The talented but underachieving outfielder is dealt for several prospects.
D-Backs agree to unload Justin Upton to the Braves
Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports10:33a.m. EST January 24, 2013
PHOENIX -- The Arizona Diamondbacks talked about a divorce three years ago with All-Star outfielder Justin Upton, and finally, after numerous ups and downs, name-calling and finger-pointing, they called it quits.
The Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves have agreed on the parameters of a deal according to a Diamondbacks official who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the trade.
And just like that, nearly seven years to the day Upton signed with the Diamondbacks as the No. 1 pick in the country, becoming a two-time All-Star and the face of the franchise, he is gone.
The only question was who was more ecstatic by the news, the Diamondbacks or the Upton family? Justin joins his older brother, B.J., for the first time in their professional careers. B.J. signed a five-year, $75 million free-agent contract in November, meaning the Braves will be paying $113.5 million to the Upton brothers. Justin is owed $9.75 million this year, $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015.
The D-Backs also sent third baseman Chris Johnson to the Braves for pitcher Randall Delgado, infielder/outfielder Martin Prado, minor league shortstop Nick Ahmed, pitcher Zeke Spruill and third baseman Brandon Drury, according to multiple sources.
It's a stunning and dramatic reversal from just three years ago when the Diamondbacks signed Upton to a six-year, $51 million contract, organizing a marketing campaign around him and even having a section in right field called "Uptown'' in his honor.
Now, after engaging in trade talks all winter with nearly a dozen teams, the Diamondbacks made a deal that Upton couldn't veto, one day before general manager Kevin Towers is scheduled to leave to South Africa on vacation.
Upton, 25, secretly wanted out of Arizona as much as the Diamondbacks wanted to trade him.
He was livid by the constant trade rumors, and the D-backs' refusal to stop shopping him. He never officially demanded a trade, but informed the Diamondbacks that he would welcome one, realizing it might be in everyone's best interest. Still, he nixed a deal with the Seattle Mariners two weeks ago because the team was on his no-trade list.
The Diamondbacks became privately disenchanted with Upton last season. They questioned whether he would ever live up to his hype, believing he would be a solid major-league player but not a superstar. They were troubled by his wild inconsistencies and strikeout rate, believing he grossly underachieved when he batted .280 with 17 homers and 67 RBI in 2012. Only a year earlier he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting, hitting .289 with 31 homers and 88 RBI, leading the Diamondbacks to the NL West title.
"He's certainly not the Justin Upton that he has been in the past and that we would expect of him,'' Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick said in June. "He's 24 years old, and it's time for him to be a consistent performer. Right now this year he's not been that."
There were also whispers questioning Upton's work habits, which infuriated his agent, Larry Reynolds, who angrily released a statement in July to USA TODAY Sports.
"I know trade rumors and trades are part of the business,'' Reynolds told USA TODAY Sports. "What I don't like are the comments and innuendos made about Justin's work ethic and character, especially from those gutless people that don't want to put their name by a quote or article.
"This young man is one of the hardest workers I've been around and more importantly, he's a good person. If they want to trade him, that's their business, just knock off the unfounded, negative rhetoric."
The relationship between the Diamondbacks and Upton grew ugly of late after the season. Upton informed the team that he would be uncomfortable performing community work as long as the Diamondbacks were trying to trade him. He also requested that the "Uptown'' sign come down. The D-backs, miffed, granted his request with the signage, but maintained that the trade talks simply are part of the business.
The Diamondbacks were angrier that Upton rejected the trade to the Mariners. Arizona would have received one of three prized pitching prospects -- Taijuan Walker, James Paxton or Danny Hultzen -- relievers Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor, and shortstop Nick Franklin. The Diamondbacks asked Upton to reconsider, and he refused.
Upton reiterated this week that the Diamondbacks were wasting their time talking to the four teams on his recently submitted no-trade list. He was not willing to play for Seattle, the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs. The Diamondbacks believed the list was a negotiating ploy, but Upton told them it wasn't about the money. He did not want to play for those franchises.
The Diamondbacks engaged in the lengthiest trade talks with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers badly wanted Upton, but refused to part with All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus or prized prospect Jurickson Profar.
The Diamondbacks and Braves also discussed Upton in December, but the talks went nowhere when the Braves would not trade shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Yet, with nowhere to turn, and the Diamondbacks having already acquired young shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Cincinnati Reds in a three-way deal in December, they were willing to accept the Braves' package of prospects.
The Diamondbacks, who created the surplus of outfielders when they signed free-agent Cody Ross to a three-year, $26 million contract, had also informed teams that Jason Kubel was available, but Upton was their main target to move. They still have outfielders Gerardo Parra, Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock on the roster.
For Upton, it's a dream come true to play with his brother, who had spent his entire career with the Tampa Bay Rays. B.J. will be in center, Justin in left and Jason Heyward in right.
"It's a blessing to have them both in the big leagues,'' Manny Upton, their father, told USA TODAY last summer, "but it's been tough on the budget.''
Now, the Upton family can be together again, once and for all, without even the sniff of a trade rumor