To say that B.J. Upton has fallen short of expectations would be an understatement. Ever since he was the second pick of the 2002 Major League Baseball amateur draft, Upton has been saddled with lofty projections of stardom. That bar was set even higher when in his first full season in 2007, at the age of 22, Upton hit .300 with 24 home runs, 82 RBI, an OPS+ of 136, and a WAR of 4.1.
Unfortunately, you do not see too many ballplayers peak at 22-years-old, but that’s exactly what Upton has done.Now, five seasons have passed since that magical summer for Upton and he has yet to even approach the level of production he exhibited during the 2007 campaign. During the half decade since, Upton has hit a combined .249 with an average of 15.8 home runs, 65.6 RBI, and an OPS+ of 103. The only thing in Upton’s repertoire that hasn’t gone down over the last 5 seasons have been his stolen bases, his strike-outs, and his salary.
And therein lies the true problem for Upton.
Tampa is a fiscally conscience club and at $7 million dollars in 2012, Upton is one of their most expensive players. He’s also third-year arbitration eligible after this season, meaning that if Tampa chooses to offer him arbitration, he’s almost destined to get a raise which will likely carry him north of $9-$10 million in 2013. That’s a chunk of change the Rays may not be willing to swallow for a hitter in decline, even if he is entering his prime.
But in true Upton form, he is making sure that nothing is cut and dry.
Over the course of the last month plus, B.J. Upton has been a different player. Maybe it is because of the return of a healthy Evan Longoria to the line-up or maybe it is a sense of impending doom that has woken him up. Since the beginning of August, Upton has knocked out 12 home runs and driven in 28 runs over 36 games played. Thanks to the run, his average is up to a respectable .256 and his OPS is up to .757.
While the batting lines are only slightly better than the last 4 seasons of Upton’s career, they are still well above the production they are getting from the likes of Carlos Pena ($7.25 million) and Luke Scott ($5 million). The two of them have contributed a total of 30 home runs and are struggling to exceed the Mendoza line. Upton’s production may still give them more bang for their buck than that pair.
Whether it be the Rays or any other time, the risk is hoping that Upton can finally capitalize on the talent he’s been blessed with. It could be a costly risk if he continues to flounder, but in today’s market, it may become a low-cost reclamation project.
The choice falls on the Rays to determine which way the stock is going.
In addition to his work at Call to the Pen, Kyle can be found casting his thoughts on small market baseball on The Baseball Big Brother Project. You can also follow his other dribbles on twitter @BBallBigBrother