***Another major free agent was taken off the market when B.J. Upton agreed to a five-year, $75.25 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. The center fielder, long regarded as one of the most toolsy players in baseball, had spent the first eight years of his major league career with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The move is curious from Atlanta’s standpoint. Upton’s best season came in 2007, when he hit .300 with 24 home runs, 22 stolen bases and a .386 OBP. In the five seasons since then he has topped a .246 batting average just once and has seen his OBP dip precipitously, to the point it reached .298 this past season.
It seems like every season people are holding their breath for Upton to break out and turn into the star he was envisioned to be when he was the second overall pick in the 2002 MLB Draft. Perhaps it’s time for the baseball world to realize that Upton is what he is; a guy with a little pop, some speed and good outfield range. He is not a player who can anchor a lineup. I can’t think of many players who turned the corner a decade into their career, especially after having been in decline for as long as Upton has. Let’s hope that whatever bad habits Upton has developed since his slide doesn’t rub off on young Atlanta star Jason Heyward.
***The Cincinnati Reds have apparently decided to finally give Cuban flame thrower Aroldis Chapman a chance to be a starter. This decision was made by the three-year, $21 million contract they agreed to with Jonathan Broxton, who spent the second half of last season with the Reds after being traded from the Kansas City Royals.
I have seen many question why the Reds would want to monkey with a lights-out closer, like Chapman proved to be in 2012. However, when you have a pitcher with his talents, it’s something that has to be done. Chapman won’t throw 101-105 MPH or strike out 15.3 batters per nine innings like he did last year as a reliever, but he has the potential to be very good.
Some legitimate concerns about this experiment include the fact that Chapman has never thrown more than 109 innings in a season since coming to the United States in 2010. He will undoubtedly be on a closely scrutinized pitch and innings count in 2013. Also, Broxton has shown signs of increasing decline. His strikeouts per nine innings (7.0 in 2012) has been nearly cut in half since its high point of 2009, when he had a mark of 13.5. According to FanGraphs.com, his average fastball velocity has dipped from 97.5 MPH to 94.8 MPH during that time. On the other hand, his 2012 FIP of 3.03 shows that he was still an effective pitcher, even if he isn’t working with the same weapons. At 300 pounds, it will be interesting to see if he can hang in as an effective closer for the Reds over the next three seasons with his bad body type and declining skill set.
***With all the flak being showered on the Marlins for their recent fire sale, a small market team finally made headlines for doing something positive. The Tampa Bay Rays locked up the face of their franchise, third baseman Evan Longoria, to a six-year, $100 million extension that will keep him through at least the 2022 season. The contract is a gamble being taken by both sides. Longoria gave up all of his arbitration and free agency years to take the sure-fire money now. The Rays are banking on him maintaining a high level of play until he is 37, which is when the contract runs out.
Longoria is close to being a star at a premium position. Although he missed half of the 2012 season because of injury, his .896 OPS and 149 OPS+ would have been career highs, suggesting he is coming into his peak. This contract makes him Tampa Bay’s equivalent of a George Brett or Robin Yount. It’s hard not to admire the commitment represented by both sides on this deal. It will be both brilliant and mutually beneficial if it ends up working out for both parties.
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