The fact checker has become an invaluable player in sifting through all the mud slinging of this election season. With the baseball free agent market about to heat up, everyone and their mothers will have an opinion about who the Phillies should sign. Centerfield will get the majority of the attention, with players like Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton as the featured names on the market. The numbers tell a great deal about both players, but how can we accurately judge and barrette Ruben Amaro Jr. should he sign either one?
To check the facts on B.J. Upton I sought out Dave Scheiber, who has covered the Rays for the St. Pete Times and Foxsportsflorida.com for the past four years. His insights on Upton as a player and person are well chronicled, which makes him a unique authority in the vast field of opinionated pundits. The following is our conversation about B.J. Upton, and his potential fit with the Phillies.
1) First things first, is there any chance the Rays re-sign Upton before he hits the market?
I don’t see any chance. There’s no room for him on the Rays’ tight payroll, if they push the limits of it as they did this past year to acquire Luke Scott and Carlos Pena for a combined $12-million, among others. There was a real sense of finality in B.J.’s last game. He got teary-eyed talking about his Tampa Bay career that night. He was the player many Rays fans loved to hate throughout his Rays’ years. But when Joe Maddon pulled him in the eighth inning of the last game after singling, the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he headed to the dugout – knowing that this was most likely the last they’d see Upton in a Rays uniform. It was a poignant scene to see him finally get that moment of full acceptance in what was essentially his curtain call in Tampa Bay.
2) Upton’s greatest asset is his speed. How do you see his game translating to the National League?
Certainly he’s got excellent speed, but I think what makes him valuable is his combination of speed, power and superb defense – he’s saved countless hits and runs for Rays pitchers with his range and strong arm in center. And this season was his best power performance ever, with 19 of his 28 homers coming after Aug. 1 and a three-homer game along the way. He actually finished with his lowest stolen base total since 2008 this year with 31, but he was only caught six times. He’s still one of only eight players in major league history to have at least 100 stolen bases and 200 or more homers before his 28th birthday. And I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t make an easy transition to the National League, and be able to contribute in multiple ways.
3) As a hitter, Upton has leveled off as a .240/.310/.430 (averages) hitter the past four years. Will he ever return to his 2007 form when he hit .300/.386/.508, or is that a thing of the past?
I think he’s certainly capable of being a .270 type hitter, but he seems to lack the plate discipline to flirt with .300 again. The thing about B.J. is his habit of going on hot streaks, when he can literally carry a team with his bat. That happened in the 2008 playoffs with seven homers prior to the World Series (and it was Upton who got a key hit in against the Phillies and scored the tying run in the infamous 2-2 rain delay game). He seems to really rise to the occasion in the stretch run – during the Rays’ 12-for-14 finish in September, Maddon made a special point of noting how Upton embraces that time of year and the pressure that goes with it.
4) Strikeouts have always been a big issue with Upton. Is there any fix to be made with his swing, or should we just learn to accept them now?
That’s been confounding Rays’ fans for years. For a guy who is capable of such good hitting at times, it’s perplexing why he strikes out as much as he does. The last three years have been a real eye-sore, even by his strikeout standards – 164 in 2010, 161 in 2011 and a career-high 169 in 2012. Hey, at least he’s consistent. It looks like one of those things the Phillies and their fans would just have to live with. Fortunately, he does enough damage with his bat in other ways that he’s still an asset in the lineup.
5) How do you think Upton would fit in with this older, veteran group in Philadelphia?
I have no doubt that he’d fit in very well. Even though he’s only 28, B.J. had already become the Rays player with the most seniority in the past few seasons. He’s been part of the big-league roster a long time now, and was well-liked by his teammates. So I’m sure he’d be able to blend in easily. He’s not a vocal type player who’ll be a big clubhouse presence. In fact, he’s actually a pretty quiet guy. But I always found B.J. to be a good, thoughtful interview subject. And prior to the final game, Maddon made a pertinent comment about B.J.’s development, talking about how proud he is of how much he’s matured during his time with the Rays. I also think B.J. would enjoy playing in a big city like Philly. The spotlight would appeal to him.
6) The million dollar question, how much will Ruben Amaro Jr. have to ponyup to lure Upton to Philadelphia?
Well, make that at least a $60-million question. The figure that’s been speculated on as B.J.’s asking price is $60-million over five years, but if enough teams are interested, that number could go higher.
There is no doubt that the Phillies need to address center field, and B.J. Upton would bring a lot of talent to that position. His game isn’t flawless, but Upton would be a significant upgrade to the Phillies current options. His high strike out rate will draw comparisons to Pat Burrell, but Pat-the-bat couldn’t cover the ground that B.J. can. A 12 million dollar annual salary would be great value for someone of Upton’s talents. However, as Scheiber points out a bidding war could send his asking price beyond what the Phillies will spend.