Revisiting the Trade that Wrecked the Arizona Diamondbacks


Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of a General Manager’s tenure with a ballclub, there will always be that one trade that each wishes they could have a mulligan on.  Swapping Justin Upton (and Chris Johnson) for nothing more than pocket change, is precisely that deal for Kevin Towers, current head of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Reuniting the Upton brothers was a heart-warming move on paper for Atlanta, but a gut-wrenching one for devout Diamondbacks fans.  Upton was so popular that the right field area stationed behind him was dubbed “Uptown” in honor of the most popular player in town since Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson. 

Economics were beginning to catch up with Arizona.  As most small-market teams do, they look to trade away players when they have reached their peak value, maximizing the return.  To say that Towers settled, would be an understatement.

The D-backs sent both Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Randall Delgado, Martin Prado, Nick Ahmed, Brandon Drury and Zeke Spruill. 

Just this past winter, Towers went into an all-out attack mode.  He acquired Mark Trumbo, the powerful right-handed slugger formerly from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Upon making the acquisition, he stated, “power bats from the right side are rare to come by.”  You have that right—he was swapping out the biggest star in the franchise over the past decade, whom was right-handed and a slugger, and sold him off for the equivalent of spare tire parts. 

Over the past two April’s alone, Justin Upton has clobbered 21 home runs.  While the outfield rotation consists of a daily Russian roulette when it comes to lineup making, Upton is penciled into the cleanup spot in Atlanta, day in, day out.

The other man the D-backs sailed away in this deal has turned himself into an above-average third baseman.  Call it a bit of luck, but Chris Johnson batted .321 last season, even with an inflated BABIP (batting average of balls in play).  After 44 games with the club, where he batted .286, he was cast away in exchange for more potential somebodies. 

Coming back to the desert was a highly touted pitching prospect by the name of Randall Delgado.  Never at any point in his minor league career did Delgado dominate.  Rather, the Diamondbacks paid for a prospect ranking and potential that he could one day become a #3 starter.  He has been so ineffective in his two starts this season that he has been relegated to the darkest depths of an extremely porous bullpen.

Sending away both Upton and Johnson was not deemed to be a complete loss, because the D-backs were gaining Martin Prado, a player coming off his third season of his career in which he batted over .300.  Known for his tremendous versatility, Prado could play second, third, or each of the corner outfield spots without a problem (even shortstop in a pinch). 

Last season, Prado posted an on-base percentage below his career average and did not hit at the rate he was expected.  Thus far, in 2014, it has been even worse.  Coupled with his offensive inefficacies (which can partially be attributed to the fact he is hitting in the wrong part of the order), his glove has been subpar.  With five errors down at the hot corner already, Prado is not making Diamondbacks fans thankful for the deal to acquire him. 

Then, there are the prospects. 

Out of the University of Connecticut, Nick Ahmed spent the majority of his time last season playing shortstop at Double-A Mobile.  After posting a .337 on-base percentage and swiping 40 bags for the Braves in their minor league system in 2012, Ahmed’s numbers crated upon reaching Double-A.  His on-base percentage was a miserable .288, while stealing just 26 bases. 

Coming over to Arizona and being turned into a full-time third baseman, Brandon Drury has taken off offensively.  Granted, his numbers are improving as he moves horizontally through Single-A ball, but the 21-year-old has shown significant improvement.  Unfortunately, he is a long ways off from contributing at the Major League level.

Similarly, to Delgado, Zeke Spruill has never dominated any stop in the minor leagues.  Making his Major League debut last season, Spruill hung around to lose two of the six games he pitched in, throwing just 11.1 innings.    

Off to a less than impressive start down at Triple-A Reno in 2014, Spruill has allowed 17 hits and seven earned runs in just 10 innings of work. 

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All together, the trade looks miserable.  Barring Randall Delgado magically cleaning up his mechanics and Brandon Drury developing 3-5 years down the line, General Manager Kevin Towers tossed away a superstar and an above average third baseman for nothing more than organizational depth.

Sometimes these trades work, and sometimes they do not.  Unfortunately, for Kevin Towers, he is running out of time for trades to not pan out.