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Even at $75 million, B.J. Upton a smart signing for Braves

Nov 28, 2012, 6:12 PM EDT

B.J. Upton Getty Images

Some will raise their eyebrows. After all, the Braves just gave $75.25 million to a center fielder who has hit under .250 four years running.

And it’s not a move without risk. Still, Atlanta’s signing of B.J. Upton to a five-year deal should prove fine in time. He’ll strike out a lot and frustrate fans while slumping, but he’ll hit for power, run down a bunch of balls in center and steal some bases.

Let’s face it, $15 million doesn’t buy what it used to. In this market, it’d barely buy Jeremy Guthrie and Jonny Gomes. Getting a potential star at that price seems like a much better idea than loading up with mediocrities.

Upton is just 28 and he’s had a couple of years of terrific play (.300/.386/.508 in 2007 and .272/.383/.401 in 2008), followed by four years in which he hit .240 and relied on more on his glove and legs to provide his value. Because Upton is durable and possesses those skills that aren’t so prone to variation, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be anything less than an $8 million-$10 million per year player at any point during the deal. If he breaks out in the easier league in the NL and a friendlier offensive ballpark in Turner Field, then he could be a $20 million-$25 million guy a couple of those years.

Still, the real bummer here is that the huge outlay doesn’t actually make the Braves any better right away; Michael Bourn was better last year than Upton is likely to be next year. Bourn, though, is two years older than Upton, he has all kinds of red flags as far as his offensive staying power and he’s seeking even more money than Upton was. The Braves definitely set themselves up better for the future by signing Upton than they would have by keeping Bourn. However, if they want to give their lineup a real boost, they’ll need to bring in a quality left fielder to play alongside Upton and Jason Heyward.

  1. buffalowned - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    How is he a “potential star”? That term made sense 5 years ago but he’s been in the league a while and has never lived up to his potential. He is the definition of mediocre

    • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:37 PM

      He did live up to his potential in 2007. He just hasn’t done it again since. Or maybe it was a fluke and he never really had that potential in the first place.

      As for players breaking out at 29 (Upton’s age next year), there’s Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

      • paperlions - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:20 PM

        I agree. He is a potential star…a relatively unlikely one…but the tools are in there.

        Still, when your best season comes at 23 and from 25-28 (which are usually a players peak years) you are considerably worse (offensively and defensively) than you were at 23/24…this signing seems likely to be a break even deal….unless his walk rate stays at 7% like last year, keeping his OBP around .300.

      • biasedhomer - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:22 PM

        those 2 are rare examples. And Encarnacion maybe a one year wonder.

        More likely than not, Upton will not live up to that contract.

      • dcfan4life - Nov 28, 2012 at 9:40 PM

        In baseball a lot of times players break out because they have found their stride, they switch ballparks, or in a lot of cases get a lot of protection in the lineup. Upton may not fullfill this contract because i dont see the Braves being a strong offensive team. He will do plenty, but he wont have $75 million stats.

    • dan1111 - Nov 29, 2012 at 7:49 AM

      He is certainly more than mediocre. An above-average hitter who plays good defense in center field is probably worth $15 million per year in today’s market. And next season is only his age 28 season, so he could well improve.

      That said, I am a bit worried that his low batting average and OBP leave little room for error. With a slight decline in his speed or skills, he could suddenly become a dead weight on offense.

    • skeleteeth - Nov 29, 2012 at 7:55 AM

      @buffalowned

      Couldn’t agree more. That is the first thing I think of when I think of this Upton. That and the confrontation with Longoria in the dugout when he was called out for dogging it on a fly ball.

      It’s got to be difficult to be told your whole life since adolescence that you’re extremely talented and great things are expected of you while never getting over the hump and leveling up with those lofty expectations. This is not an uncommon outcome but he doesn’t seem to handle it that well publicly. I don’t know if it’s arrogance, entitlement, or just frustration but he comes off as quite self-absorbed to me at times.

  2. proudlycanadian - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    Hi Matthew. Your dream Atlanta outfield only requires a trade with Arizona for the other brother. Do you think it will happen?

    • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:38 PM

      Nah, that was just me thinking out loud. It’s certainly worth exploring it, but I don’t think Justin is getting traded.

  3. shu51302 - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    $75 million…no one has ever paid that much for a BJ!

    • tfbuckfutter - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:27 PM

      Denny Neagle comes to mind.

      Interesting fact: If you google Denny Neagle the picture associated with his profile is actually of that prostitute.

