Figuring Out B.J. Upton’s Future

By David Hill

During the Andrew Friedman era, the Tampa Bay Rays have demonstrated a willingness to lock up players they feel will be integral members of a potential championship run. Players such as Evan Longoria and James Shields were locked up far before free agency, and in the case of Longoria, even before being close to being arbitration eligible.

However, center fielder B.J. Upton appears to be in the midst of his final month as a member of the Rays. Only 28, and about to reach his hypothetical peak, Upton is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this year.

In what appears to be a fairly weak free agent class, Upton may be one of the top players available. Earlier this season, Upton became just the eighth player to amass 100 home runs and 200 stolen bases before his 28th birthday, joining a group that includes players such as Barry Bonds and Hanley Ramirez. While not at the level of those players, Upton still offers an intriguing blend of power and speed. Over his career, Upton has 113 home runs, and 231 stolen bases.

The biggest problems for Upton have been his issues making contact, and his problems getting on base. While he has been a .255/.336/.441 hitter over his career, his batting eye appears to have regressed since drawing 97 walks in 2008. Since that point, he appears to have become overly power conscious, striking out more frequently and drawing fewer walks while averaging roughly 20 home runs per year.

With the expected contract for Upton ranging between 3 years at $27Million to 5 years at $70Million according to rumors, it appears as though the Rays are content to move on in the outfield. However, the Rays may have a way to either keep Upton for another year, or be able to trade him for other pieces. In the new collective bargaining agreement, the Rays would have the option of making a qualifying offer to Upton, which would be somewhere in the $12 to $13Million range. Making the offer would mean that the Rays could get a compensatory draft pick should he sign elsewhere, or they could trade him if desired.

In all likelihood, B.J. Upton may end up playing elsewhere in 2013. However, he may end up having a hand in shaping the future of the franchise.