The Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks sent a jolt through the baseball world on Thursday by making a seven-player trade featuring a pair of MLB All-Stars.
One of the aftershocks was felt in Columbia, where the annual Braves Caravan was making a stop at Academy Sports in the Village at Sandhill. As fans lined up out the front door and around the corner of the building waiting for autographs, a pair of Braves — first baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Tyler Pastornicky — were assessing the big deal.
The Braves acquired outfielder Justin Upton in a swap that sent infielder Martin Prado to the Diamondbacks. Atlanta also gets third baseman Chris Johnson while sending pitcher Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers back to Arizona.
The talented Upton, 25, will join older brother B.J. Upton, the center fielder who recently signed a free agent contract with Atlanta. The younger Upton has three years on his contract and gives Atlanta three talented young players in the outfield, including the returning Jason Heyward.
“It’s a big addition to our team when you get a left-fielder who can do the things he can do,” Pastornicky said. “Our outfield is going to be pretty incredible out there. I don’t see too many balls falling.”
The right-handed-hitting Upton brothers also will provide pop and speed in the batting order, which Freeman believes will make the Braves more potent along with himself, Heyward, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla.
“We were a really dominant left-handed (hitting) team. Adding the Upton brothers is going to even us up. I think we can be very balanced one through eight,” Freeman said. “Now we’ve got a couple of right-handed power bats in the middle of the lineup. It’s going to be hard to match up with us. So a manager is going to have a tough deal to pick pitchers to pitch against us.”
But the Braves will no longer have Prado, third baseman Chipper Jones, and outfielder Michael Bourn in the lineup. Prado will play third for Arizona, Jones retired as he awaits future induction into the Hall of Fame, and Bourn remains an unsigned free agent.
Freeman and Pastornicky lamented the loss of Prado and Jones.
“We lost an amazing person and player in Martin Prado,” Freeman said.
Pastornicky, who played next to Jones on the left side of the infield last season, knows what No. 10 meant to the franchise over the years.
“He’s been our field general. He’s been the guy out there guiding us. He’s been our quarterback,” Pastornicky said.
The Braves must rebound from a disappointing play-in game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the MLB playoffs, which quickly took the edge off a 94-win season.
“It, obviously, didn’t end like we wanted last year,” said Freeman, who had 23 homers and 94 RBIs in his second full season a year ago.
But Pastornicky, who looks to take over Prado’s utility role with a healthy Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, believes this team can build on the loss.
“We can learn from it. We can take the positives from it. But you have to move on,” he said. “We had a great year last year, but it was just one of those things.”
The Braves return their top arms in starters Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen and closer Craig Kimbrel, although starter Tommy Hanson was sent to the Angels in an earlier trade. Combined with an Upton-fueled boost, Pastornicky likes the team’s chances to challenge Washington again for the National League East title.
“It’s going to be very different,” he said. “We lost a lot of veteran leadership (from) last year, but we have some guys who are just going to step right in and fill the gap.”