three pitching prospect in the Braves’ organization and posted a 4-9 mark (4.37 ERA) in 17 starts for Atlanta.
Coming into camp, Delgado will likely compete for the final starting spot in the rotation with Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs. Towers said Delgado hit 96 on the radar gun with his fast ball, but needs work on his breaking ball. When pitchers and catchers report to Salt River on February 11, Delgado could be pitching coach Charles Nagy’s first project.
By the All-Star game, right-hander Daniel Hudson could be back in the rotation mix. Hudson is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow but is not slated to return until late July.
To complete the Upton deal, the D-backs shipped third baseman Chris Johnson to the Braves, and Arizona received three prospects. These include right-handed pitcher Zeke Spruill, 23, shortstop Nick Ahmed, 22, and first baseman/third baseman Brandon Drury, 20.
When the D-backs picked up Ahmed in the deal, the trade rumor mill began cranking in earnest. One possible deal had Ahmed packaged in a trade to Detroit for right-hander Rick Porcello, but Towers would not discuss personnel involving any possible trade discussions.
In the end, Towers said he wished Upton well, and concluded, “a good deal is a trade which benefits both sides. I think this is that kind of a deal.”