Braves' trade of J-Up to Padres starting to pay bigger rewards

Braves prospect Luiz Gohara makes his third major league start tonight when he tries to beat reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and the Nats for the second time in seven days. And that, combined with the presence of pitching prospect Touki Toussaint at SunTrust Park on Friday to receive the Braves' high Single-A Pitcher of the Year award, got me thinking about The Trade That Keeps on Giving.

Luiz Gohara is pictured during his win at Washington on Wednesday, when the Braves rookie allowed one earned run in six innings and Nationals Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer gave up seven runs in six-plus innings. The two pitchers will face each other again tonight in Atlanta. (AP photo)

General manager John Coppolella and the Braves have made a multitude of bold trades in the past three years, including a few that haven't work out – the Hector Olivera deal stands firmly atop that list – but many more that have either turned out as well or in some cases far better for the Braves than for the other team(s) involved.

The Shelby Miller-to-Arizona trade understandably receives the most attention among one-sided deals in the Braves' favor. They got now-Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte and former No. 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson in that trade for a pitcher (Miller) who has struggled to a 5-14 record and 5.78 ERA in 24 MLB starts over two seasons for Arizona.

But today, I’m going to take a deeper dive into another trade that, in the long run, might possibly work out even better for the Braves, given the level of young pitching involved. (Of course we never know how the likes of Gohara are going to develop long term, but so far he’s looking pretty damn good.)

The trade: Eleven months after former Braves general manager Frank Wren acquired slugger Justin Upton in a trade from Arizona, the Braves’ new regime headed by Coppolella and  John Hart traded Upton to San Diego along with minor league pitcher Aaron Northcraft on Dec. 19, 2014, in exchange for lefty prospect Max Fried, outfield prospect Mallex Smith, corner outfielder/third base prospect Dustin Peterson and utility player Jace Peterson.

Upton was owed $14.5 million in 2015, the final season of a big contract he had signed with Arizona. He would become a free agent after one season with the Padres and sign a six-year, $132.75 million contract with Detroit.

The Braves had Mallex Smith for one season in the minors and one in the majors before trading him in January to the Mariners with injury-plagued reliever Shae Simmons in exchange for lefty prospects Gohara, who beat the Nationals last week in his second major league start, and Thomas Burrows, a former University of Alabama closer and fourth-round draft pick in 2016, who posted a 2.16 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings this season at low-A Rome.

Of the $14.5 million that the Braves saved by trading Upton with a year left on his contract, they used $10 million, in effect, to get highly regarded if still-raw pitching prospect Touki Toussaint from the Diamondbacks by also taking Bronson Arroyo and his salary from Arizona in that trade and sending utility player Phil Gosselin to the D-backs. The Braves took aging veteran Arroyo in that deal to get Toussaint, who was the Braves’ high-A Florida Pitcher of the Year this season after posting 167 strikeouts (albeit with 64 walks and a 4.53 ERA) in 145 innings between Single-A and Double-A.

The Braves had looked around and checked with a few teams about a deal in which they could take on a bad contract (using the savings from Upton) to get a top young prospect, and the Diamondbacks with Arroyo/Toussaint was the team that was willing to do it, so eager were they to unload the final year of Arroyo’s contract.

Touki Touissaint was the Braves' high Single-A Pitcher of the Year. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Getting back to the original Upton deal and the biggest piece the Braves got directly from the Padres: Fried, 23, missed almost two full seasons recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and was slowed earlier this season by finger-blister problems in Double-A. But the lefty was called to the majors after getting that worked out, made four big-league relief appearances, went to Triple-A briefly, then beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field this month in his first major league start, displaying a curveball that could potentially be one of the best in the big leagues.

Lefties Gohara, with his high-90s fastball and devastating slider, and Fried should be strong candidates for spots in the Braves’ opening-day rotation next season.

Dustin Peterson, who turned 23 this month, hit .282 with 52 extra-base hits and a .343 OBP in Double-A in 2016 and was competing for a major league roster spot this past spring training before a broken hand ended that bid and required surgery that caused him to miss much of the season. He was still regaining strength in the second half of the minor league season when he returned, but will be back at 100 percent for spring training and should be a strong bench candidate.

Jace Peterson was the Braves’ starting second baseman in 2015 and for much of 2016 and has been part of a productive bench for most of this season.

The Justin Upton trade was the impetus for getting all of the above players to the Braves organization. In effect, the Braves gave up one year of Upton and got a potential 30 years of major league service (before free agency) from the group of pitching prospects Gohara, Fried and Toussaint and utility players Jace and Dustin Peterson. And saved $4.5 million in the process.

If, say, two of the starting prospects Gohara, Fried and Toussaint turn out to be as good as many project, and Dustin Peterson becomes at least a solid major league fourth outfielder, think about what the Braves will have gotten in return for trading one year of Justin Upton.

Not all trades work out as planned. Some work out really poorly. But when you can make a couple of deals that work out as well as the Shelby Miller-to-Arizona and Justin Upton-to-San Diego trades have for the Braves, it makes the misfires a lot easier to swallow.

Postscript: Upton was traded from the Tigers to the Angels three weeks ago and is owed $88.5 million over the next four seasons (unless he exercises an opt-out clause and again becomes a free agent after this season).

• Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers was born this day in 1940. So here they are in a Phil Spector-produced Wall of Sound masterpiece,

"YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELING" by The Righteous Brothers

The Righteous Brothers
You never close your eyes anymore

When I kiss your lips

And there's no tenderness

Like before in your finger tips

You're trying hard not to show it (baby)

But baby, baby I know it You've lost that lovin' feelin'

Whoa, that lovin' feelin'

You've lost that lovin' feelin'

Now it's gone, gone, gone

Whoa, oh-whoa, oh-whoa There's no welcome look in your eyes

When I reach for you

And girl you're starting to

Criticize little things I do

Ooh, it makes me just feel like cryin' (baby)

'Cause baby something beautiful's dyin' You've lost that lovin' feelin'

Whoa, that lovin' feelin'

You've lost that lovin' feelin'

Now it's gone, gone, gone

Whoa, oh-whoa, oh-whoa Baby baby I get down on my knees for you

(Get down on my knees)

If you would only love me

Like you used to

(If you would only love me, love me)

We had a love, a love, a love

You don't find everyday

(A love you don't find)

So don't, don't, don't

Let it slip away (away) I said baby

Baby (baby)

Baby (baby)

(I'm beggin you please)

I'm begging you please

I need your love

(I need your love)

I need your love

So bring it on back

(Bring it on back)

Ah, bring it on back

Now bring it on back You've got to

Bring back that lovin' feelin'

Whoa, that lovin' feelin'

Bring back that lovin' feelin'

'Cause it's gone, gone, gone

And I can't go on

Whoa, oh-whoa, oh-whoa Bring back that lovin' feelin'

Whoa, that lovin' feelin'

Bring back that lovin' feelin'

'Cause it's gone, gone, gone Bring back that lovin' feelin'

Whoa, that lovin' feelin'

Bring back that lovin' feeling

'Cause it's gone, gone, gone

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About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than a decade.