Braves need this free agent splurge on Upton to pay off

Frank Wren believes B.J. Upton will live up to the contract Braves just gave him. (AP photo)

Frank Wren hopes and believes B.J. Upton will live up to his $75.25 million contract. (AP photo)

This probably isn’t fair to B.J. Upton, an immensely talented player with power, speed and the motivation that generally accompanies an athlete looking for a fresh start with a new team. It might not even be fair to Frank Wren, who was staring at significant holes in his lineup this winter and had relatively few options in how to fill them.

But that’s a lot of money.

It’s a lot of money for a young player who may have wowed the baseball world in 2008, but, statistically at least, really hasn’t blown anybody away since. It’s a lot of money for a franchise that just cleared a ton of payroll space and can’t afford to take a wrong turn and clog the financial ledger with a big mistake again. It’s a lot of money for a general manager who too often has taken that wrong turn and smacked into a wall.

Derek Lowe. Kenshin Kawakami. Dan Uggla. We’re not talking the Apple-Home Depot-Coca Cola trifecta of ground-floor investments.

The Braves just committed $75.25 million over the next five years to B.J. Upton, thereby making their new center fielder the highest paid player in franchise history. By 2017, and more likely sooner, we’ll know if the organization hitched their wagon to the right limo.

Wren is aware of the risks. He has endured past ones. He deserves credit for not becoming gun-shy with visions of an 8-22 Kawakami dancing in, and stomping on, his head. He also surely realizes that how Upton pans out will go a long way toward determining the Braves’ success and, therefore, defining Wren’s tenure.

“Any time you’re making a big investment you take a deep breath and think, ‘How does this affect our club going forward?’” Wren said Thursday. “We just felt he was such a valuable asset in the way he plays the game, and after meeting him [and realizing] the type of person he is and the type of teammate he’ll be, we wanted to go after him.”

It was news conference day. Everybody is happy on news conference day.

Upton hits for power. Upton plays defense. Upton steals bases. He can’t hit leadoff like Michael Bourn, but he hits right-handed. That should help a lineup loaded with lefties (Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann).

Manager Fredi Gonzalez cracked that on defense, with the speedy Upton and Heyward, “We might not even need a left fielder.”

Smiles and laughter all around.

But Upton brings some baggage – at least, perceived baggage. In 2008, he twice was called out and subsequently benched by manager Joe Maddon for not hustling on ground balls. In 2010, he and Tampa Bay teammate Evan Longoria argued and had to be separated following an inning against Arizona when Longoria perceived that Upton lazily pursued a drive to the gap, allowing a double to turn into a triple.

Wren checked out all of the issues. He came away convinced the criticisms were either unfounded, overstated or the result of a young player still learning his way.

Upton didn’t hide from the topic.

“I’ve been tagged,” he said in a soft tone. “Why sugarcoat it? I can’t worry about it. The guys who were in the clubhouse with me know me.”

Braves special assistant Jim Fregosi lives in Tampa, Fla., and, according to Wren has seen Upton play “30 times a year. … He was there the night the ball was hit into the gap and said it was an isolated situation.”

Wren likened Upton to another former Braves center fielder, Andruw Jones. “He plays the position so gracefully that there are times it looks like he’s not hustling and he is. And there were times when he was younger, and I don’t think even he understood what was being said until they brought it to his attention.”

In the Rays’ postseason of 2008, Upton looked like baseball’s next superstar. He had seven homers, 16 RBIs and six stolen bases in 16 games. He hit .321 in the American League Championship Series against Boston. But he’s a .255 career hitter, and while his power numbers have ascended, with a career-high 28 homers last season, his batting average (.246), on-base percentage (.298) and strikeout total (169, one more than Uggla) don’t scream $75.25 million player.

Upton benefited from a thin free-agent market. But if he becomes the player some envisioned four years ago, the salary won’t be so out of whack, and one thing Wren and the Braves need now is a free-agent success story.

