On Friday, December 19th the Braves finally traded Justin Upton, after all the rumors swirling around for over a month. Atlanta decided to send J. Upton and pitcher Aaron Northcraft to the Padres in exchange for left-hander top prospect Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson, Mallex Smith and the Padres’ 4th international bonus pool slot. Justin Upton will now join the other newly required Padre outfielders in Matt Kemp and Wil Myers. As for Atlanta, they get a pretty nice group of prospects, in exchange for losing their star left fielder. But, was getting rid of Upton (upcoming 2015 free agent) worth it? If so, what is the Braves plan for 2015?
Back on November 17th when Atlanta traded Jason Heyward to St. Louis for Shelby Miller, it seemed like the Braves made it pretty clear about reshaping their team in preparation for the new stadium in 2017. But then on December 3, the Braves signed Nick Markakis to a 4-year deal, making him the Heyward replacement. This signing turned some heads, as it seemed that the Braves were no longer going to rebuild, but instead get stronger as they added to their pitching rotation and replaced one gold glove right fielder with another. Now on December 19th, the direction of the Atlanta Braves again changes with the departure of Upton in exchange for prospects.
In the beginning of the offseason, Fredi Gonzalez (GM of Braves) made it clear that he would be shopping Justin Upton and Jason Heyward because of the fear of losing them to free agency in the Winter of 2015. Fredi never stated, however, if the Braves were somewhat rebuilding and whether or not he was looking for pitching in return for his star outfielders. That question was answered after Heyward was basically swapped for the young stud pitcher, Miller. Following the trade, the Markakis deal made Fredi look like he was making the team better, but now that Upton is gone for prospects, it is pretty clear that the Braves are looking for fresh young talent and new veterans to fill the clubhouse.
During the offseason of 2013, the Braves signed youngsters, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, and Julio Teheran to contract extensions, marking them as the future centerpieces for the organization. In addition, their catcher Brian McCann left as a free agent to sign with the Yankees. Following this Braves timeline, can indicate two things: one, is that this Braves team the last few years hasn’t gone far in the playoffs, so their GM is trying to re-shape it, and two the GM doesn’t want to risk losing two more stars in free-agency after seeing McCann leave. Without trading Justin Upton, the Braves in 2015 would be a mix of the new plan and the old fading plan. Now with Justin gone, all of the big parts of the 2014 and past teams are gone. Atlanta can now move forward with new veteran leader Markakis, new faces of the franchise (Freeman, Teheran, Simmons), and future stars in top prospects Jace Peterson and with Max Fried.