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Insider

B.J. Upton deal a win for Atlanta

11/28/2012
He was the top position player available in free agency, and now he's a Brave. Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

B.J. Upton's five-year, $75 million deal with Atlanta looks like a winner for both sides. It's a solid return for a player coming off a disappointing year, while the team gets the top position player available in free agency this year for his ages-28-to-32 seasons, meaning they get most of his offensive peak without locking up much of his decline phase and don't have to worry too much about him losing enough defensive value to have to move out of center field.

In Upton, Atlanta gets an above-average defender in center with plus raw power and some past history of plate discipline, although he became much more aggressive in 2012 in what I assume was an effort to boost his power numbers as he headed into free agency. Upton can't touch Michael Bourn's glove, but he's less of a dropoff than any other possible successor to Bourn and makes up for the defensive drop-off with his power, although he's never been able to translate that raw ability -- which should produce 30-plus home runs -- into performance over a full season, with 2012's total of 28 his new high.

Upton had been a patient hitter prior to this season, with an OBP of .346 in his five full seasons as a starter before 2012 and walk totals ranging from good to outstanding, so there's performance upside here if he returns to his old ways of working the count. There is still performance risk with Upton, who's only had one season, 2007, in which he put all of his offense skills -- power, patience and speed -- on display at once, but he still has the physical tools and has shown all of those abilities separately over the years since that breakout season.

Atlanta's biggest organizational weakness right now is a dearth of quality position-player prospects in its farm system, with no one capable of playing a major league-caliber center field anywhere on the horizon, making Upton a very strong fit. The Braves are still short a hitter, with Juan Francisco and his career .297 OBP (removing IBB) looming as the everyday third baseman, but even right now their offense should be slightly above the median, more than enough for their run-prevention strength to make them strong playoff contenders, assuming Sam Holbrook isn't working in October.

This move raises the stakes for the Phillies, who were seen as one of the favorites to land Upton, as well as the team most in need of what he offered: defense, power, some OBP and an age that doesn't start with a "3." The remaining center-field options all bear higher risks, with Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan and Josh Hamilton all older than Upton and more likely to end a five-year deal in left than in center.

The Rays, meanwhile, can make Desmond Jennings their everyday center fielder while giving some of the excess playing time to Brandon Guyer, who missed most of 2012 after labrum surgery but has a history of strong performances in the minors. Assuming they don't add another outfielder, the loss of Upton would probably cost them about two wins over the course of a full season even with the improvement I expect to see from Jennings in 2013.