The Atlanta Braves struck first in putting out one of the hottest eyes of the hot stove this week, showing now ex-Tampa Bay Ray B.J. Upton $75 million reasons to come over to the National League. But with the winter’s first big-money deal, there’s no shortage of Upton-esque questions that come with it.
Whatever comes from it, there sure isn’t any shortage of benefit in it for either side, Upton or the Braves. The Braves win because they land one of the most talented players in the game as he’s entering his prime years. He can hit anywhere in the lineup and impact it in the way that would be expected of any player there. Mostly because the man has every tool you could dream in a player and shows all of them frequently. He has single-season highs of a .300 average, 28 home runs, 81 RBI, 44 steals and 38 doubles. The proof is in the numbers, and he’s been rewarded with a pretty high one now. What’s even more, at only 28, he’ll have time to cash in again before he’s all said and done.
The most important win here may be who the Braves beat out for his services. The Philadelphia Phillies were right there in the race for his services, and that would’ve been a long-term problem directly in their face if he landed there. He was good for the money in either place, so the Braves had to pull away somehow. Whatever it was that took B.J.’s attention the most, whether it was the impressive showing of dignitaries, featuring Bobby Cox, or perhaps some after-hours showcasing that only Atlanta can properly show a 28-year-old, they got the job done. However, what they landed could be very much in question, frequently.
He’s the definition of raw talent, which is rare when you’re discussing a guy with eight years in the game. Despite being in his eighth season, there’s still an element of potential with Upton. The overriding story on him is “he’s got it all, only if …” and that’s where it gets interesting. He’s the ultimate give and take, because for every great number, there’s the drawback. He has five consecutive years of at least 30 stolen bases, but has never struck out less than 130 times in the process. He’s far from just a speedster though; he’s topped 20 home runs three times … but hasn’t hit over .246 in the last three years. He’s a study in extremes, and following him will take patience.
With this deal, he’ll now be prone to something that isn’t usually a problem in Tampa: being deemed overrated. Contracts equal perceptual value, and a few years of not living up to the excitement those flashes generate could get folks antsy; ask Alfonso Soriano. Will he answer the call? Will the big plays outdo the strikeout-led valleys that are bound to happen? He’ll be counted on to replace the always reliable production of Chipper Jones in some ways, as well as offset the slump-prone ways of Dan Uggla.
So what’s next? The Braves are in place to be big players this winter, and this is may not be the end of the road for them. They’ve got the most to gain by going all in this winter and could really reshape the power structure of the National League. And by coming out the gates the way they have, Atlanta has messed around and put together two-thirds of the best young outfield in baseball.
And there’s still four months to go before the spikes come back out. The Falcons aren’t the only ones making noise down in the A this winter.