Nationals interested in Rays center fielder B.J. Upton

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Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com speculated back in April that the Nationals’ search for a center fielder could lead them to make the Rays an offer for B.J. Upton and now Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports that Upton is indeed “one of their targets.”

Ladson notes that Upton and Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman have been friends since growing up together in Virginia, but adds that “it’s not known if the Nationals and Rays are having serious discussions” yet.

Upton was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft and has been the Rays’ starting center fielder for five years, but he’s eligible for free agency following the 2012 season and will likely cost at least $6 million via arbitration next year.

Toss in the fact that center field prospect Desmond Jennings is just about MLB ready at Triple-A and the Rays shopping Upton would make some sense. Whether or not the Nationals are willing to meet their asking price is another issue, of course.

Upton has hit just .237 with a .318 on-base percentage and .396 slugging percentage in 354 games since back-to-back strong seasons in 2007 and 2008, but he’s still just 26 years old and ranks among the elite defensive center fielders in baseball.