    • missthemexpos - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:18 PM

      Interesting fact, today is the 7th anniversary of another very expensive BJ. Yes it was November 28th 2005 that BJ Ryan was given a 47 miillion contract to pitch for the Blue Jays. Lets hope that Atlanta’s BJ has a happier ending.

    • xmatt0926x - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:33 PM

      It’s all relative shu51302. If you’re a broke 20 year old and you pay $100 for dinner, it may not be $75 million, but it’s close…

  4. tfbuckfutter - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    “Getting a potential star at that price seems like a much better idea than loading up with mediocrities.”

    The Red Sox front office would take issue with that but they are busy trying to schedule a workout for Ronny Cedeno.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:39 PM

      They should try Roger Cedeno, if only to make Gomes look like a better outfielder in comparison.

      • tfbuckfutter - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:53 PM

        Too old. They prefer in-their-prime lame.

  5. tampajoey - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    This is a great signing for Atlanta. BJ does strike out a lot but he also has a ton of clutch hits. Braves fans watch and see. BJ doesn’t hit meaningless garbage time HRs… most of his HRs are clutch in close games. He’ll be hard to replace in Tampa. Best of Luck to him in Atlanta.

    • paperlions - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:30 PM

      True fact for ya:

      BJ has hit one HR per 32 PAs in low leverage situations, one HR per 40 PAs in medium leverage situations, and one HR per 28 PAs in high leverage situations.

      Given the sample sizes, especially the much smaller number of high leverage PAs (396) compared to medium (1679) or high (1988) leverage situations, this falls within the range of natural variation. In other words, there is no evidence that BJ hit HRs with significantly more frequency in clutch situations than in other situations….you know, just like every other player.

  6. tuloisgod - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:57 PM

    Dang — that makes Dexter Fowler an ever greater bargain in Colorado. He’s younger, he just had a breakout season on an awful team, hits with a little power as well as average, he plays spectacular defense … If he can ever learn to bunt for hits, take walks and cut down on his swing with two strikes, he’s a $25 million-a-year player by this new metric!

    • respectfortampabay - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:19 PM

      You are so right about your last comments. Add to that, if he can ever ALWAYS look like he really wants to hustle all the time, then those rare occasions when the ball is hit over his head while playing shallow and him seemingly lazily trotting after it wouldn’t make fans want to throw something through their TVs. You can also add to it that if he really seemed passionate, like he really always wanted to win, instead of being nearly comatose while commenting after a bad loss in which one of those deep fly balls went over his head while trotting… and finally, if the tears he shed in the dugout after his last game in a Rays uniform were truly heartfelt, he COULD have found a way to stay and take less money – he turned down one year at $13 mil and if he did as well as previous years, they’d likely have signed him again. Poor BJ must not have made enough money yet, so apparently the tears were not about team and teammates, but dollars… we appreciate what he did for us, gnashed our teeth about what he didn’t (or wouldn’t) try to do, and wish him well while he enjoys his new-found riches (not the teammate version)

  7. APBA Guy - Nov 28, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    Wow, you have to wonder about this dollar amount. From everything I’ve read, Atlanta’s revenue from TV will not be going up in the near future, so they’ll be locked into their Liberty Media salary ceiling for some time. This expenditure is in the neighborhood of 1/6 to 1/7 that amount, which really impacts their flexibility. This guy in no way replaces Bourn’s or Chipper’s offense.

    He’s a career .758 OPS guy with a negative dWAR over the past 3 years.

    This does not sound promising for Atlanta.

  8. Carl Hancock - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:00 PM

    BJ’s numbers are deceiving. Don’t be fooled by his average. He’s still got the tools to be an impact player. I think the Braves will get some good production out of him.

  9. xmatt0926x - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:43 PM

    Sometimes you just keep hearing stuff from so-called experts and you defer to their opinions when there just seems to be no evidence for it. I’m sorry. I just don’t get it. He had a pretty good year about 5 years ago and has regressed in several categories since. How many years do you wait for “potential” to kick in? People talk about combining a better average or OBP with the increased power yet it’s obvious he sacrificed any plate discipline he had to increase those power numbers. Why is it assumed he can put it all together at this point? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he won’t improve. I guess it’s just the “very likely” tone that all the experts are taking with this, to the point of almost seeming like this is a coup for the Braves at $15 million or so a year for a very budget conscious team. I think sometimes a story gets developed in a few corners and then the rest of the “experts” just jump on it and follow along without actually doing any homework themselves. These experts convinced themselves that Upton was a star in the making 6 years ago and just haven’t been able to let go.

