The first of the elite center fielders is off the market.
Multiple outlets are reporting that the Atlanta Braves have reached an agreement to sign free agent B.J. Upton. The deal is said to be for five years and be worth $75.25 million overall. Upton will replace fellow free agent Michael Bourn in Atlanta’s outfield, though he’s not the lead-off type hitter than Bourn is.
Upton brings elite defense and a combination of power and speed. He connected for a career-best 28 home runs in 2012 while swiping 31 bases. It was the fifth consecutive season of better than 30 steals for Upton, whose career has spanned eight big league seasons; all with Tampa Bay.
The Rays offered Upton a one-year qualifying offer, which was declined by the outfielder. As a result, the Rays will be eligible to receive an extra first round draft choice. Atlanta will surrender their first round pick, but that selection does not automatically becomes property of the Rays.
Upton was viewed by most as the second or third option as far as free agent center fielders, depending on how you classified Josh Hamilton. The $15 million average annual value Upton will get looks elevated if you only examine his offensive numbers. Certainly Upton has underachieved in his career to this point, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had some good numbers and his defensive contributions have been elite since moving to center field in 2007.
A true five-tool talent, Upton has been streaky at the plate. The Braves are betting that a change of scenery and a new voice in his ear will help Upton reach his full potential. At age 28, he still has plenty of prime seasons remaining and will still be just 33 at the end of this deal, which will set him up for another sizable contract before his career ends.
With Upton off the board, the center field market could begin to move quickly. Bourn has drawn interest from Washington and Philadelphia and could see a contract in excess of $100 million. Secondary stars like Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino will now see their own markets become more defined. Upton had been drawing interest from the Giants and Phillies and both of those clubs have been linked to Pagan and Victorino as well.