As a Braves’ trade target, I’d hustle after B.J. Upton

See? B.J. Upton hustles sometimes. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

B.J. Upton hustles on occasion. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Braves’ starting outfield for the first two games against Washington: Eric Hinske in left, Gregor Blanco in center, Melky Cabrera in right. Blanco began the season in the minor leagues, while Hinske was imported primarily as a pinch-hitter and Cabrera as a fourth outfielder.

The Braves’ outfield health: Lousy. Jason Heyward (bum thumb) just went on the disabled list. Matt Diaz (ditto) just exited the DL. Nate McLouth (sore head) is still there.

The good news: The Braves remain in first place.

The reality: They’ll need more outfielders to stay there.

The rumor: Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com reports that the Braves are seeking a right-handed outfield bat before the July 31st trade deadline. Morosi names three names: Josh Willingham of Washington, Corey Hart of Milwaukee and Jose Bautista of Toronto.

The caveat: All three will become free agents after the 2011 season, and we know how well the Braves do at keeping free agents. So any of the three would likely be a 14-month rental and would surely require the Braves to trade one of their minor-league pitching prospects. (Morosi mentions Mike Minor, the club’s No. 1 draftee in 2009.)

The better option (says me): B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay center fielder.

The story so far: Upton is one of the game’s biggest talents, but he’s also among its greatest mysteries. He’s hitting .226, and a guy this skilled should be able to bunt .300. He got into a dugout dust-up with teammate Evan Longoria over Upton’s disinclination to hustle after a ball Sunday, and Tampa manager Joe Maddon didn’t start Upton in Tuesday’s game. (Though not, Maddon said with a straight face, for disciplinary purposes. Just to rest the young man, who apparently wasn’t getting enough rest while playing center field.) But Upton was deployed as a sub, and he legged out an eighth-inning triple. So there.

The downside: Upton might not be manageable. He might continue to swing at everything. (He has more career strikeouts than hits.) He might play no better for the Braves than he has for the Rays.

The upside: He’s 25. He makes only $3 million (but is arbitration-eligible after this season). He’s right-handed. He plays center field. He is, as noted, a talent of the first rank, and we can’t really say that about any Braves outfielder other than Heyward. If/when Upton does figure things out, he’ll be a major star.

The obvious risk: The Braves’ clubhouse, never a boiling cauldron, is utterly harmonious at the moment. Upton could upset the equilibrium.

The potential gain: A first-place team would get a lot more talented in a hurry, and Upton won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season.

Should the Braves pursue B.J. Upton?

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The upside for Upton: A change of scenery, which can’t hurt if he’s getting into it with Longoria, who’s the main man in Tampa. And a different managerial voice in Bobby Cox, for whom everyone loves playing. And the promise of an even different managerial voice when Fredi Gonzalez takes over next season. (Wait. Am I getting ahead of things here?)

The potential snag: Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t like guys who don’t hustle. Ask Hanley Ramirez.

The worst-case scenario: Upton comes here and continues to hit .226, which would still be an upgrade over McLouth, who’s hitting .176. The Braves don’t win the division and then, disenchanted, don’t tender Upton over the winter. Which means he walks away and the whole thing is written off as a Teixeira-sized fizzle.

The best-case scenario: Upton gives the Braves their desired right-handed bat, plays the best center field the Braves have seen since Andruw Jones discovered carbohydrates and re-invents himself as the missing piece on a championship team.

The bottom line: Me, I’d do it. Upton is a far more dynamic player than any of the three mentioned by FoxSports. (Hart is the most intriguing of the three — he has 60 RBIs — but he’d also be a mighty expensive quick fix.) Unless you believe Jordan Schafer, who’s hitting .221 at Class AAA Gwinnett, is still the center fielder of the future, the Braves must move to upgrade that essential position at some point. Why not now, I say? Why not upgrade with Upton?

417 comments Add your comment

CT Braves Fan

June 30th, 2010
12:14 pm

Not worth the trouble and clubhouse disruption…I wouldn’t be in favor of it.

CT Braves Fan

June 30th, 2010
12:15 pm

PS-First?!?!?!? Holy crap…

Josh

June 30th, 2010
12:17 pm

Why not Carl Crawford? They’re much more likely to trade him right?

jeffrey d

June 30th, 2010
12:18 pm

Too much of a question with Upton. And I’m not talking about his attitude (I don’t think it’s that big of a deal). .232 is bad. Francoeur hit better than that before we ran him out of town

Todd

June 30th, 2010
12:18 pm

What would they likely have to give up?

Mark Bradley

June 30th, 2010
12:19 pm

Crawford will be a free agent at season’s end, Josh.

Mark Bradley

June 30th, 2010
12:19 pm

And kudos, CT Braves Fan.

jeffrey d

June 30th, 2010
12:20 pm

But TB’s competing for 1st place in the AL East. They’re not going to trade a player that’s going to help another team, and they’re going to want someone that can help them now.

glacialspeed

June 30th, 2010
12:21 pm

But what would we have to give up to get him? Probably more than a minor-league pitching prospect.

