Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: From coast to coast

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: From coast to coast

by Matt Smith

The recent trade of Justin Upton from Arizona to Atlanta will impact the pennant races in the East and West divisions in the National League.

For Atlanta, the trade completes a wonderfully exciting outfield in which Justin Upton will join brother B.J. and Jason Heyward to form a dynamic trio that should delight the fans at Turner Field.

Centrefielder Michael Bourn led the Braves in 2012 with a brilliant season in his final year before free agency and his departure – destination still unknown – had the potential to leave a notable hole that Atlanta could ill afford considering the strength of division rivals, the Washington Nationals.

Losing Bourn could still have a negative effect on the team’s performance. He had a markedly better campaign than either of the Upton brothers in 2012, although Justin Upton was hampered by a thumb injury, while the retirement of Chipper Jones and the loss of Martin Prado – sent to Arizona as part of the Upton trade – could leave them light on leadership.

However the great potential of the Upton brothers is undoubted and the Braves will hope that pairing them together will bring out the very best in both. If so, there will be a fascinating sub-plot to the NL East division battle with the best of the Braves being compared to the nifty Nationals.

Washington will have new recruit Denard Span manning centrefield, with Bryce Harper following up on his excellent rookie season and Jayson Werth hoping to rebound from an injury riddled 2012.

Werth was signed to a seven-year contract in the 2010/11 offseason and whilst the deal always looked like an overpay, it was expected that the real cost would come near the end of the contract. Instead, Werth’s first two seasons in Washington have been a major disappointment. The 2013 season is the ideal time for him to provide the Nationals with the sort of performance that won him the multi-year deal.

Elsewhere in the NL East, the New York Mets are interested in signing Bourn but the prospect of losing their first-round draft pick currently appears to be a price too high when combined with the size of the contract Bourn is looking for and the fact that the Mets are very unlikely to be contenders in 2013 even with a new centrefielder.

As for the Phillies, their outfield looks distinctly underwhelming and General Manager Ruben Amaro – a man clearly not held in the highest of esteem by many on the web – has been ridiculed in some quarters for signing free agent Delmon Young to be the team’s right-fielder. The thought of the blundering Young regularly trotting out to right field will make you laugh or cry depending on whether you are a Phillies fan or not, although the meagre $750k investment in the former Detroit Tiger suggests that Amaro isn’t committed to Young being the answer all season either.

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ General Manager Kevin Towers will be all-too familiar with the dismissive comments flying Amaro’s way.

His decision to trade away a young star in Justin Upton has left many people scratching their heads. When combined with the decision to trade away pitcher Trevor Bauer, the explanation that Towers and manager Kirk Gibson are conducting a purge of players that don’t fit their favoured ‘gritty’ mould is too convenient to ignore, despite that protestations that this has been exaggerated (which may well be true to an extent).

Players that will scrap for every out are an important part of a winning clubhouse, but the best teams are those that can win games in different ways and that means possessing a roster containing players of different talents. Anyone can get their uniform dirty diving for lost causes and charging into the outfield fence. Few players, even among Major Leaguers, have the raw talent to make the game look effortlessly easy and to produce moments of magic.

What makes the Upton trade so baffling is that his ex-teammates are quick to point out that, whilst he may not outwardly show his passion, he is as hard-working and dedicated a professional as you could wish to meet.  For a team that wants to both win now and over the next few seasons, you’d be hard pushed to find a better player to have in your outfield.

It seems a strange move, but in fairness to Towers his busy offseason has still left the D-Backs with a competitive roster that has good pitching depth and some more-than-useful batting options. They don’t hold the honour of being the reigning World Series champions like the San Francisco Giants, nor do they have the media exposure of the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers, but Arizona should not be overlooked as a genuine play-off contender this coming season.

Rounding the bases

Francisco Liriano went into the festive season with a two-year, $12.75m contract agreed with the Pittsburgh Pirates only to take a tumble and break his right arm. Thankfully for him, the Pirates did not walk away and instead agreed a restructured contract that takes into account him potentially missing part of the 2013 season. When healthy, Liriano figures to be in the rotation alongside A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Jeff Karstens, with star pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon waiting in the wings.

Staying in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers will have to make do without Corey Hart until the end of May at the earliest after he underwent knee surgery this past week.  Mat Gamel will get another chance to grab hold of the first-base job after his presumed succession to Prince Fielder fell apart last year due to his own knee injury.

Former Brewer Shaun Marcum has agreed a one-year contract with the New York Mets. Milwaukee acquired Marcum in a trade over the 2010/11 offseason along with Zack Greinke in an effort to finally provide some pitching to go alongside their talented batting lineup. The deals took them to the 2011 NLCS, however they are now back in the same situation they found themselves in at the end of the 2010 season, with a rotation of Yovani Gallardo followed by question marks.

The headline gave a stark message: “Alex Rodriguez could miss the entire 2013 season”.  As soon as you got into the story, though, it was clear there was a very strong emphasis on the word “could”. Yankees GM Brian Cashman has noted that it’s a possibility they could be without their third baseman all season, but the expectation is still that Rodriguez will return sometime in July.  The real question for the Yankees is what level of performance they can expect from him once he does return? The one thing we do know is that it will not be worth anywhere remotely close to the $28m (£17.7m, or just under £341k per week) they will be paying him.

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