By Jeff Schultz

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108 comments Add your comment

scottcase

November 29th, 2012
4:49 pm

scottcase

November 29th, 2012
4:50 pm

Anyway welcome to Upton! Glad to have him. I hope he learns quick that we do things the right way here, which shouldn’t be a big change from Tampa, they look like a good group down there to me as well. Looking forward to watchin #2 help us win some games. GO BRAVOS!!!

jonathan

November 29th, 2012
4:55 pm

did anybody else catch this:

“Manager Fredi Freeman cracked that defensively, with the speedy Upton and Heyward, “We might not even need a left fielder.” “

extremus

November 29th, 2012
5:00 pm

I agree with the article’s assessment for the same reasons; I really hope that Upton finds a fresh start in Atlanta and becomes a big run producer from the right side of the plate. But that average and strikeout total scare me when I think about them being added to an offense that just lost Chipper and has had a reputation for lengthy anemic stretches to begin with. I hope…really hope…that Wren isn’t done making deals, but one that I believe he should try to make would cost the Braves at least a couple of pitching prospects but land a very promising outfielder that would be locked down for several years: Kansas City’s top prospect Will Myers, whom the Royals seem to have indicated they might part with for top-tier pitching. Such a deal would not only make sense given that the Braves have more arms than currently will fit into their MLB roster; it would be a minimally expensive deal from a cash perspective. And it could give the Braves baseball’s best trio of outfielders hands down if things pan out.

Dave from Buford

November 29th, 2012
5:08 pm

On balance, I have to say I think it was worth a shot … he’s entering his prime years, unlike some of the other options, and he has serious tools. The only issue now, of course, is that Wren still needs a left fielder, regardless of what Fredi says…………….

Humbug

November 29th, 2012
5:10 pm

According to this article we need to find a first baseman since Fredi Freeman is now the manager.

Really?

November 29th, 2012
5:14 pm

Does anyone else see a repeat of the uggla debacle? I hope I’m wrong but it sure looks that way.

BillEGoat

November 29th, 2012
5:16 pm

Braves fans have to HOPE that these guys really CAN judge talent and attitude and makeup of players. They did NOT do so with Uggla and Kawakami, and although Lowe had some OK seasons, he ended up being a huge drag on the payroll. I HOPE Wren was not desperate for a CF’er, like he was desperate for a starting pitcher when he gave Lowe too much money for too many years. Upton almost certainly HAS the talent, but the mental makeup is what worries me somewhat. With Uggla, the mental makeup is fine–the talent apparently is NOT. I hope the opposite is not true with Upton.

Peter

November 29th, 2012
5:17 pm

Yup a very Big Risk. especially since his strikeout production seems to be the only area he has excelled.

What makes anyone think this guy can hit national league pitching, when it seems better than American league pitching ?

Also this guys average against POWER Pitchers is something like .185 I read on ESPN today.

If the guy comes in and produces like Uggla….. the Braves are going to be mediocre for a long time……not that they are really reliant to start with.

Tumbledown

November 29th, 2012
5:17 pm

Freeman is the manager, huh. All warm-up drills will now include frequent hugs.

"Chef" Tim Dix

November 29th, 2012
5:18 pm

Many say Freeman would be an upgrade at manager….

"Chef" Tim Dix

November 29th, 2012
5:20 pm

I plan to be open minded about this signing right up to his play making it rain beer bottles…

bvilebaron

November 29th, 2012
5:22 pm

Driving to work every morning is a risk, Jeff. As one of my late friends used to say “no guts, no glory”.

I feel that too many bloggers are focusing too much on what B.J. Upton doesn’t or hasn’t done and ignoring the many things that he already has done and has the potential to do. Upton is a legitimate 5 tool player. He can field, throw (he has a far better arm and many more assists than Bourn and many other centerfieldes), run (at least 30 bases per season), hit for power and the ability to hit for average. Admittedly, he has been weak in the last category the past several year, but has hit for average in the past, especially when he was asked to hit leadoff. His playoff numbers are also pretty good as well and several who follow the Rays state he plays best down the stretch and when the games count the most.

Go get ‘em Bossman Junior!

Tumbledown

November 29th, 2012
5:25 pm

Ok, I see Fredi Gonzalez is back in charge! Sorry Fredi haters.

journalist jimmy smith

November 29th, 2012
5:33 pm

Enter your comments here

Don Sutton

November 29th, 2012
5:33 pm

Meanwhile, Nats get the real prize…Span. Cheaper, younger and a true lead off hitter. What would we have had to give up for him?

Tom(Independent Viet Vet-USAF)

November 29th, 2012
5:40 pm

15 million a year for 5 years, that’s a lot of money to pay a slightly above average player in my humble opinion?

journalist jimmy smith

November 29th, 2012
5:41 pm

did anybody check upton’s toes? the season can turn on a toe. if upton has healthy major league toes perhaps this will be a very good move. as far as this journalist can tell, if fredi gonzales wants to go without a player it should be second baseman dan uggla and not a left fielder. of course, there were times last year with Hinske out there that the team was left fielder-less – and some would say there were games without a competent manager.