Braves fan in exile

June 30th, 2010
12:22 pm

This latest incident is not the first one for Upton. He has the reputation for trying to make plays look easier in the outfield than they really are, i.e. “the game comes easy to me because of my enormous talent, so hustle isn’t needed”. As much potential he has, there is more downside than upside for a class organization such as Atlanta to employ such a troublemaker in the middle of a pennant run.

Dan

June 30th, 2010
12:23 pm

Not worth it to go get Upton. We have a strong top of the order with Prado and Heyward (when he gets back).

What we don’t need is Francoeur part II. We need guys who get on base and force pitchers to work so that we can get into their middle relievers. Upton does none of that and provides only a marginal defensive upgrade over McLouth.

And further, I’d be very hesitant to give up Mike Minor. He’s close to contributing to the majors and he’ll do it at a low price for several years. If there’s one thing we should not do, it’s mortgage good young pitchers for high-risk outfielders who don’t hit.

Mark Bradley

June 30th, 2010
12:23 pm

OK, jeffrey d. Let’s give them Melky. He’s got a championship pedigree. (I’m kidding, sort of. It would take much more, you’re right.)

But Tampa Bay has a history of trading for young pitchers, I should remind you.

Deester11

June 30th, 2010
12:23 pm

Everyone in their right mind would want Crawford, but if you thought the Tex deal caused you upset stomach, wait to see what it would cost to get Crawford. Half a year or not.

ITP Braves Fan

June 30th, 2010
12:23 pm

I don’t think BJ Upton is the way to go. The D-Backs will be looking for a bounty of prospects based on Upton’s “upside” and contract, but I’m not sure that it’s worth trading any good pieces for a guy who hasn’t really lived up to his potential (even though I agree that he has a ton of potential).

I’d rather stick with Heyward–Melky/Blanco–Hinske outfield than giving up a lot for Upton.

jeffrey d

June 30th, 2010
12:24 pm

Mark – I think I could part with McLouth, and maybe JoJo if they were really persistent :)

nobody

June 30th, 2010
12:24 pm

Id go more for Willingham or Hart. I dunno why but I shy away from Bautista. Upton is a no. Doesnt seem to have heart and isnt even batting very well. Maybe if willngham or Hart were actually good this year Wren would resign them. Doubtful.

Dan

June 30th, 2010
12:25 pm

ITP Braves Fan – He’s talking about BJ Upton. If it was for Justin Upton, I’d do this deal in a nano-second.

JimboDude44

June 30th, 2010
12:26 pm

fredi gonzalez for next year’s manager? that has to be a joke

nobody

June 30th, 2010
12:26 pm

We need pop in the bottom of our lineup. Upton does not accomplish that. We already have a speedy CF that cant hit. At least Mclouth has a good attitude

Ted M

June 30th, 2010
12:27 pm

depends on what you have to give up. 2007(first full yr) his average was .300, 2008 – .273, 2009 – .241, 2010 – .226. His RBI declined each of those yrs too. What’s up with that? I’m guessing he doesn’t train very hard in the off season.

Zack

June 30th, 2010
12:29 pm

Mark- What do you think about Matt Kemp instead of Upton? It looks like Kemp and Torre are having even more trouble with each other than what’s going on in Tampa

Jesse

June 30th, 2010
12:31 pm

I remember the last time an Atlanta franchise acquired a Southern VA prima donna with a bad reputation. The team was the Falcons and the player was Michael Vick. How’d that work out?

Ebenezer Snerdberg

June 30th, 2010
12:31 pm

As Lancelot said to Arthur, ‘Surely you joust!’

Ted M

June 30th, 2010
12:32 pm

Zack what’s going on w/Kemp & Torre? any links?

Dan

June 30th, 2010
12:33 pm

BJ Upton seems to have Jimmy Rollins disease – he seems to have a reputation that is not based at all in fact. His OPS has declined each of the past three seasons and for a guy who’s supposed to be at the top of the lineup, he provides no value with an onbase % of barely .300 this year. He is of no value to the Braves. If Tampa will take a bag of balls, may be Wren should consider. Otherwise, keep on moving.

Billy

June 30th, 2010
12:33 pm

I’ve heard people say that a “change of scenery” may help players but did it really ever help Terrell Owens, Milton Bradley, and others…negative. We definitely need to add another outfielder though.
Regarding Schafer, I just wish he would get hot long enough at Gwinnett to have respectable numbers for trade bait Can’t imagine many other teams would trade anything good for him right now and I agree that he is not our future.

