Breaking down B.J. Upton

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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:

2007: .300
2008: .273
2009: .241
2010: .237
2011: .229

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
2008: 4.0
2009: 1.3
2010: 4.3
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.

Angels acquire Jabari Blash from the Yankees

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The Yankees announced on Wednesday that the club traded outfielder Jabari Blash to the Angels in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Blash, 28, was acquired by the Yankees from the Padres back in December in the Chase Headley trade. In trading Blash to the Angels, the Yankees were able to free up a spot on the 40-man roster for Brandon Drury, the infielder they acquired as part of a three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Rays on Tuesday.

Over parts of two seasons in the majors, Blash has hit an underwhelming .200/.323/.336 in 279 plate appearances. He will try to play his way into a bench role for the Angels this spring.