Ken Stallings

November 29th, 2012
5:42 pm

For this deal to work out, Upton would need a career year. It is possible, but that’s not the kind of reality you want to pay $15 million a year for five years to search for!

journalist jimmy smith

November 29th, 2012
5:46 pm

u-words. upton. uggla. frank wren is tying his fortune to u-players. jimmy smith says this may work and it may not.

Ross

November 29th, 2012
5:50 pm

Why did Wren sign Struggla when we had an All-star 2B? Other than the guy in Miami worst GM in the game.

NickGranite

November 29th, 2012
5:53 pm

I can only presume the GM and scouts know things we don’t know because on paper, this is a ridiculous investment. I think we have found with Uggla that 25 homers is sparse indeed when sandwiched between .300 OBPs and 160 ks. This is like winning an office on “Hope” and then…well..the rest is disaster.

abby normal

November 29th, 2012
5:54 pm

I say lets give Upton (and Wren) the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we hit the jackpot, maybe we crap out. We had to take the shot.

Ralph

November 29th, 2012
5:56 pm

$40million on 3 players in the heart of our line-up and it’s quite likely none of them will hit .240.

steve brown

November 29th, 2012
5:56 pm

This says it all-they let Ross (team leader, clutch catcher, proven commodity,etc.) go for what amounts to peanuts but drop a ton on Upton – the management of this team is bush league.

Jordan Schafer

November 29th, 2012
6:00 pm

“In the Rays’ postseason of 2008, Upton looked like baseball’s next superstar. He had seven homers, 16 RBIs and six stolen bases in 16 games. He hit .321 in the American League Championship Series against Boston.”

He was on the juice !

Bills fan

November 29th, 2012
6:00 pm

Just the way it is now…too many players swinging for the fences and average and OBP suffer as a result. Braves do well when they play to manufacture runs and the occasional home run, not vice versa.

Can Fredi G. convince this guy to follow that sort of philosophy or will he rely on the long ball as a manager. As much as Bobby Cox was often criticized for managing that way it seems a majority of players upgraded their game when playing for him.

Do Braves have a true leader in the clubhouse to be a second manager to some of these guys? McCann? … too nice. Freeman? … a hugger, not a fighter. Heyward? … still too young and without the long track record of success. Hudson? … not willing to play the heavy. Will someone fill this role? Chipper’s lead-by-example style is going to be sorely missed…a huge intangible for this club

Some great comments here.

GaryinBham

November 29th, 2012
6:00 pm

Span the real prize? I thought Bourn was the real prize for the Nats! I’m just fine with our new 28 year old. If we’re going to bring up terrible deals, let’s talk Texiera. We could have paid 120 million for the Bossman and still come out ahead of that stinkbomb. I know, it was a trade. But all we’ve lost so far is money, and it does my heart good to see the Braves SPEND a little. Count me on the positive side. I think the kid will prove out.

Clark Howard

November 29th, 2012
6:02 pm

$41 million tied up in 2013 for just 3 players : McCann, Uggla & Upton, that combined hit .235

That’s approximately 45% of the entire Braves’ payroll.

Pathetic !

Father of 5

November 29th, 2012
6:03 pm

Crazy move. He was the 4th best outfielder on his last team (Zobrist, Jennings, Joyce, and Fuld all contributed more) and now he’s the highest paid Brave ever? The Rays couldn’t find a place to bat him, and the Braves make him the franchise player? The Braves are the bizarro-Moneyball: find all the guys with the most strikeouts who don’t score any runs. Sure, that will work. At least Uggla walks.

And we couldn’t find an extra $1 million a year for a catcher with a great clubhouse presence and knowledge of our pitching staff, but we can throw away $75M for an average defender who will turn into a hole in the lineup? Good thing he’s right-handed.

Bills fan

November 29th, 2012
6:04 pm

Oh yeah, and thanks, Jeff, for another well-written article. Never can get too much of your stuff.

cornjolio

November 29th, 2012
6:06 pm

Mark Teixeira for Casey Kotchman

Rafael Soriano for Jesse Chavez

Omar Infante for Dan Uggla

Derek Lowe.

Nate McLouth.

Kinshin Kawakami.

Now we have BJ Upton making big bucks and hoping he can hit better than the .246 he hit in 2012 with a pathetic .298 OBP

If Atlanta had a critical sports media and Braves’ fans were more demanding, Frank Wren would have been shown the door years ago.