Bruce Mac

June 30th, 2010
12:34 pm

If the Braves trade Minor for anyone mentioned, I quit. We already gave away Wainwright and Feliz the closer (20 saves) of the First place Texas Rangers. Not to mention Texas SS Elvis Andrus who is awesome. How many great players are we going to give away so we can finish second to the Phillies? Stupid Stupid Stupid. Build for future and stop with the rental player crap, it never works.

allan in texas

June 30th, 2010
12:35 pm

JMayne

June 30th, 2010
12:37 pm

This is a great idea mark. The 2 things the braves can use….speed…defense. What does upton produce?? Exactly that. Escobar’s trouble but nobody says anything while hes hitting .300 and diving to get balls in the hole. Same thing with upton. Of course,crawford would be great but upton would take over the top of the lineup. or put him down at the bottom. upton-prado-jones-mccann-glaus-heyward-hinske-escobar put together a pretty potent lineup

Jamaaliver

June 30th, 2010
12:39 pm

Not worth the risk. Chemistry is key on a team like ours….lacking in overall talent. if we hit another 9 game losing streak, we need guys willing to go out and give their all for the team. Not someone who’ll turn on their teammates and start dogging it in the field.

Patrick

June 30th, 2010
12:40 pm

I’d love Upton, but do you think Wren is really a good enough GM to pull off a trade like that?

KennyP

June 30th, 2010
12:43 pm

So he’s a young CF talent with great speed and defensive skills, but hitting .225? Why not save the drama side of it and bring in Jordan Schafer? Sounds like the same guy

shmoe

June 30th, 2010
12:43 pm

Mr. Bradley,

I believe Willingham, Hart and Bautista are free agents at the end of 2011, not 2010.

“Willingham had a .407 OBP and a .498 slugging percentage even before he homered again tonight. And Hart and Bautista started the day as the home run leaders in their respective leagues. All three outfielders will become free agents after 2011. “– MLBTRADERUMORS.COM

Ted M

June 30th, 2010
12:44 pm

I wonder what Upton argument against EL could have possibly been…”FU, I’m a Prima donna I don’t have to hustle”

chop

June 30th, 2010
12:46 pm

Take Willingham. Much better option, and he only makes a few million and IS coachable. He won’t command that much more at season’s end.

Who do you give the nats in return? Escobar, for one. Infante can play everyday – he’s only 28, slugging .380 and has a boatload of hits in mostly part time duty. Give him the discount job and get Willingham for a long time.

TDub

June 30th, 2010
12:46 pm

Hart is far more likely. Upton isn’t going anywhere with the Rays in contention.

chop

June 30th, 2010
12:47 pm

KennyP, exactly.

nobody

June 30th, 2010
12:47 pm

Exactly KennyP. We already have two players that are similar to Upton. Mclouth and Schafer. Both of which dont have an attitude problem. BTW for those of you that say we lack speed and defense Mclouth won a Gold Glove and is quite fast. We need another power guy. I like Willingham, he has power and can hit pretty well. Glaus of the Outfield.

shmoe

June 30th, 2010
12:47 pm

he’s had severely declining numbers since he broke in. he might be the fastest guy in the league, but he often runs at half speed, which means no faster than Garrett Anderson. He strikes out a TON. He nonchalants balls in the outfield and misplays them. He has what looks like severe attitude problems.

maybe on a veteran club that is gelling SO well, he would behave better. Maybe the fact that the Rays are young makes it easier for him to act up. but this would be a huge risk in my opinion, when you can get as good or better production from better “team” guys mentioned above.

shmoe

June 30th, 2010
12:48 pm

I believe Willingham, Bautista and Hart are free agents after the 2011 season, not 2010.

“Willingham had a .407 OBP and a .498 slugging percentage even before he homered again tonight. And Hart and Bautista started the day as the home run leaders in their respective leagues. All three outfielders will become free agents after 2011. ” http://www.mlbtraderumors.com

nobody

June 30th, 2010
12:48 pm

Im afraid to get rid of another player to make way for one of our latin bench players like we did with Prado-Kelly, but at this point if Escobar doesnt start showing some ability to knock in runs, Infante is better.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, JLew. JLew said: Do braves want BJ http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2010/06/30/as-a-braves-trade-target-id-hustle-after-b-j-upton/ [...]

F-105 Thunderchief

June 30th, 2010
12:49 pm

Minor looks like a solid-to-better than that starter, perhaps as soon as next year. I don’t trade him.

shmoe

June 30th, 2010
12:49 pm

the guy routinely walks to first on ground balls!!!!! r u freaking kidding me??

chop

June 30th, 2010
12:50 pm

Minor is ideal trade bait because of one man: Johnny Venters.

thickfreakness

June 30th, 2010
12:51 pm

Mark-
Willingham is under contract through the 2011 season, or at least not eligible for FA until the conclusion of the 2011 season.

F-105 Thunderchief

June 30th, 2010
12:51 pm

I’d trade Melky and Dunn for the Tampa guy.

Johnny Hazeltine

June 30th, 2010
12:51 pm

I’d much rather have Matt Kemp!

nobody

June 30th, 2010
12:51 pm

Johny Venters is a stud.

JDA

June 30th, 2010
12:52 pm

Like the Kemp idea better. Also, it depends what we have to give for Willingham et al. No way they trade Hart. Fine idea with Upton, but you know the long-standing Braves calm clubhouse mentality. It will never happen.