Sep 15, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton (2) reacts after the final out during their loss to the Washington Nationals at Turner Field. The Nationals won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The 2014 Cincinnati Reds were plagued by a lack of offensive production that cannibalized a competitive first half and a surprisingly strong showing by the starting pitching staff. As the off-season wears on, the Reds need to find a way to beef up their offense, and left field is a prime candidate for improvement. The Reds, saddled as they are with a ton of heavy contracts, are going to have to turn over a few rocks as they look for options to bolster their run production, and one unlikely but still possible candidate is Atlanta Braves outfielder B.J. Upton.
Why He May Be Available
There is no “may” about this one, as B.J. Upton is definitely available if the Braves can find a way to ship him out of town, and the reason is because he has been simply terrible in his two years with the team. How does a .198 batting average in 267 games, to go along with 21 home runs, 61 runs batted in, and 32 steals strike you? If you gagged a little, then you can begin to imagine how the Braves must feel after paying Upton $25.9 million for such “production.”
With three years and more than $45 million left on his current deal, Upton will be hard to move, but it’s an almost sure bet that Atlanta would be willing to eat a good chunk of those dollars just to move on.
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Why He Fits for the Reds
OK, so if Upton is so terrible, why would the Reds want him at all? Well, it’s all about potential and a glance back to the not-so-distant past.
From 2007-2012, Upton was a key piece of the Tampa Bay Rays teams that surprise the mighty AL East by contending for a playoff spot year after year, regularly topping out well above league average at the plate and playing a solid center field. At age 30, Upton has been in the Major Leagues now for a decade, but he is not old. A slide over to a corner outfield spot, especially to left, would make his speed and power potential all the more valuable. Again, potentially.
There has been a lot of talk about the Braves potentially swapping Upton’s contract for another team’s bad contract (think Chicago Cubs and Edwin Jackson), but they would likely also consider chipping in a chunk of cash to land a middling starting pitcher and to be rid of Upton. If the Reds could swap, say, Alfredo Simon to Atlanta for Upton and enough offset money to bring his contract into the sub-$10 million range, they might take a chance.
Why He Might NOT Fit for the Reds
The Reds are already full of question marks all over the diamond, from Joey Votto at first base to Jay Bruce in right field to Brandon Phillips at second base. Adding another huge uncertainty to the mix is probably not the best move that general manager Walt Jocketty could make, especially with some of the good vibes from recent playoff runs rotting on the vine after the mess of 2014. If Upton were to land with the Reds, it would certainly mean a change in position, as youngster Billy Hamilton is already ensconced in center, and Upton could actually end up as a super utility guy like Tony Phillips or Ben Zobrist. Could Upton, former star center fielder, handle what may be viewed as a demotion?
I actually like the idea of giving Upton a flyer with the Reds, but only if they can acquire him at a significant discount. His versatility — he’s played second and third in addition to the outfield — coupled with his speed and power potential could be a huge boon for manager Bryan Price’s lineup.
If Jocketty has the nerve to pick at this scab, he could end up healing some old Reds wounds. Ultimately, it would be tough for the Braves and Reds agree on terms to bring Upton to the Riverfront, but it makes more sense than it might at first appear.