B.J. Upton announced Sunday that he now wants to go by his birth name, Melvin Upton Jr., and considering his struggles for the Braves in recent years lots of people assumed he was doing it as a way to clean the slate/turn the page/whatever cliche you want to use.
Not so, says Upton, telling Mark Bowman of MLB.com:
This has nothing to do with starting a new chapter. I just wanted to. My father thought enough to give me his name, so why not? It was the name that was given to me as a kid. So I felt I wanted to go by my real name. Most of my friends call me Mel or Melvin. Nobody really calls me B.J., except at the stadium.
“B.J.” stood for Bossman Junior, because Upton’s father was known as Bossman.
Atlanta has traded away an entire starting outfield this winter — Jason Heyward went to the Cardinals in November, Justin Upton was shipped off to the Padres in December, and Evan Gattis was dealt last week to the Astros. Nick Markakis has been brought in on a four-year, $44 million contract to serve as the Braves’ new right fielder and B.J. Upton is going to get another shot in center. But what of left field?
MLB.com beat writer Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are in pursuit of free agent Jonny Gomes as a potential left-field platoon mate with Zolio Almonte. Gomes batted just .234/.327/.330 in 127 games last season between the Red Sox and A’s, but the right-handed hitter remains a productive slugger against left-handed pitching. Almonte is a switch-hitter, but his splits are much better from the left side.
So, uh, get excited Braves fans. You’re going to be the funnest girl at the dance.
Joel Sherman’s latest notes column passes along something hilarious. It’s the Braves’ plan B in case B.J. Upton continues to stink. Sherman himself calls it “comical” in the sub-hed, and I have to agree with him. Get this:
Privately, the Braves are saying they will not tolerate more of the same and keep feeding Upton consistent at-bats. In fact, Upton has fallen so far that Atlanta would consider a Plan B that is a platoon between Yankees castoff Zoilo Almonte and Todd Cunningham, whose eight major league at-bats came in 2013.
I’d be up for that. Heck, Almonte’s career line of .211/.242/.282 in 149 plate appearances is only a tick below what Upton has done over his past two full seasons. And he has the added benefit of not being B.J. Upton, meaning that I’m way less likely to pull out a .38 and shoot my television when he comes on the screen. So really, it is an improvement.
Got an albatross hanging around your neck, GMs? Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times speculates that if everything goes just right — or just wrong, depending on your point of view — maybe the Rays will help you out.
After listing any number of available outfielders who could possibly help the Rays, Topkin drops this:
Another scenario is to wait and see which team blinks first and eats almost all the bad-contract money on a distressed veteran such as Ryan Howard, ex-Ray B.J. Upton or, dare we say it, Alex Rodriguez.
If I found a genie in a bottle, the first wish would be for health and happiness for my family, the second would be for a billion dollars but the third would almost certainly be the Rays picking up Ryan Howard, B.J. Upton and Alex Rodriguez and winning the dang World Series.
The Braves traded Jason Heyward to the Cardinals last month in a deal that netted them Shelby Miller. It wasn’t a popular move with the fan base, but it was deemed necessary with Heyward one year away from free agency. Some more familiar faces could soon be on the move, with Justin Upton and Evan Gattis reportedly on the block, but new Braves president John Hart indicated to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a change in direction doesn’t bother him.
“Let’s be honest: This team finished 29th in offense,” Hart said. “It’s not like I’m breaking up the ’27 Yankees.”
That’s a pretty decent line. Hart denies that the team is in tear-down mode, and the recent signing of Nick Markakis would seem to back that up, but he also realizes that they aren’t ready to compete with the Nationals. They also owe $28 million combined to Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton in 2015. That means they have to ask themselves some difficult questions with a new ballpark coming in 2017.
“We had a tough year, and I know there was a lot of speculation about us going into this winter,” Hart said. “We had the 29th-ranked farm system in baseball. We had some bad contracts. Everybody felt there would be some players we would definitely unload — become a seller, if you will. But we’ve never felt like there was something we had to do. Obviously we’re contractually obligated to some players who aren’t performing well. But just because 2017 is coming, it doesn’t mean we’re going to throw a hand grenade on the club and blow it up. That wouldn’t guarantee success for 2017, either.”
For what it’s worth, Hart says he had unproductive conversations with “six to eight” teams about Justin Upton. The 27-year-old is due to become a free agent after next season and figures to be too expensive to keep long-term, so it would be a surprise if he doesn’t get dealt this offseason. As for the other Upton, well, it looks like the Braves are stuck with him.