Why would Braves trade J-Up? For future

SAN DIEGO – A lot of folks ask why the Braves would trade Justin Upton or Evan Gattis, the only two hitters who had more than 18 homers on a team that last season ranked 29th in the majors in runs and tied for 23rd in homers.

Justin Upton led the Braves with 29 homers and 102 RBIs, but the team's best power hitter could be traded with the bigger picture in mind.

The first part of the answer is that they would consider trading Upton, who has 56 homers in two seasons with the Braves, because he’s a year away from free agency and they don’t envision re-signing him when he’s likely to command upwards of $20 million annually in a long-term contract.

The second part of the answer is, they would trade Upton or Gattis because they could get young players or top prospects back in a trade, strengthening the team for the long run. Which leads to this point that everyone should probably keep in mind at all times: The Braves are making moves with (at least) one eye on 2017 and beyond.

They would never come right out and say it this way, but it seems pretty obvious that the big picture is more important to them in this transitional stage than the small picture, the small picture being the immediate future – i.e., the next two seasons. But at the same time, the Braves aren’t going to do a tear-down project and start over, because they know that Atlanta, like many other cities, isn’t the kind of market where the average fan is going to be supportive of losing 90-100 games for a season or two in order to hopefully be competitive again in 2017.

Being a doormat of a team for two years isn’t the best way to get the ticket-buying public excited about moving into that new ballpark in Cobb County in ’17. And so, the Braves seek to remain at least respectable for the next two years while doing a bit of rebuilding aimed toward ’17 and beyond.

With that in mind, we go back to the original question about why they would even consider trading J-Up or El Oso Blanco, who has 43 homers in 723 career at-bats over two major league seasons, when those two players had 51 of the team’s 123 homers last season and Upton (29 homers, 102 RBIs) was the only Brave to drive in as many as 80 runs.

And the even more simplified answer: They aren’t making moves with improving next year’s offense in mind. And the reason that Upton is more likely to get trade is that he’s only under contractual control for one more season, while the Braves control Gattis for four. Like Jason Heyward was only under contractual control for one more season, while the starting pitcher they got back, Shelby Miller, from St. Louis in the Heyward trade is under control for four seasons (and the pitching prospect they got in that deal will be under control for six seasons once he reaches the majors).

Big picture is the priority. Not next season’s offense.

“That (improving for 2017 and beyond) would be the only reason you might entertain something for a player that you really like,” said Braves prez of baseball operations John Hart, discussing why the Braves would consider trade proposals for the likes of Justin Upton and Gattis. “Like we did with Heyward -- we had needs. Now, the needs aren’t maybe as clearly defined. I mean, sure, we’re going to need another starter. We have X amount of dollars. We got (Nick) Markakis, that’s a good fit for us. But I think the ability for us to look at ’17 and measure what that’s going to mean…”

Me talking here, but it’s fair to say the Braves are willing to sacrifice from next year’s offense in order to improve in the bigger picture. Again, they wouldn’t put it that way, but that effectively what they’re doing if/when they trade J-Up (or Gattis, though again I think that’s  unlikely because of the four years they can control Gattis – but if they got back multiple young players or prospects in return, who knows? Could happen.)

Anyway, since I’ve been asked so many times by folks on Twitter or my blog about the offense and why the Braves are trading away hitters and focusing on improving their pitching when the offense is what killed the team last year, I ran the question by Hart today, on the first day of the Winter Meetings, so he could again go on record with an answer. I knew the answer, but I hoped  he would put it into words so that everyone could see it coming from him rather than my interpretation or explanation of what the Braves are doing.

Hart pointed out one other obvious factor with his answer, which is that  the Braves are tied up with long-term contracts at four of eight positions on the diamond, including a three-year, $23.5 million extension for third baseman Chris Johnson that runs through 2018, three years and $46 million remaining on the (at this point) albatross of a contract of center fielder B.J. Upton, and the longer-but-not-regrettable contracts for shortstop Andrelton Simmons and first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Hart also reiterated improvement in next year’s offense is going to largely depend on returning players having better seasons than they did in 2014, when J. Upton was the only Braves regular who really met or surpassed expectations. The Braves hope new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer can get through to some of them.

“That (individual improvement) is going to have to happen,” Hart said. “I mean, because contractually we kind of are where we are. There’s not a whole lot of open spots to go play with; we’ve got what we’ve got. Kevin Seitzer is out there  on the hunt, he’s moving (working with players this winter). I certainly envision that we’re going to be a better offensive team. But there’s just not a lot of spots, if you look at this club where we are contractually, that we can do a lot of things with. I mean, there are some limitations there as to what you can do. But sometimes it’s a different dynamic, a different year.

“It probably doesn’t matter what we do here at these meetings, we’re probably not going to be the (NL East) favorite. But I don’t know that Kansas City was necessarily the favorite to win the American League championship, or if the Giants were a favorite. I mean, you don’t know. You’ve got to keep looking to chip away and get the kind of players that you want. But there’s not a lot we can do around the club. We’ve got some contractual obligations to players that we realize are there."

Hart paused before adding this line that many of you will probably appreciate hearing: "Now, whether everybody plays or not is a different story.”

In other words, a big salary that can't be moved might assure a spot on the roster, but not in the lineup.

•OK, let's close with this tune from the great John Lennon, who was murdered on this day 34 years ago. Beautiful mind, genius songwriter, taken away from us by a deranged dude who broke a lot of hearts around the world that fateful night.

Instant Karma's gonna get you

Gonna knock you right on the head

You better get yourself together

Pretty soon you're gonna be dead

What in the world you thinking of

Laughing in the face of love

What on earth you tryin' to do

It's up to you, yeah you

Instant Karma's gonna get you

Gonna look you right in the face

Better get yourself together darlin'

Join the human race

How in the world you gonna see

Laughin' at fools like me

Who in the hell d'you think you are
A superstar

Well, right you are

Well we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Well we all shine on

Ev'ryone come onInstant Karma's gonna get you

Gonna knock you off your feet

Better recognize your brothers

Ev'ryone you meet

Why in the world are we here

Surely not to live in pain and fear

Why on earth are you there

When you're ev'rywhere

Come and get your shareWell we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Yeah we all shine on

Come on and on and on on on

Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ahWell we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Yeah we all shine on

On and on and on on and on

Well we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Well we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Well we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Yeah we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

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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.