January 25, 2013 at 3:50 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
I wish baseball teams were a bit more considerate when they decided to make blockbuster moves. I mean, at least wait until after I’ve posted something before it becomes obsolete. Instead, I had to completely re-do this entire post because the Braves decided they had to trade for Justin Upton this week. Geez. Some people, you know?
I originally planned to start by discussing center field, but I’m guessing everyone’s a little bit more excited about the new acquisition, Justin Upton, and his corner outfield mate, Jason Heyward. Upton, signed for the next three years at a total cost of $38.5M, will team with Heyward (whose cost will probably be around $20-25M during the same period of time) to form one of the most exciting corner outfield duos in baseball. With strong all-around play (hitting, baserunning, and defense), Don’t Be Heyton (get it? Oh okay, fine, but I refuse to say, “Up, Up, and a Hey!”) will probably contribute 10+ wins a season for the next three years.
What happens after those three years is a little sketchier. Both are certainly young enough and talented enough to be extended, but they’ll probably earn at least $15-20M a season through their free-agent seasons. Worth it? Probably, but let’s assume they don’t get re-signed, for now. There’s very little in the way of corner outfield prospects in the immediate vicinity, but even if you’re bullish on Evan Gattis and Joey Terdoslavich, there really doesn’t need to be any immediate help with the current outfield. Farther down the line, there’s some promise in Low-A and Rookie-Ball as a result of some interesting Latin American players and recent draftees Fernelys Sanchez (who might be able to play center) and Blake Brown. There are few problems with this, however. One, they’re all promise at the moment, and if the Braves continue to be good at what they do, they’ll get one of those guys to make it. And two, they’re most likely 4-5 years away, which doesn’t exactly meet our timeline. Getting extensions with Heyward and Upton players could bridge the gap and profit from the production of both players as they reach and enter their peaks (look at those ages!).
BJ Upton was the exciting acquisition of the off-season, but his brother upstaged him. That certainly doesn’t mean the Braves didn’t acquire an excellent player, however. Upton will be 28 for most of this season, and he’ll just have turned 33 by the end of his contract. This means the Braves get part of his peak as well as the years just after, when his decline should be the slightest. Upton’s age relative to other free-agents is part of the advantage to signing Upton as opposed to the others, who were all entering or already in their 30s. This lessens the chance that BJ has to move to a corner and/or loses his value, meaning center is likely taken for the next five years.
That, of course, means the Braves don’t need a center field prospect for quite some time. Todd Cunningham will be at AAA this next season, and he may be the best OF prospect the Braves currently have. But he’s officially blocked, and if he has a solid season, he’s likely headed out the door in a trade. Matt Lipka is a little further behind and needs probably a good two full years more in the minors before he’s helpful. If he starts to hit, he could also be trade bait, but the Braves could choose to switch him back to the infield to play 2B or 3B. Farther down the line, the CF situation is similar to the corners, except a lot of the players are recent draftees. They won’t be ready for 4-5 years, but the timeline works much better on that front, especially because the Braves will likely not want to keep the BJ version of Upton around for his mid-30s.
The outfield is set for the next 3 years, and while it will eat into a large portion of the payroll, it will also be a large part of the overall team’s production during that time. Down on the farm, there’s some talent, but the best of it is probably a long way away.