B.J Upton as the final piece to add to a contending team is a rather odd notion. Obviously, Carlos Beltran has run circles around Upton offensively this year, and lesser lights like Josh Willingham, Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera have also been superior hitters. Just look at Upton’s batting averages the last few years:
How is a .230-.240 hitter a difference maker?
Upton, though, is such a tough player to judge. He’s terribly inconsistent, but his batting average doesn’t come close to approximating his value. Upton is an above average defensive center fielder and a quality basestealer with 20- or 25-homer power and a strong walk rate.
Even though his averages and power numbers have been all over the map, WAR actually rates him as being fairly consistent in his five years as the Rays’ primary center fielder.
2007: 4.7 WAR
2011: 2.2 — on pace for 3.6
There’s a couple of important things to remember here. One is that Tropicana Field plays as a strong pitchers’ park. The other is that offense has collapsed throughout the league. Upton’s .706 OPS is barely below the AL average of .718, and it’s actually slightly above average after adjusting for The Trop.
Since 2007, Upton rates fifth among major league center fielders (>50 percent of games) in WAR.
1. Carlos Beltran: 22.0
2. Curtis Granderson: 20.5
3. Matt Kemp: 18.3
4. Josh Hamilton: 17.9
5. B.J. Upton: 16.7
6. Shane Victorino: 14.8
7. Grady Sizemore: 14.6
8. Marlon Byrd: 13.4
9. Torii Hunter: 13.4
10. Andrew McCutchen: 12.0 (since 2009)
Upton is still just 26. He’s under control for next year and he shouldn’t cost more than $7 million, so he has considerable trade value.
And after saying all that, I still don’t think he’s the final piece for a contender. I’m not dismissing him. He almost singlehandedly took down the Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS, hitting .321 with four homers and 11 RBI as the Rays won the series in seven games. He has seven homers and 18 RBI in 21 postseason games, so everyone knows what he can do when he’s hot.
But I’m not sure he’s really going to be any better than Domonic Brown for the Phillies. I’d like him in Atlanta, but Coco Crisp would come cheaper and might help the team even more.
Upton is more like a lottery ticket. A team needing to gamble should pick him up and hope he goes off. For that reason, I think he makes more sense in Cleveland and Pittsburgh than anywhere else.