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The legacy of Prado in Arizona

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Fairly or not, Martin Prado will always be joined at the hip with Justin Upton in Arizona. His trade to the Yankees adds another wrinkle to that story.

Norm Hall

In case you have very selective vision or consumption of media, Martin Prado was traded from the Diamondbacks at the deadline to the New York Yankees for Catching prospect Peter O'Brien and either a PTBNL or Cash Considerations. From the outset, it doesn't look like the worst deal the Kevin Towers regime has made. From all accounts, Prado seemed to be on the downswing of his career, production wise, and flipping him for an intriguing prospect and having the Yankees eat the rest of his contract isn't the worst thing, and the Diamondbacks could very well come out ahead when all is said and done.

However, things are never so cut and dry.

See, you probably remember how Prado arrived in Phoenix very well. On January 24th, 2013, the Diamondbacks made, without a doubt, the most franchise-defining trade of the last five years in sending former number one pick Justin Upton, as well as third baseman Chris Johnson to the Atlanta Braves for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury.

But you probably already know all that and are thinking I'm recounting all of the facts to pad this article. You would not be wrong, but it is true that with the departure of Prado that the trade which brought him here has to rear its head out from the undergrowth again.

How you initially felt about the trade probably largely depended on how you fell on "The Great Upton Hot Take Divide". If you bought the Arizona Republic Commenter/Todd Walsh narrative of him being a lazy bum that liked to smash bats after strikeouts into inner-city orphans, you probably had a positive opinion of it. If you bought the more new-school, yoga practitioner, person who understood math beyond 8th grade sort of approach, you saw that Upton had shown flashes of being a superstar a few of his years in Arizona, you generally hated it.

(Does my phrasing of the stereotypes show which side of the coin I land on? Yes. Do I care if you complain about it in the comments? Not in the least.)

So it was a highly charged and controversial time in D'Backs Fan Land, it also came on the heels of the Trevor Bauer trade, which divided people into camps as well, and almost invariably people in the pro-Bauer camp were in the pro-Upton camp. Martin Prado was considered the centerpiece of that trade for the Diamondbacks, and rightfully so. Of the return from Atlanta, Prado was the only real established Major Leaguer (Delgado had seen some action on a sporadic basis, but none of the other players had reached the big leagues yet.), and he had a proven reputation backed up statistically of being a solid contributor at the plate. He also had positional versatility, stemming from years of having to move around to accommodate the Chipper Jones and Dan Ugglas of the world. In a vacuum, what was not to like?

Unless you're in space or in a hoover, nothing happens in a vacuum. The Diamondbacks pulled the trigger on that trade, and Prado and Upton were forever linked in performance before either of them took an at-bat for their current teams. You knew that people would put their statistics side by side in an effort to declare who "won" the trade prematurely. That would be silly, of course, as Prado and Upton are two different types of players, Prado being more of a high average line drive hitter, and Upton being more of a high slugging power hitter, but people do not care for such distinctions. The Diamondbacks, for their part, were probably banking on Prado replicating his 2012 season (Where he put up 5.5 fWAR, the most of his career), and Upton replicating his (2.1).

But, as I said above and will lazily use again as a transition point in this article, things are not so cut and dry.

Upton began his tenure with the Braves on a tear, hitting 12 Home Runs in April of 2013. Prado began his tenure with the Diamondbacks on the opposite of a tear (A sewn together patch?) hitting a slash line of .217/.266/.348 in April. Things evened out a bit more (Prado finished off the year strong, while Upton sort of puttered out.) but it was too late for Prado in the eyes of the all-mighty hashtag narrative.

Everywhere you looked, left and right, there were new-school Baseball thinkers making the same "Grit" jokes over and over again, and acting condescendingly towards the Diamondbacks whenever Upton hit a Home Run. For the most part, rightfully so, since as this year has proven the Kevin Towers experience has been a bunch of hot garbage, but the collective smug ramblings did get grating after awhile, personally. Your mileage may have varied.

If you look at Prado's raw numbers with the Diamondbacks, nothing stood out as particularly terrible, he would occasionally hit for a decent average and get on-base at an also decent clip, but nothing screamed "worth a trade for this guy who's hitting dingers all over the dirty south." He was also well below his career norms with Atlanta. Prado himself said that he was putting too much pressure on himself to be "the guy" after the trade, but a lot of his rates in 2013 remained the same. He was hitting about 21% line drives, above his career average, as well as ground balls remaining stable and a higher HR/FB %.

A lot of those rates remained around the same area going into 2014, though his GB% shot up to 51.7%, but the raw AVG/OBP/SLG numbers never quite caught up. Some of it was due to some bad luck BABIP-wise, but anybody who watched the Diamondbacks could tell you that he just didn't seem to be driving the ball, and would often get weak contact that would invariably lead to Double Plays a decent portion of the time. It may well have been that the aging curve hit Martin Prado hard, and the Diamondbacks were stuck with the check.

Of course, there was Upton, just hitting dingerz and putting up solid, though not spectacular, numbers. While a comparison with Prado directly may not be fair, I dare anybody to tell me with a straight face that they would rather have the flaming stack of tires that has been Mark Trumbo's 2014 production over what Upton gave us before and has given the Braves.

That transitions nicely to the Front Office. When Prado was acquired, there was a lot of ink spilled with quotes from Towers and Kirk Gibson as to how they wanted to be a team that was clutch, that wasn't as reliant on the Home Run, that would play hard etc. etc. Prado certainly fit the archetype of that sort of player. When the team went 81-81 for the second straight year, the front office decided to change course suddenly and had the thought that maybe reliance on the Home Run wasn't the worst thing in the world, hence Mark Trumbo.

With the team being terrible, and Prado costing them a lot of money over the next few years, and players like Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury in waiting, it made sense for him to be traded. It was also a tacit admission that the whole thing might have been screwed up from the get-go.

So what is Prado's legacy in Arizona? (He asks 1,200 words in.) Unfortunately for him, it will always be "The guy who was traded for Justin Upton." It will come through no personal fault of his own. He was a byproduct of the Diamondbacks front office acting like Rattle and Hum era U2 (Where despite the obvious shortcomings, they thought that everything they did was brilliant.)

This isn't particularly fair to Prado, but that is the nature of things. He was not a Diamondback for a particularly long time, but his impact on the franchise is going to be felt for years to come, and that makes him an important part of Diamondbacks history. Unfortunately, it will fall into the "Richie Sexson/Russ Ortiz" levels of importance. Every other player received from Atlanta in the trade except for Drury has seen Major League action in varying capacities, and the results so far for them are a collective "Meh?"

I wouldn't cry for Martin, though. He gets to play for a contender the rest of the season and beyond, and he's made quite a bit of well-earned cash over his career. To Diamondbacks fans, however, he will represent a lot of missed opportunities and a lot of "What if?" And he will always have the specter of a certain former #1 pick by the Diamondbacks currently roaming the outfield at Turner Field for the next two seasons hovering over him when his time in Arizona is discussed.

It will probably take awhile to digest what it all means for the franchise in the big picture, and it certainly won't be answered simply. For now, let's look back at one of the good times in the short career of Martin Prado, Arizona Diamondback.