Sep 19, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton (8) hits a single against the New York Mets in the fourth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Even though Jason Heyward is off the board, the Atlanta Braves are reportedly not done wheeling and dealing this winter, and they have a couple of guys who might be particularly good fits for the Cincinnati Reds. We’ll take a look at catcher/leftfielder Evan Gattis in another piece, but our focus today is on Braves rightfielder Justin Upton.
Why He May Be Available
Like the Reds, the Braves were disappointing in 2014, and they could point to injuries as a large part of the reason. Unlike the Reds, though, the Braved cleaned house in their front office and are not accepting excuses or feeling smug about their chances in 2015 with their current roster. Everyone is on the board as Atlanta tries to retool for a playoff run, as was evident in the deal that sent Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday.
Upton could be had if new head cheese John Hart thinks that will help the Braves in 2015 and beyond.
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Why He Fits for the Reds
The Reds were terrible in left field in 2014 and worse at the bat, so they need an upgrade in both areas. While Upton has made his mark in right field, it’s not a leap to think he could transition to the other corner without too much trouble. The most important part of Upton’s game, of course, is his hitting, and he smacked 29 home runs with 102 RBI on his way to slashing .270/.342/.491 for the Braves in 2014. Those numbers would look awfully good in the middle of the Reds lineup and might even get them back in the playoff hunt — assuming everything else broke right.
Upton is just entering the heart of his prime at 27, so he should be really good for several years.
Why He Might NOT Fit for the Reds
In order to acquire Upton, the Reds would have to surrender one of their free-agent-to-be starting pitchers, likely either Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos. If it were Latos, they’d probably have to throw in someone else, too. Starting pitching was one of the few bright spots for Cincy in 2014, so losing one of their horses could dent their playoff hopes, Upton or no.
Like four of the Reds’ starters, Upton will be a free agent after 2015. He would likely be a one-year proposition for the Reds, as another good-to-great season would put him in line for a big, multi-year contract. He would bring back a draft pick if he left in free agency, but so would whichever pitcher the Reds would have to surrender to get him.
Even in 2015, Upton is not cheap: his salary for next year will be $14.5 million.
If the Reds were going to invest in a mid-career bat, they could do a lot worse than Upton, but the timing just doesn’t seem right. Cincinnati is more than one offensive upgrade away from being a contender year-in and year-out, and Upton will be nearing the end of his prime by the time the Reds might be consistently good again.
Overall, the cost for one year of Upton seems a little steep for this Reds team, and I expect he’ll end up elsewhere, even if that is Atlanta.