Upton Deal Creates Fantasy Value in Arizona

On Thursday, the Diamondbacks finally managed to find a new home for Justin Upton, shipping him along with third baseman Chris Johnson to Atlanta for Martin Prado and four prospects. That’s a loss for AL-only fantasy players who were hoping the talented young outfielder might end up in Seattle or Texas, though he remains a must-own in all formats. (Well, most formats; if your league counts “grit”, he might be merely fodder for the waiver wire.)

While most of the attention is on Upton joining brother B.J. and incumbent Jason Heyward in what’s suddenly a star-studded Braves outfield, his former mates in Arizona suddenly find themselves with a very different squad than the one that ended last year including Upton, Johnson, & Chris Young – and a lot of questions just got answered in the desert.

One clear winner here is Jason Kubel, who had been rumored to be on the move (most recently to Baltimore) ever since Cody Ross was signed. Now, he’s almost certainly going to stay put, and for a player who hit .262/.346/.563 (.381 wOBA) in Arizona as opposed to .244 ./309/.449 (.321 wOBA) on the road, that’s no small detail. No, home/road splits aren’t everything, but it’s clear that Chase Field is a great fit for him, especially as his tendency to become a flyball machine has increased yearly. He might not offer much aside from homers, but he’s better off staying in Arizona than he would be in most other places. I grabbed him as a fifth outfielder with the final pick of the 20th round in the recent RotoGraphs twelve team “slow draft”, and today’s events make me pretty happy with that choice.

This move also really helps Adam Eaton, who has moved from either the bench or the minors to more than likely starting in center field on Opening Day. Eaton’s value depends largely on how your league is set up. If you’re playing in a standard 5×5 that doesn’t count OBP or have separate slots for LF, CF, & RF, Eaton probably profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder, given that he should provide good speed – 38 swipes in the minors last year, and a projection of 33 in Dan Szymborski’s ZIPs projections. He’s unlikely, however, to provide much power – only seven homers in 562 PA in the high-flying PCL last year – and that along with the uncertainty of how he’ll respond to everyday play in the bigs holds his value down somewhat. That said, if you do have a CF-only spot or do count OBP – where he’s excelled, as shown in a .456 career mark on the farm – then Eaton’s value increases. Either way, he’s gone from a near-afterthought to a draftable player thanks to this move, and that’s huge.

The third component for Arizona here is Prado, who spent most of last year playing left field for the Braves. He did manage to get 20 starts at the hot corner while subbing for Chipper Jones, so he should be immediately eligible at third base in most or all leagues. Other than a down 2011, which was largely fueled by a surprisingly low .266 BABIP, Prado has been an incredibly consistent performer since he first saw real playing time back in 2008.

Going back to our mock draft, Prado was the 13th third baseman drafted (he’s 14th on the table in that link, but I’m not counting Mark Trumbo, who I drafted as an outfielder). In fact, just yesterday, Ben Duronio took a look at what Prado brings:

While Prado does not wow at any one specific roto category, he is rather consistent and added a whole new dimension to his game last year with his legs. The concept of consistency will be challenged by those that point out his injury-riddled 2011 campaign, but the season is a clear statistical outlier when you notice his batting averages of .320, .307, .307, and .301 in all other seasons with more than 200 plate appearances. He has also added four straight seasons of double digit home runs, despite hitting just 10 last season.

Prado does get the benefit of leaving a more-or-less neutral home park in Atlanta to hit in Arizona, so that should give him a small boost. That doesn’t mean he’s likely to suddenly become a power demon, of course, but he might be able to sniff the outer edge of the top ten at his position. Combined with the positional flexibility he’ll bring by being eligible in the outfield (as well as at second base, in some leagues), Prado is a good value in 2013.

While there’s a good argument to be made that the Diamondbacks didn’t improve their chances of winning the division next year, what they have done is increase fantasy value for three of their key players simply thanks to certainty of playing time and a friendly homer park. That probably doesn’t matter so much to them, but it’s always nice for us when value appears from nowhere.

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Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.

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The biggest thing for me with Prado is he is ss eligible in yahoo. The better home park jumps him way up the list. He could be an elite player at the position and a great value (now) . I figure he ends up on a lot of sleeper lists and becomes overrated at that point.