Did the Diamondbacks really trade away an MVP-caliber player because he wasn't gritty enough?
The Atlanta Braves pulled off a blockbuster trade yesterday, acquiring Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury. The Braves also received third baseman Chris Johnson from the D-Backs. We've had almost 24 hours to digest the trade and the most interesting thing reported about the deal is the Diamondbacks' reasoning behind their desire to trade Upton.
Ken Rosenthal lays out what he thinks the reasoning was behind Arizona's willingness to get rid of Upton:
The Diamondbacks want a certain type of player - single-minded, outwardly intense, fierce. Cody Ross is that kind of player. Martin Prado is that kind of player. Upton, according to one of his former teammates, is not - at least not in the perception of Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson.
"The problem is that he didn't play with a high level of energy," said the former teammate, who spoke on the condition that he would not be identified. "What I think they want is guys who play with the speed, energy and intensity of the Oregon football team - all out, all the time.
"Justin doesn't have that kind of attitude; he has a quiet intensity that doesn't fit the mold of what KT and Gibby seem to want. He plays hard, but has to look suave doing it. Slamming into walls isn't his thing, and they will accept nothing short of all-out sacrifice for the team."
I'll take superior talent over grit any day, especially when that talent is one of the top-10 young talents in the game. I also prefer good steady production over long trips to the disabled list because a player slammed into a wall going after a ball they were never going to get to anyway. Effort should be judged against how it helps the team.
(Note my choice of picture for this article, the D-Bags don't know what they're talking about.)
The Rosenthal article had some jaws dropping around baseball yesterday, and even more jaws dropped when D-Backs GM Kevin Towers later confirmed, in a call with reporters, that indeed they do want "gritty" players:
"That's the way Gibby played the game," general manager Kevin Towers said on a Thursday afternoon conference call.
And although Towers stopped short of saying the Diamondbacks didn't consider Justin Upton "gritty" enough, he never used that exact word as he praised Upton on the day that he finally traded him away.
"That's how we won in 2011," Towers said. "Justin was a part of that team. We kind of like that gritty, hard-nosed player. I'm not saying Justin isn't that type."
But he wasn't exactly saying Upton was that kind of player, either.
Towers suggested that although he thought Upton played hard, his style may not have always made that clear to people watching. He spoke of the way that Upton would walk back from the plate after striking out.
Say what?!? It sounds like Towers is covering for Gibson who just plain didn't like Justin Upton for some hidden reason. And hey, that happens on teams. It has happened on the Braves to some degree. Most notably with Yunel Escobar, who was essentially traded away because he didn't fit the "mold" of the type of player the Braves wanted on their team. At least the Braves got back a sizable return for Yuney, while he wore out his welcome in Toronto.
Many of the Braves players, and manager Bobby Cox, didn't like the way Yunel carried himself on the field, they didn't like his antics on the field, and they were frustrated that he didn't want to adjust his attitude for them. Escobar wasn't nearly the talent that Upton is, though I'm sure some Braves fans thought so.
When the talent of a player is special like it is for Upton, a team makes exceptions, and works harder to integrate that attitude into the overall attitude of the team. Andruw Jones is a good example of this. He was such a talented player that it didn't look like he was trying half the time. That goofy smirk he always had on his face made it seem like he didn't care about what he was doing. That wasn't the case, but there were still times when Bobby Cox had to impress upon Andruw that he needed to more outwardly show his effort.
Andruw and the Braves seemed to meet in the middle. With Andruw tightening up his effort and swagger on the field, and the Braves learning to love his playful smirk and easygoing attitude. But still that label of loafing on some plays was ever present in the minds of some fans and journalists, quick to judge a mistake as a lack of effort.
I wonder if this is the trap that Justin Upton fell into. Though it seems certain that he didn't have a manager the caliber of Bobby Cox to pull him through it. But hey, even Cox couldn't fix them all -- case in point, Escobar.
If Fredi Gonzalez is truly a protege of Bobby's, then he should be able to guide Justin Upton through the idiosyncrasies of the Braves clubhouse. Of course, he may not have to, since Justin will have his older brother there to help him out. That alliance could bring a whole new and interesting dynamic to the Braves clubhouse.