  10. simon94022 - Nov 28, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    Upton is not going to an “easier league.”. Whatever talent advantage the AL may have is due to the ability of AL teams to give monster contracts to slugging first base type players. When those players completely lose their athletic skills they can be slotted in at DH.

    But Upton will now be facing NL pitching, which is superior across the board to AL pitching.

    He is going to be a $75 million flop.

    • Kevin S. - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:23 AM

      Superior across the board, huh? That’s funny, because last year AL hitters went .255/.320/.411 on the whole and .258/.325/.411 against NL pitching. That looks like a slight uptick against the “superior” pitching (and that’s with pitchers hitting instead of DH’s half the time). NL hitters, on the other hand, were .254/.318/.400 overall, yet hit a little worse against AL pitching, .251/.314/.393. I’m confused. I would have thought that the superior pitching would have had better results against each group than its inferior brethren.

  11. giantboy99 - Nov 28, 2012 at 10:00 PM

    OVERPAID

  12. tashkalucy - Nov 28, 2012 at 11:17 PM

    I love the Rays. Love what their organization does. Respect the president, GM, adviser and field manager. Enjoy watching their games.

    So the Braves are paying Upton in the neighborhood of what the Rays are paying Longoria.

    Interesting.

    From my watching last year, Upton had some very, very good games maybe 2 times every 3 or 4 weeks.

    The Braves gave this guy $75 M for 5 years?

    I respect the Rays organization even more. They will either call up a player from the minors or sign a bargain free agent that will outperform Upton for 10-20% of the salary.

    • mcjon22 - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:37 PM

      Umm, Longoria got a $100 mil deal. That’s a 25 mil difference.

  13. iamjimmyjack - Nov 29, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    He’s good fit for the Braves…he works with their payroll, he provides great d and power. He is streaky though and they already have enough streaky hitters (Heyward, Uggla). Bottom line is they needed a productive CF and they got one.

  14. jase44 - Nov 29, 2012 at 6:50 AM

    The jays also only spent 2.5 for those 29 yr old risks. This is a bit different

  15. mediocrebob - Nov 29, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    Can’t be a bigger bust than Uggla. I’d rather have Infante still personally. Sick of Uggla’s underperformance (which is an understatement). Hope he changes my mind next season.

    And Upton is the best option not MB. I’ll miss having a true leadoff.

  16. siftin thru nonsense - Nov 29, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Glad the Phillies didnt sign him. Horrible OBP. K’s too much and hits for low avg. One of the worst OBP’s in league. Not a good team guy either. Didnt want him. Good job Amaro.

  17. bravojawja - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Who else were the Braves supposed to get? It seems $15M/yr is the going rate for a pretty good CF in his prime (with the possibility for some upside). Sure, it’s a healthy chunk of the team payroll, but they have more good, cheap players than most contending teams, so they can better afford to commit that money to one guy. The bigger concern is how to pay McCann after this year and the even younger core of Heyward/Freeman/Simmons/Minor/Beachy/Medlen/Kimbrel in their later arbitration years.

  18. leeeroooyjeeenkiiins - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    He’ll annoy the heck out of you when he’s slumping, but when he’s hit he’ll carry your entire team. We wouldn’t have even come close to the near playoff run we had this season without Upton carrying the offense. He’s also phenomenal defensively and will chase down balls that only 2 or 3 other CFs can hope to get to.

    You may hear some nonsense from the media about him being lazy, but it isn’t accurate. He does have some mental lapses here and there, unfortunately, but the facts are that he puts a ton of work into training before and during the season. The majority of Rays fans learned to appreciate him over time, hopefully Braves fans will do the same. He’s certainly not without flaws, but overall he’s a very solid player who can occasionally be great, and I hope he does well in ATL.

  19. The Baseball Gods - Nov 29, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    Just heard a report that the Phillies offer was 5 years $55 million. So it looks like the Braves way overpaid for him. Good work Reuben. Now go and get Hamilton!

  20. mcjon22 - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:34 PM

    So, as a Braves fan I can expect Andruw Jones type of offensive production. Lot’s of homers, lot’s of strike outs, a batting average around .260.

  21. inglebk - Nov 30, 2012 at 10:52 PM

    I think a change of scenery will do him good. And the Rays have the lowest fan base in the Major Leagues so having double the fans could encourage him. Plus double his salary. Upton could break out, who knows.

  22. naturalwonders - Jul 16, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    Well, it’s July 16, and all I can say to this is: Ha!

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