ATLANTA -- Just when it seemed the Braves were running out of potential suitors for Justin Upton, the Padres stepped back into the picture and made Upton the latest addition to their significantly upgraded roster.
Persuaded by the opportunity to strengthen their weak farm system, the Braves agreed to trade Upton and Minor League pitcher Aaron Northcraft to the Padres in exchange for former supplemental Draft pick Jace Peterson and three of San Diego's top 20 prospects -- left-handed pitcher Max Fried, infielder Dustin Peterson and outfielder Mallex Smith.
When the deal was officially announced by both clubs early Friday evening, it was revealed Atlanta will also receive San Diego's fourth international bonus pool slot.
The Braves felt they were close to a similar deal before the Padres agreed to acquire Matt Kemp from the Dodgers last week. San Diego's desire to add Upton once again came into doubt this week, when the Padres acquired Wil Myers in the 11-player deal constructed with the Nationals and Rays.
But the Padres remained in constant contact with the Braves and eventually landed Upton, who will make $14.5 million this year and then likely become one of the most attractive pieces on next year's free-agent market.
Realizing they likely would not be able to re-sign Upton, the Braves have explored multiple options over the past month. This deal provides them a potential ace in Fried, who will likely miss this season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, a future third-base option in Dustin Peterson and a pair of fleet-footed players in Jace Peterson and Smith.
In addition, the Braves have gained approximately $14 million in payroll flexibility. This trade allows them the option to expand their search for a starter to round out their rotation. But now that they have traded two of the key members of their lineup -- Upton and Jason Heyward -- there is further reason to believe any subsequent moves will be aimed to strengthening the club in preparation for the 2017 opening of SunTrust Park.
While there is still a chance the Braves might deal Evan Gattis, it appears Gattis will serve as the everyday left fielder next year. Gattis also stands as the only player on the roster who could legitimately provide Freddie Freeman protection in the middle of the lineup.
Fried serves as the centerpiece of this return for the Braves, who coveted the left-hander before the Padres selected him with the seventh overall selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. The 20-year-old left-hander ranked 68th on MLB.com's most recent Top 100 prospects list. He posted a 3.49 ERA in 23 starts for Class A Fort Wayne during the 2013 season. He battled arm discomfort most of this year and underwent Tommy John surgery in August.
Jace Peterson gives the Braves another option if they do not feel comfortable utilizing Alberto Callaspo as their primary second baseman until Jose Peraza is deemed Major League-ready. Peterson, who was taken with the 58th overall selection in the 2011 Draft, produced a .307/.442/.477 slash line and stole 16 bases in the 86 combined games at the Double-A and Triple-A levels this year. He recorded at least 39 stolen bases during each of his first three seasons of professional ball.
Dustin Peterson, who was taken in the second round of the 2013 Draft, struggled during his first full professional season, hitting just .233 with a .634 OPS in 126 games for Class A Fort Wayne. But scouts believe that his bat speed and power potential will allow him to make a quick rise toward the Major League level. He has transitioned from shortstop to third base. But there seems to be some thought that he could end up playing the outfield.
Smith, who is regarded as one of the fastest players in professional baseball, led all Minor Leaguers with 88 stolen bases this season. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .310 with a .403 on-base percentage in the 120 games he combined to play for Fort Wayne and Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore this year.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.