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Why the Nationals Are Still the Best Team in the NL Post-Justin Upton Trade

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 02:  Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondbacks bats against the Colorado Rockies during the MLB game at Chase Field on October 2, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Diamondbacks defeated the Rockies 5-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Kenny DeJohnAnalyst IIIJanuary 28, 2013

The Atlanta Braves pulled off a blockbuster deal last week by acquiring 25-year-old outfielder Justin Upton in a seven-player trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but the most potent team in the National League is still the Washington Nationals.

While the trade is one that certainly made headlines across the nation, it really isn't one that drastically improves the team.

Nor did the acquisition of B.J. Upton, to be quite honest.

The Upton brothers will be replacing Martin Prado and Michael Bourn in 2013. Each pair of players provides their respective teams with different styles of play, but many can argue that Prado and Bourn both produced at a higher rate than either of the Uptons in 2012.

Prado—who was dealt to Arizona in last week's trade—produced a line of .301/.359/.438 with 10 home runs, 70 RBI, 42 doubles, six triples, 17 steals and just 69 strikeouts in 617 at-bats.

Bourn—who is still unsigned—hit .274/.348/.391 with nine home runs, 57 RBI, 10 triples, 42 steals and 96 runs scored. He was also the best outfielder in the majors in terms of UZR last season with a mark of 22.4.

Their replacements were not as productive in 2012.

B.J. Upton, with the Tampa Bay Rays, hit .246/.298/.454 with 28 home runs, 78 RBI, 29 doubles, 31 steals and 169 strikeouts in 573 at-bats.

Justin Upton posted a line of .280/.355/.430 with 17 home runs, 67 RBI, 24 doubles, 18 steals and 121 strikeouts in 554 at-bats.

Upon a closer look at the numbers, it's obvious that the Braves increased their power potential and run production. But, at the same time, they lost two prototypical leadoff men and gained two guys with the tendency to strike out.

Prado was one of the majors' most consistent players since his breakout campaign in 2009, and now his versatility and ability to get on base will be taken advantage of by manager Kirk Gibson of the Diamondbacks.

The Upton brothers are both notorious for their lack of consistency over the course of their respective careers, and it will be interesting to see which Uptons show up in 2013 and beyond.

When you really think about it, it's hard not to ask yourself whether or not the Braves actually improved at all after the two acquisitions.

The Nationals, on the other hand, did make improvements this offseason.

Denard Span will give them the leadoff man they've so desperately craved. His presence in the outfield will also help to give Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth much less responsibilities on defense.

Dan Haren was brought aboard to better the rotation, and Rafael Soriano was signed to give the team a bonafide closer for the ninth inning.

These two moves make the Nationals' pitching ridiculously deep.

It's also worth noting that the Nationals have improved in other areas without making moves at all. They'll reap the benefits of a healthy Werth next season, and they'll likely receive even better numbers from Harper than what he put up in his rookie season.

Stephen Strasburg will finally be without limits in 2013, and it could finally be the time that we see him dominate in a full season.

The Nationals simply have the firepower—both in the lineup and in the pitching staff—to be the force of the National League.

The acquisitions of the Upton brothers made headlines for the Braves this offseason. Both players are extremely talented, but it's worth questioning whether or not they are actually improvements over the former players.

There is immense potential for the Uptons to prove me wrong next season but, for now, the National League runs through Washington.

General manager Mike Rizzo has put together a team of certainty, and I'll take consistency over question marks every day of the week.

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