Former Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton returns to Chase Field Monday for the first time since being dealt to the Atlanta Braves in a seven-player trade back in January.
The two-time All-Star’s reappearance in the Valley unquestionably brings up past talking points like his relationship with manager Kirk Gibson, his struggles at the plate in 2012 and a three-year period of rumors that concluded with his eventual departure last winter.
Earlier this week, Gibson was asked by an Atlanta-based reporter how he’d characterize his relationship with Upton, and the manager didn’t hold back.
“It was great. I mean it’s just baseball. Worked with Justin since he came up as a little kid as a bench coach, as a baserunning coach and then when I moved into being the manager,” Gibson said. “He had a tough year last year, and there were a lot of reasons. So I hear a lot of people saying we didn’t have a good relationship but I disagree. I enjoyed my time with him, I taught him a lot and when I saw his frustrations I understood it because he was going through a lot of what I was going through when I was a young player.
“I don’t root against him. I want him to play well, to do what’s right for baseball. At the same time, we are going to try and beat him when he comes here. He knows that. I know he’s going to try and get me, and I respect that as well.”
While Upton was accompanied by third baseman Chris Johnson in the deal that sent Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill and Brandon Drury to the D-backs, almost 40 games into the season all anyone wants to talk about is the comparison between All-Stars.
And on paper, at least, it’s no contest. Upton won the National Player of the Month for April and is hitting .269 with a league-leading 12 home runs and 21 RBI.
Prado on the other hand has been a major upgrade in the field — played five positions so far in 2013 — but has struggled mightily at the plate. The first-year D-back is batting just .223 with four home run and nine RBI.
But if you ask Gibson, evaluating a trade by comparing two players is meaningless. The D-backs skipper said personnel moves are about one thing only: How do they improve your team?
“When people do trades it always amuses me when people comment who won the trade,” said Gibson. “I mean that’s always the big thing like who won it? I know Kevin Towers, he’s been around a long time. I’ve been around him a lot and heard him say this publicly and privately, he’s not out to win a trade, he’s out to make his ballclub better.
“He’s like an artist the way he puts this team together, okay. He’s looking for the proper color and the proper brushstroke. The people who really say that, I don’t think they know what they’re talking about. It’s not all about that number one, and nobody really knows.”
A change of scenery has certainly allowed Upton a chance to show what he can do with a bat, but the move has also allowed guys like Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock to have a more consistent role in the D-backs lineup.
Both the Braves (21-16) and D-backs (21-17) have started fast in 2013, so the way Gibson sees it the off-season transaction was good for all parties involved.
“If you look at the trades we made and the comments that were made, it’s been good for everybody,” said Gibson. “I think everybody is happy and that’s the way it should be. We aren’t looking to screw anyone over, we are just looking out at our needs and how we can get there.
“The reality is sometimes you have to trade a good player to fulfill your needs. We certainly did that and it was bold in many people’s eyes, but Kevin Towers has the experience and I think he did a great job.”