B.J. Upton became one of 12 players since the start of the millennium to post an OPS below .560 while taking at least 400 trips to the plate. Upton, who established himself as one of baseball’s most dynamic players while with the Rays, could never get it going in the first year of a five-year, $75.25 million contract with the Braves. It got ugly.
Trying to put the past behind him, Upton has made some slight adjustments in his swing. Hitting coach Greg Walker liked what he saw when he visited Upton at his home in Tampa in January. Via David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
What Walker noticed first when he visted Upton at his Tampa home in January was how much movement he’d cut out of his swing and stance, including eliminating the leg lift and long slide step with his front foot. Upton, 29, said his swing gradually deteriorated over the past several years after he began trying to pull the ball more after his early success with the Rays.
“If you go back and watch (video of) B.J., his misses got bigger from year to year,” Walker said. “His swing got looser and looser. The only thing we told him to do — we don’t want you to change anything, we don’t want to turn you into somebody you’ve never been. All we want you to do is go back to the way you hit when you were a kid.
The Braves as a team had the third-highest strikeout rate in baseball. Upton’s 34 percent strikeout rate led the team and was the second-highest in baseball behind Chris Carter. While Upton has always been known for striking out, his rate was never that high; rather, it ranged from 21 to 28 percent while with the Rays. As a result, Upton’s average plummeted to .184 (career .248) and his power vanished as he finished with a .105 isolated power (career .161).
Upton will be one of the more interesting players to watch during spring training, to see if the mechanical adjustments help. Having lost power-hitting catcher Brian McCann to free agency, the Braves would love to gain back some of that lost offense with an Upton rebound.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.
A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.
Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.
Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.
The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.
Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.
Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.