After plenty of speculation, B.J. Upton is officially set to become a member of the Atlanta Braves. The 28-year-old center fielder was reportedly being courted by other teams such as the Phillies and Nationals, but it’s their NL East rival that comes away with a shiny, new baseball player. The Braves and Upton have agreed on a five-year deal that will be worth a total of $75.25 million. It’s a sizable contract to be sure, especially when considering that the Braves rarely seem to engage in open market high rolling. From what we’ve read so far, there don’t appear to be any pesky options or clauses in Upton’s contract.
We already discussed Upton’s merits a bit earlier in the week while looking at Dexter Fowler as a possible alternative for other teams, but the virtues of Upton’s game bear repeating in light of this news. Upton’s 2012 featured a .246/.298/.454 with a career-best 28 home runs, though he also posted a 7.1% walk rate that paled in comparison to his lofty career number. Upton wound up being worth 3.3 WAR according to FanGraphs, and he has at least matched that mark in five of his six big league seasons. Upton has also cleared the 4-WAR mark four times.
The big knock on Upton has long been his wild inconsistency, as there are plenty of times when he appears to be headed for stardom and plenty of others in which he looks helpless at the plate. Upton had always been a guy the Rays could count on to get on base despite his failure to consistently hit for average or post high contact rates, but his patience dwindled last summer. Given his track record and young age, it’s plenty reasonable for the Braves to expect a return to form in that department going forward. Upton’s power streaks have been much less dependable, as he has only slugged over .450 a pair of times. There is power to be had in that swing, but the results don’t always follow. Upton is still in his prime, though, so maybe can put it all together.
Regardless of his head-scratching numbers at the plate–which are still often solid for a center fielder even in his down years–Upton has the sample sizes to suggest that he’s a very good defensive center fielder and an even better base runner. Upton is a career 77% base stealer, and he isn’t likely to make any stupid mistakes once he’s on. He should serve the Braves well in just about every facet of the game even if his plate abilities are prone to long periods of alarming absence.
I like this deal just fine for the Braves. Upton is a more talented all-around player than he gets credit for a lot of the time. Even if he strikes out a ton and replicates his average season, he’s a winning center fielder. At his age, Upton should be able to easily stick around the 3-4 WAR mark for every season of the contract, and there’s certainly still a chance he gets better as he gets older. It seems like the worst case scenario here is that the Braves get even money on the deal, and that’s fine for a team that needs a player like this at a key position. The Braves are committing just five years to an athletic 28-year-old whose floor is still an attractive enough thing to possess. The average annual value is manageable enough, but it’s the relatively short length that keeps this on the right side of the ledger for Atlanta.