4/10/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Upton trade looking like Sheffield-to-Marlins
Striking similarities between centerpiece of '93 swap and Braves' new slugger
By Matt Yallof / MLB.com
June 24, 1993, will be remembered in the baseball world for a five-player trade that changed the fortunes of two franchises, the Marlins and the Padres. Trevor Hoffman was moved to San Diego and became one of the great closers of all time. Gary Sheffield joined the Marlins and helped lead the Fish to a World Series championship four years later. Both may be destined for Cooperstown.
Nearly 20 years later, with the help of MLB Network's research department, I've pinpointed the Sheffield deal as a comparison for the Justin Upton trade from the D-backs to the Braves that took place this past offseason. There were a few similarities at the time of the respective trades.
1. Both centerpieces were former first-round Draft picks and were entering their primes. It was the second time Sheffield was traded. He was 24 years old. Upton is 25.
2. Both had high ceilings that had not yet been reached.
3. After the trades, both appeared to play with chips on their shoulders and something to prove to the baseball world.
I'll admit that third point is a bit subjective. But that's the observation of numerous former ballplayers who have watched Upton begin his Braves career on a historic home-run pace.
Upton is a proud and elite athlete. And thanks to his opening-week performance, he's only the fifth player since 1977 to hit six home runs in his team's first seven games. Three of the other four -- Larry Walker, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez -- captured MVP awards the same year.
Think about that.
After only one week in a new uniform, Upton is being mentioned with three of the best hitters in the past half-century.
Perhaps, but not likely.
In his usual understated manner, Upton said his home-run barrage is a product of "getting good pitches to hit and putting myself in a good position to hit." You could argue that the D-backs put him in the best position of all -- on an airplane with a one-way ticket to Atlanta.
Upton finally looks comfortable, confident and relaxed after squirming like a worm on a sidewalk for an entire season. A player can have all the talent in the world, but if he's constantly looking over his shoulder and reading his name in trade rumors, it's unlikely that talent will shine through on a regular basis.
This week, on MLB Network, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers reiterated that Upton, along with Chris Johnson, were traded -- for All-Star Martin Prado and four young players -- in part to produce a more consistent ballclub. In the coming seasons, we'll be able to determine if Upton's inconsistency in Arizona was a product of a volatile situation or a player who could not hack the grind of a long season.
Towers also noted that Upton's hands appear to be in a better hitting position than they were last year. You don't think that the D-backs coaching staff noticed the hands in 2012? Come on. Of course they did.
So before we judge this deal on one crazy week, consider that it's possible the D-backs believed Upton would not realize his potential in Arizona. A former GM said the most important thing in building a winner is to "know thyself." Towers is great at that and he's been steadfast since pulling off the deal. He insists it is the best kind of trade, the type that will ultimately benefit both clubs.
Sounds a lot like the Sheffield-Hoffman trade.
Like that trade, it may take a few years before we know if it changes the fortunes of two franchises. But it could be decades before we know if Justin Upton has Hall of Fame credentials.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.