January 2013

Braves use Prado to acquire another Upton

The Braves have reached a preliminary agreement to acquire Justin Upton from the D-backs in exchange for four players, including Martin Prado.

According to a Major League source, the Braves will get Upton and Chris Johnson in exchange for  Prado, shortstop prospect Nick Ahmed and right-handed pitchers Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill.  This deal is pending the completion of physicals.

With this trade, Braves general manager Frank Wren provide his club the game’s best outfield.  He began this offseason by signing Justin Upton’s older brother, B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract.  His projected outfield over the next three seasons will consist of Jason Heyward and the two Upton brothers.

To complete this trade, Wren had to part ways with Prado, who is one of the Braves’ most popular players among the fans and his teammates.   But he was able to acquire Upton without giving up either of his top two pitching prospects, Julio Teheran or J.R. Graham.

The departure of the versatile Prado signals that the Braves will likely enter the  season with Juan Francisco and Johnson sharing the third base duties.

Upton has hit .278 with 108 homers and a .832 OPS since making his Major League debut during the 2007 season.  The 25-year-old outfielder was one of the game’s top outfielders as he hit .289 with 31 homers and a .898 OPS in 2011 with the D-backs.  A thumb injury limited him this year as he hit .280 with 17 homers and a .785 OPS.


Braves making push to gain another Upton

The Braves have shown great interest whenever it has become apparent that the D-backs would be willing to trade Justin Upton.  Now with Spring Training less than three weeks away, they are hoping to land the talented young outfielder.

According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the D-backs have received a trade offer that is believed to be from the Braves.  CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman took it a step further by saying that the Braves have made a “strong offer” in exchange for Upton.

The D-backs are believed to be attempting to trade either Upton or Jason Kubel, who is believed to be drawing interest from the Orioles.  Multiple sources have said that Arizona’s general manager Kevin Towers wants to get one of these deals done before Friday.

The Braves’ interest in this potential deal dates back to November when they signed Justin Upton’s older brother, B.J. Upton, to a five-year, $75.25 million contract.    There is certainly an appeal to the prospect of having the two Uptons and Jason Heyward in the same outfield for at least the next three seasons.

When the Braves first showed interest in Justin Upton, the D-backs were interested in Atlanta’s dazzling young shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who has essentially been deemed untouchable.

Nearly two months later, the elements have changed. By trading their top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer in December, the D-backs gained the top-flight shortstop — Didi Gregorious — that they had been seeking.  Now they are looking for top young arms  — a commodity the Braves can satisfy.

Any deal the Braves make for Upton would likely have to include Julio Teheran and at least one of their other top young pitching prospects, likely either Sean Gilmartin or Zeke Spruill.  Nick Ahmed, a  blue collar shortstop who has been compared to Jeff Blauser, could also draw interest from Arizona.

Upton used his partial no-trade rights to block a trade that would have sent him to  the Mariners last week.  That trade would have included three of Seattle’s top six prospects and Charlie Furbush, who posted a 2.72 ERA in 48 big league relief appearances last year.

The Braves are financially in position to acquire Upton, who would be owed $9.75 million in 2013, $14.25 million in ’14 and $14.5 million in ’15.

Braves reach agreements with Heyward, O’Flaherty, Medlen and Venters

ATLANTA  — The Braves entered Friday with the hope of reaching an agreement with each of their six unsigned arbitration-eligible players.   As the early afternoon hours elapsed, they had moved closer to that goal by reaching one-year agreements with Jason Heyward, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen and Cristhian Martinez.

Martin Prado remained the Braves only unsigned arbitration-eligible player as of Friday afternoon.  There is still a chance the Braves could reach an agreement with the versatile Prado before the end of the day.

Heyward’s first large raise comes in the form of a one-year, $3.65 million contract that includes awards bonuses.  This is the first time that the 23-year-old outfielder has been eligible for arbitration.  He combined to make just under $1.5 million during his previous three Major League seasons.

O’Flaherty’s one-year deal is worth $4.32 million and includes award bonuses.   This will be the third and final arbitration-eligible season for the 27-year-old southpaw, who made $895,000 as a first-year arbitration-eligible player in 2011.

Like Heyward, the salaries gained by Venters and Medlen reflect the fact that they are entering their first arbitration-eligible seasons.

Medlen’s  success as a starting pitcher during the season’s final two months earned him a salary of $2.6 million.  The durability and success Venters has experienced during his first three big league seasons earned him a salary of $1.625 million for the upcoming season.

All Major League clubs and unsigned arbitration-eligible players were required to exchange salary figures by 1 p.m. ET on Friday. The Braves told agents that they planned to go through with an arbitration hearing if an agreement  was not reached before figures were exchanged.

But if they were making progress with Prado’s deal, there is still a chance an agreement could occur on Friday.

Heyward began living up to tremendous expectations as he hit .269 with 27 home runs, 21 stolen bases and a .814 OPS this past season.  The five-tool outfielder has the potential to join Ron Gant and Dale Murphy as the only players in Atlanta Braves history to hit 30 home runs and record 30 stolen bases in a season.   He was presented with his first Gold Glove Award in November.

Medlen’s value soared as he posted a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts that he made after making the transition from reliever to starter.  His command and approach have led Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones to be among those who have compared him to Greg Maddux.

This has been an eventful stretch for Medlen, whose wife is scheduled to give birth to their first child on Feb. 5.  Earlier this month, he learned that he would be part of Team USA’s starting rotation during this year’s World Baseball Classic.

O’Flaherty has established himself as one of the game’s top setup men. The left-handed reliever has compiled a 1.31 ERA in the 131 innings he has completed over the past two seasons. With the 0.98 ERA he posted in 2011, he became the first pitcher in Major League history to post a sub 1.00 ERA while making at least 70 appearances.

Venters experienced some early struggles and then posted a 1.71 ERA in the 26 appearances he made after this past season’s All-Star break.  The left-handed reliever has compiled a 2.23 ERA while combining for 230 appearances  over the past three seasons  — the Majors’ second-highest total during this span.

Medlen and Kimbrel to be part of Team USA’s pitching staff

Craig Kimbrel and Kris Medlen will replace their Braves’ jerseys with the Team USA jerseys that they hope to wear through most of March.

Kimbrel and Medlen will serve as the Braves’ only representatives on the United States team that will compete in this year’s World Baseball Classic.  Both of these talented young pitchers will be making their first appearance in the Classic.

Arguably the game’s best closer, Kimbrel has been getting excited about this opportunity since the early days of December.  Medlen tempered his excitement until he received a second phone call from Team USA manager Joe Torre approximately two weeks ago.

Medlen will serve as one of the four starting pitchers on Team USA’s roster.  The remainder of the starting rotation includes Toronto’s R.A. Dickey, Texas’ Derek Holland and San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong.

Kimbrel undoubtedly stands as the top candidate to handle the closer duties during the Classic.  Other candidates in the U.S. bullpen include  Cleveland’s Chris Perez, Miami’s Steve Cishek and Arizona’s Heath Bell.

Medlen and Kimbrel will spend the first week of the Grapefruit League season with the Braves and then travel to Phoenix to prepare for First Round pool play, which will take place  at Arizona’s Chase Field from March 8-10.

If it advances out of the first round, Team USA would participate in Second Round play at Marlins Park March 12-16.  If the team advances, it would then be in position to participate in the Semifinals and Finals at San Francisco’s AT&T Park March 17-19.

The Braves will also have a strong presence on Torre’s coaching staff.  Dale Murphy will serve as first base coach and Greg Maddux will be the club’s pitching coach.

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