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The biggest piece (and biggest name) in the return for Upton is Fried, the former seventh-overall pick in the 2012 draft, and Harvard-Westlake teammate of Lucas Giolito. The 6-foot-4 left-hander had all the raw ingredients as an amateur to project as a #2 starter: three potential-plus pitches, including a curve that scored a few 70 futures from scouts and a potential-plus command profile. And while his pro career started out well enough—he held his own as a teenager in the Midwest League during 2013—he's run into a lot of lost developmental time lately.
The 2014 season started off with forearm soreness in February that rushed many to believe Tommy John surgery was an inevitability. He finally returned to the mound with three appearances in the AZL and two back in the Midwest League, before succumbing to that inevitability. With the surgery happening in August, it's unlikely that he will see any significant amount of time on the mound in 2015—which will make two straight lost seasons for the southpaw.
There's a nadir to his value right now, but the same raw ingredients that got many excited about Fried two and a half years ago are still there. If the stuff comes all the way back from surgery, he'll be a very exciting prospect to watch in 2016 (where he'll pitch the entire season at age 22). The combination of the quality of his pitches, his ability to change speeds on both his fastball and curve and his natural athleticism was enough for the Braves to seek him out as the centerpiece to a trade for their most famous (and arguably their best) player. The risk is large and the time horizon is long, but the payoff could still be a #2/3 starter—and he's not the type of player who is generally available for a one-year rental if he's healthy.
Dustin Peterson, a high-school shortstop who was taken 38 picks after his older brother, D.J., in the 2013 draft (50th overall), moved to third base immediately upon signing and played the 2014 season as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League. Not surprisingly, Peterson struggled down the stretch as he got his first taste of full-season ball, but despite a bad final line, was hitting .269/.315/.420 in mid-July.
From a tools standpoint, Peterson has at times flashed 50 potential across the board since being drafted, but with only the raw power drifting into the above-average category. The arm is average at best, which doesn't give the utmost confidence that he can stay at third long term. If he's forced to play left field in the end, the OFP starts to drift from second-division player to utility player. –Bret Sayre
88 stolen bases is a lot—the total Smith posted in 120 games this past season. He has legitimate top-of-the-scale speed, routinely posting elite times down the line on ground balls in various looks. At the plate, Smith is a slap hitter with a bunch of pre-swing movement. The bat-to-ball ability is below average, and without major-league quality strength, the overall hit tool may have trouble getting to a 40. He has very limited pop which won’t be part of his game going forward—most extra base hits will be singles turned into doubles via blazing speed. His glove is not a calling card either; he often breaks late and takes inefficient routes, although his speed makes up for some of those issues. The profile is that of a 24th or 25th man, likely coming off the bench for pinch-running duty and carving out a niche for himself as a fifth outfielder. –Jordan Gorosh
Jace Peterson doesn't have any standout tools, but he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses either. A converted shortstop, he's major-league ready and capable of playing second base every day in the big leagues, provided his hit tool reaches its ceiling. With a good, short, natural left-handed stroke, that's a real possibility despite his struggles at the major-league level last season. He won't hit for much power, but with an above-average hit tool and some plate discipline value, it could be enough to play on a regular basis. Much like his offensive game, his defense and athleticism don't wow scouts, but an extended look reveals a player who makes the most of his abilities. Solid second-base defense should be expected, and if he doesn't hit quite enough to warrant everyday playing time, he profiles as a strong utility/bench bat who is ready to contribute. –Jeff Moore
|SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired OF-R Justin Upton and RHP Aaron Northcraft from the Braves in exchange for LHP Max Fried, INF-L Jace Peterson, 3B-R Dustin Peterson, and OF-L Mallex Smith. [12/19]
Reportedly signed RHP Josh Johnson to a one-year deal worth between $1 and $2 million with incentives that could push the deal closer to $7 to $8 million. [12/18]
The Padres have accomplished two goals this winter: upgrading the majors' worst offense and triggering a sense of déjà vu in most onlookers—just a few days ago we were talking about their latest outfield addition, and that came just a few days after their other latest outfield addition, and so on.
Upton becomes the eighth big-league-quality outfielder on San Diego's roster, and joins Wil Myers and Matt Kemp in an outfield that should be sponsored by Blockbuster. Unlike the last time Upton was traded, back in January 2013, this deal isn't coming on the heels of a disappointing season. Instead Upton is on the move after arguably the best consecutive offensive seasons of his career, including last year, which saw him earn a down-ballot MVP vote despite the Braves' collapse.
What's more is, while Upton ranked 16th in True Average among hitters with 500-plus plate appearances, he was middle of the pack in age. No, he's not a baby like Mike Trout, but he's younger than Jose Abreu, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley, and others, so perhaps there is a little meat left on the upside bone. Even if there's not, Upton should provide the Padres with durability*, a lot of power, a healthy walk rate, and plenty of swing-and-miss before he hits free agency at year's end. Oh, and some not-so-great defense to go with the rest of their not-so-great outfield defenders.
