After spending the first eight seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays, outfielder B.J. Upton has reportedly signed a five-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. Sources say the deal is worth upwards of $75 million and would be the largest free agent contract signed in Braves history.
The $75-million deal is unprecedented for the Braves organization. Not only is it the largest free-agent contract ever given out by the team, but the deal alone represents the second-most dollars the team has ever spent in free agency in a single offseason ($90.3M in 2008).
In the previous three offseasons combined (2009-11) the Braves spent approximately $16.7 million, the least of any team in baseball over that span.
The $75-million deal would make Upton the third outfielder aged 28 or younger on opening day to sign a free agent deal of at least $75 million, joining Manny Ramirez in 2000 (8-yrs, $160M) and Carlos Beltran in 2004 (7-yds, $117M).
Upton finished the 2012 season hitting .246 with his fewest stolen bases since 2004 (31), but his play down the stretch is what may have made him so appealing to the Braves.
Upton tied for the MLB high with 19 home runs in the final two months of the season after hitting only nine homers from April through July. Upton also saw jumps in runs batted in (40 vs 38) and OPS (.864 vs .677) in August and September compared to the first four months of the season and did it in 139 fewer plate appearances.
Thanks to that late push, Upton reached the 20-home run and 30-stolen base plateaus for the second consecutive season. Since the start of 2011, only Upton, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun and Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins have at least 30 homers and 60 total stolen bases.
Most Home Runs Since August 1st
During his eight seasons in Tampa, Upton became one of the most accomplished hitters in team history.
He leaves town ranked among the top five in home runs (118), runs batted in (447), extra-base hits (340), and stolen bases (232). He also struck out a franchise-high 1,020 times as a member of the Rays.
Despite his offensive accolades, the Braves would be giving up a bit defensively should Upton become their regular centerfielder. Upton tied for 120th among 143 centerfielders in defensive runs saved last season (-4) while Michael Bourn, Atlanta’s centerfielder in 2012, ranked first (24).
Will the boost in power offset what the Braves give up on defense? Time will tell but it’s easy to see why Atlanta would be interested in someone like Upton. Since Andruw Jones left before the 2008 season, Braves centerfielders rank 28th in MLB with a total of 44 home runs. Only the Astros (30) and Twins (25) have hit fewer over that span.