ESPN MLB insider Keith Law was not a fan of the Justin Upton trade when it happened, going so far as to write about it in an ESPN Insider piece.
Then, as a guest of Arizona Sports 620’s Doug and Wolf shortly after the deal was consummated, he was asked if D-backs fans should hate the trade that sent Upton and infielder Chris Johnson to Atlanta for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.
“Yeah if I were a D-backs fan absolutely,” Law said at the time. “They didn’t get nearly enough in return.”
Roughly five months later and a little less than 25 percent into the season, the analyst’s opinion hasn’t changed much.
The Braves (22-16) and D-backs (21-18) have similar records thus far, but Upton is hitting .289 with an NL-best 13 home runs to go along with 23 RBI. And although he’s been in a recent slump, Law says it’s not right to point a finger at the former number one pick.
“He’s a little bit of a victim of Atlanta’s overall approach, which is that this is not a hugely disciplined club,” Law told Doug and Wolf Monday, just ahead of Upton’s return to the Valley as a member of the Braves. “He’s probably one of the most patient hitters in the lineup — and that’s not to say he’s patient — just the lineup as a whole is not patient.”
Law said what’s happening is pitchers have learned they don’t have to necessarily throw strikes to Atlanta batters, and though Upton’s bat has cooled off, he’s done a good job of taking walks and still being a useful hitter.
Of course, that’s not why the Braves wanted Upton nor why D-backs fans were and likely still are fearful of what he could become. Upton has potential to be a big-time run producer, and watching him become one in a uniform other than the one he wore the first six seasons of his MLB career would be a bit painful.
Which is why, along with how good a fit Upton is in Atlanta, Law said he was surprised the D-backs didn’t get more in return when they traded him.
“He was too perfect a fit,” Law said, noting the relatively low cost. “I sort of thought Arizona would look and say ‘this is exactly the guy you need to arguably be the best team in the National League East this year, we’re going to hold him for ransom until we get more.'”
But the D-backs got what they got, and early on the numbers don’t exactly paint a pretty picture for the squad in Sedona Red.
But with the D-backs seemingly contenders in the NL West a year after they finished a distant third, some would argue they have have improved by subtracting the 25-year-old from the mix in exchange for more hard-nosed players.
Law vehemently disagrees with the concept, saying Upton is not a Milton Bradley or Elijah Dukes-type presence in a clubhouse.
“I’m one of the people who thinks this whole grit, hard-nosed thing is not only wrong but a really lousy way to build a team,” he said. “I don’t like using those words at all because they have just bad connotations in the history of baseball.
“Just talk about talent, talk about ability. You want to talk about makeup, talk about things like work ethic as opposed to ‘well he’s not gritty enough, he doesn’t have the heart.'”
Law said that type of language “probably doesn’t have a place in the game.” But, he notes, despite his disagreeing with the trade then and now, he — and quite a few others — still views the Diamondbacks as a good baseball team.
“None of us said that they stunk, like that’s not what this was,” he said. “This isn’t like the Rockies, where I’m looking at the Rockies and saying ‘that’s just a bad baseball team.’
“Whereas with the Diamondbacks, I’m saying it’s a good team, probably could be a little bit better and don’t think they got enough value in their offseason transactions, but with everything they’ve done there’s still so much ability offensively, it’s a pretty good defensive club, they have a lot of pitching depth.”