*Upton hasn't spent time on the DL in any of the five seasons. This is more important for the Padres than you'd think, given their seemingly endless injury woes.
Let's address that outfield defense for a minute. Presuming the Padres use a combination of Kemp, Myers, and Upton, then they'll probably have the worst bunch in the majors. What's that mean? Well, last season the Red Sox allowed the highest average on fly balls (.184), which was 31 points higher than the league mark. More worrisome than the hits-to-outs ratio is the damage that comes on the hits. The Rockies, perhaps unsurprisingly, allowed the highest slugging percentage on fly balls (.532), but it was Kemp's Dodgers (at .523) who proved a team can win, even if its fly-ball defense is less-than-stellar. Alas, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke won't be joining Kemp in San Diego. So who might?
In theory, A.J. Preller could pursue upgrades at shortstop and first base, where Alexi Amarista/Clint Barmes and Yonder Alonso are penciled in to start, respectively. He could use his outfield depth to help fill those holes, or to aid a thus far mostly deprived pitching staff. What additions Preller has made to the rotation have been cheap, injury-risk types, like Brandon Morrow and Johnson. That's fine, but San Diego is running dangerously low on reliable starters. Alternatively, Preller could grab some bullpen help, or use those outfielders to recoup some of the organizational depth he lost through these trades.
Whatever Preller chooses to do, it's clear that he's neither complacent nor afraid of making big moves. Let it be known that if you like lineups heavy on offense and low on defense, then San Diego is your team. And if you like creative, possibly over-caffeinated execs with good hair, then Preller is your GM. –R.J. Anderson
A 10th-round pick out of a California high school in 2009, Northcraft has had a slow and steady ascension through the minor-league ranks. After predominantly seeing success in each of his prior stops, the 24-year-old hit a major roadblock halfway through the 2014 season upon a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, compiling a 6.54 ERA over 64 2/3 innings of work. The big right-hander has a durable frame, utilizing a drop-and-drive delivery and a long arm action before releasing the ball from a low-three quarters slot from the first-base side of the rubber. The lower arm slot adds some run and sink to his average fastball, resulting in a high amount of groundballs. His 76-80 mph frisbee slider lacks hard bite and has a tendency to get long, but at its best it features late depth that helps it project as an average pitch going forward. He lacks consistent feel for a present below-average changeup, sitting 80-82 with some arm-side fade when turned over properly. There isn't much projection remaining with the pitch, and paired with a fringe-average command profile that often leaves his pitches hittable in the zone, Northcraft profiles as a groundball-oriented middle-reliever going forward. –Ethan Purser
I know, I went into this exercise with a skeptical contortion of the brow too, and like you I’m surprised to see that “up” arrow. But there is actual reason for muted optimism with this move. Now, first things first: there’s a very definite net-negative in the ballpark jump. Turner Field isn’t a great place for right-handed power, but it’s not as bad as Petco Park. That said, Upton isn’t your average right-handed power hitter. He check in 14th in batted-ball distance last year, and none of his 29 home runs wouldn’t have left Petco. Beyond that surface concern, there really isn’t a whole lot to dislike about this move. The Braves offense was almost as terrible as the Padres in 2014 (27th in TAv, 29th in runs scored, while the Padres were a dead-last 30th in both), and the team’s lineup context has since deteriorated with the trade of Jason Heyward while the Padres have gone hog-wild to add offense. Upton will also leave an NL East that featured two of the top seven pitching staffs by FIP last season for a division featuring the dreadful Rockies and downgraded Diamondbacks. Add it all up, and while San Diego certainly isn’t the ideal landing spot for Upton, it appears to be at least a marginally better situation than remaining in Atlanta would’ve been. He was a top-25 hitter last year, returning $26 of mixed-league value, and while some lazier managers in your league may discount him a bit for the move, the overall effect here on Upton’s draft value isn’t likely to be significant. The main takeaway here should be that managers need not fear a collapse of Upton’s power output with this move, and the better lineup context actually does offer some additional avenues for him to generate value in Runs and RBI.
Carlos Quentin/Seth Smith
I can pretty much just point you right back to what I wrote about these guys in the aftermath of the Wil Myers acquisition and call it a day. There’s probably very little practical change in status here, but if there is, the addition of Upton probably represents one or two probably superfluous nails in the coffin for the playing time of Quentin and Smith. It’s highly unlikely at this point that more than one of these guys breaks camp with the Padres, so for now it’s wait-and-see mode: it’s certainly possible, if not downright likely, that at least Smith gets dealt to a more favorable situation between now and then. In the meantime, temper your expectations accordingly. —Wilson Karaman