Ralph

November 29th, 2012
6:09 pm

Wren likened Upton to another former Braves center fielder, Andruw Jones—–

Upton wouldn’t make a pimple on AJ’s ass.

Chipper Jones

November 29th, 2012
6:09 pm

never drove in more than 82 runs

never hit more than 28 homers

hit .246 last season; highest average in 4 seasons

And he’ll make more money than I ever received. I should have tested the free agent market instead of play for these cheapskates !

amicusterrae

November 29th, 2012
6:15 pm

It’s just crazy that above average players can cost so much but that is the market and inflation. it’s going to keep going up with the mad TV money coming in baseball (albeit not the Braves), so we better get used to it.

I personally prefer watching high contact, on base players than free swingers with streaky power, but the advanced metrics say the values can be equivalent.

Bottom line is $15 mill / yr for 3 WARs is market, especially at center field.

I just don’t like the idea of 600 + strikeouts from 4 of our best hitters (Upton, Uggla, Freeman, and Heyward).

Stinger2

November 29th, 2012
6:16 pm

We have the Wren and Fredi bashers out in force tonight even before B. J. can get into a full uniform. Cant`t you at least wait until the Winter Meetings next month.
Quite likely there will be more action by Wren and the Braves. Maybe something even the worst detractors will like.

"Chef" Tim Dix

November 29th, 2012
6:17 pm

Ralph: U Win! AJ’s a HOFer!

Dum-Bass

November 29th, 2012
6:23 pm

For those in the dark like I was, his name is actually Melvin Emanuel, and the BJ comes from being called “BOSSMAN JR.”, after his dad. His dad was known as ‘THE BOSSMAN”. There, that’s my contribution for the enlightenment of others!

Stinger2

November 29th, 2012
6:35 pm

@6:18: Whoever you are: It is worse than bad to see a racist comment like you just posted. I hope Jeff sees it soon and takes it off.

Nelson

November 29th, 2012
6:44 pm

In the Rays’ postseason of 2008, Upton looked like baseball’s next superstar. He had seven homers, 16 RBIs and six stolen bases in 16 games. He hit .321 in the American League Championship Series against Boston.

That’s Exactly what we need guys, somebody who gets Hot in the Postseason, something that our retired superstar never did!!!!!!!

extremus

November 29th, 2012
6:53 pm

Um, where’s my earlier post, Mr. Schultz? Did the spam filter get me again?

phoenix

November 29th, 2012
7:05 pm

With a lineup that includes Upton, Uggla, McCann, Freeman, Heyward and a pitcher, there will be some 18 strikeout games in 2013. Count on it. Big swingers, not much contact.

Jeff Schultz

November 29th, 2012
7:08 pm

Bills fan — Thanks.

Jeff Schultz

November 29th, 2012
7:09 pm

Mr. Magoo — Seriously? Looking to get banned?

Jeff Schultz

November 29th, 2012
7:11 pm

Stinger2 — Got it, thanks.

DP

November 29th, 2012
7:15 pm

Another insane free agent signing by Wren. Upton had a sorry .752 OPS last season, even with a big finish over the last couple of months, and hasn’t had a batting average over .250 since 2008. Could somebody list other players thought to have a lot of potential who suddenly broke out as superstars after hitting less than .250 for 4 consecutive seasons? I can’t think of one. I think it was Bill Parcells who said “you are what your record says you are.” I’m shocked that the Uggla disaster hasn’t taught Wren to stay away from whiff machines.

rich

November 29th, 2012
7:17 pm

Meanwhile the Nats get a true leadoff hitter and center fielder in Denard Span for a minor leaguer and a much cheaper investment than Upton….

AlanFalcon

November 29th, 2012
7:23 pm

We get Upton and spend $75 million and the Nationals get Span for a class A minor league pitcher, his annual is $4.75 mil —Can you see the difference, way to go Frank.

Darkcow

November 29th, 2012
7:24 pm

Wren can go watch the highlight for himself. BJ was dogging it. No doubt about it.

Max Sizemore

November 29th, 2012
7:29 pm

Living in Florida I saw at least 100 Rays games this past season and, sorry to say, there is no way BJ is worth that kind of money. He is actually a plus centerfielder with a very good arm (which nobody seems to mention) — 10 assists last season — but offensively he is streaky, seems to guess a lot (a LOT of called third strikes), and is not a good situational hitter. The only positive thing I can think of is that since the AL is the superior league, maybe he’ll find the pitching in the NL a little easier to solve.