It’s not too often a two-hit shutout gets overshadowed, but B.J. Upton did his best to secure the spotlight on Sunday, hitting three homers in the Rays’ 6-0 win over the Rangers.
James Shields went the distance for the Rays, notching his second shutout of the season. He has eight in his career, six of which have come the last two years.
Roy Oswalt started for Texas, but he left after two innings with muscle soreness near his elbow. Youngster Martin Perez took over and pitched five innings of two-run ball, with Upton’s second and third homers serving as the only damage.
Upton became the third Ray to have a three-homer game joining Jonny Gomes (2005) and Evan Longoria (2008). He had a chance to go for a fourth homer in the eighth, but he grounded out.
Upton was sitting on 10 homers on this date a month ago, but he has 11 since, all of which have come in Rays victories. The surge has likely given his value a boost as he prepares to enter free agency this winter. More importantly, it’s put the Rays in the position to at least claim a wild card spot in the AL. They’re 77-63 after winning two out of three from the Rangers at home. They entered the day two games behind both the Orioles and Yankees in the AL East.
In an age in which even baseball’s richest teams talk about tight budgets and keeping payroll low, it’s pretty rare to hear anyone connected with a front office talking about freely spending money. Phillies owner John Middleton, however, offered up something rare about the team’s approach to free agency.
“We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,” he told Bob Nightengale or USA Today. He then added, “we just prefer not to be completely stupid.” That save aside, it was a pretty unusual sentiment these days.
“Stupid” could certainly mean Bryce Harper, who the Phillies have long been expected to pursue. It could even mean Harper and Manny Machado. Why not? At the moment the Phillies’ payroll for 2019 is looking to be just a shade above $100 million, so even adding, say, $70 million to that would not put them in an unreasonable position compared to other competitors. And that’s before you figure in any sort of back-loading or deferred money that Harper and/or Machado might agree to.
Or, even if they didn’t get one or both of those guys, they could spend that same kind of money on multiple free agents. Patrick Corbin? Marwin Gonzalez? A handful of others? We counted down the top 100 free agents last week and any number of them could be acquired given the sort of payroll flexibility a large market team like the Phillies appear to have. It merely requires the will to do it. A will which, it seems, John Middleton possesses.