Justin Upton trade raises questions about Dbacks’ future

Third baseman Martin Prado was the centerpiece in a seven-player deal between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves that sent Justin Upton to Atlanta. Photo by: Cristine Maybourne / Flickr

Third baseman Martin Prado was the centerpiece in a seven-player deal between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves that sent Justin Upton to Atlanta. Photo by: Cristine Maybourne / Flickr

BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com blogger

The biggest takeaway I’m getting from the Justin Upton trade is this: If you don’t project enough outward and possibly a superficial appearance of playing hard and gritty, you aren’t qualified to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s examine the trade at hand. Arizona dealt 25-year Justin Upton (career .278/.357./475 hitter) and 3B Chris Johnson (.276/.315/.430) for a year of useful utility player Martin Prado (.295/.345/.435), pitcher Randall Delgado (3.95 ERA), and minor leaguers Nick Ahmed SS, Brandon Drury 3B, Zeke Spruill P.

This appears to be the final straw in the Kevin Towers path of roster destruction. Three important players from the recent 2011 NL West winning squad (Upton, Chris Young, Ryan Roberts) have since been traded for what some would say is 50 cents on the dollar. Young was used to get shortstop Cliff Pennington, but then Towers decided he needed roughly 50 more of those, so he used their 2011 #1 pick Trevor Bauer to land Didi Gregorious from Cincinnati in a three-way deal. Veteran grit machines Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald are under contract for 2013, so you have a logjam of light hitting, good defending middle infielders.

So what is the ultimate endgame here? Their star power-hitting right fielder is gone, which would suggest that catcher Miguel Montero and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and outfielders Jason Kubel and Cody Ross will now received the brunt of the pressure in the middle of the lineup. That’s fine I guess, but they aren’t perennial MVP candidates.

Fox sports insider Ken Rosenthal offered some insight on the motivation for this trade.

“The problem is that he didn’t play with a high level of energy,” said the former teammate, who spoke on the condition that he would not be identified. “What I think they want is guys who play with the speed, energy and intensity of the Oregon football team — all out, all the time.

Actually, playing “hard” and “gritty” might be two separate things, according to Kevin Towers per Jon Heyman.

I don’t understand the explanation; you can be a hard working player but not outwardly express it, which somehow will land you on the trading block for two consecutive years. Should anyone be accepting this ludicrous reasoning at face value? It’s also a very convenient way to justify the trade when plenty of fiery, gritty players have come and gone (see Ryan Roberts).

It’s evident according to the various quotes and sources that Kevin Towers wants players that play with the same mindset as manager Kirk Gibson, who of course was a former football player at Michigan State in addition to baseball. Expecting individuals to adopt his tough personality feels like a pipe dream, 25 players on a roster are all different, and the manager should be able to adjust to those different styles. To give one example, if you think back to the 2004 Red Sox, you have all sorts of wacky and crazy characters, and Terry Franconia let everyone be themselves, while still being able to steer the ship. Kirk Gibson isn’t like Francona in that respect, and whether or not it’s a philosophical problem going forward remains to be seen.

Team chemistry is important, but you can’t run out a lineup full of Willie Bloomquists (Willie the starting pitcher as well) and expect to win every day, or possibly at all. That’s what Towers and Gibson apparently want, and it certainly clashes with a more methodical approach to baseball that is driven by hard data.

Perception is reality in the world of Justin Upton, and if I we’re him, I’m be itching at the change to prove his previous employers and fans wrong about his alleged bad attitude.

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