Report: Nationals Have Interest in B.J. Upton

The trade deadline is eight weeks away, so rumors are going to start flying sooner than later. Kicking things off is the Nationals reported interest in B.J. Upton. Bill Ladson has the details, and in a previous post suggested the Nats might be willing to overpay to get their man, here is the vital info:

However, according to the source, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo believes a change of scenery would help Upton’s career.

Upton will qualify for free agency following the 2012 season, and the Rays have long tried to lock him up beyond his cost control years, but were unable to come to terms. In theory, the Rays could trade Upton heading into the deadline and replace his contributions in center with Desmond Jennings. Left field would then belong to Brandon Guyer. This is a feasible scenario within the 2011 season given the Super Two and service time implications on the table.

The question I have is not whether the Rays would trade Upton, but if Washington has what it would take to acquire him. Kevin Goldstein only has four of their players as four-star prospects or better, with eight above the three-star mark. The Nationals are not trading Bryce Harper and seem unlikely to deal Danny Espinosa, leaving Derek Norris, A.J. Cole, and the plethora of three-star prospects (Sammy Solis, Wilson Ramos, Michael Burgess, and Robbie Ray) as the toast of the system.

Norris becomes the object of rosterbation. A catcher with a strong arm, Norris’ claim to fame is offense thanks to good pop and walking habits. This season marks the first time Norris has played in Double-A and he is hitting .245/.379/.519—that is a .274 ISO and 15.9 percent walk rate. There are concerns here. He is fanning in nearly one-third of his at-bats and he might not catch—which may actually be okay with the Rays, as they could use a first baseman.

The need for a first baseman will likely bring up Chris Marrero’s name too. Marrero used to be considered a nice first base prospect, but he is struggling in his first season at Triple-A and hasn’t shown legitimate pop for the position in a few seasons. There is also Tyler Moore, who has about as much raw power as anyone in the system that shows up in games (he has a .254 ISO in his first exposure to Double-A this season). Moore has issues making contact (a strikeout rate steadily around 25 percent), but lacks the walks necessary to label him a player of three true outcomes descent (only 2.4 percent of his plate appearances have ended in a walk this season).

Besides the obvious—there is no guarantee the Rays would want a first baseman in an Upton deal—there is also the more nuanced reasoning to think a deal between the Rays and Nats might not happen and it comes down to player evaluation. Ladson’s article mentions Upton as a change of scenery type, which implies he isn’t getting the job done now. Upton’s wRC+ this season is 108—equal to his career rate—and his OPS+ of 104 is actually a point higher than his career mark.

The disappointment of a season Upton is having comes down to his batting average, like it always does. He is hitting .228 which means he must suck. Ignore that his walk rate would mark the second best of his career or that his strikeout rate is down from last season, or that his BABIP is at .285 (it’s never finished below .300 for a full season) or that his ISO isn’t too far off from last season … and well, you get the point. If the Nationals truly believe Upton is down in value, then overpaying for them might just be giving up what the Rays perceive as fair value. Or it might not be, who knows.

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4 Responses to Report: Nationals Have Interest in B.J. Upton

  1. BHG says:

    Good point about the batting average.

    I understand that the ‘Nats aren’t that far out of contention, but they still face an uphill climb. Upton would improve their team, but enough to climb up there with the Fish and the Phils?

    Is there any chance that the Nationals are interested in Upton for sentimental reasons related to his being from VA? Or do they hope the chance to play such a short distace from his home state is enough to get Upton to forgo Free Agency and sign an extension?

    • R.J. Anderson says:

      I don’t believe the Nationals are all that close to competing in that division. I’d have the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves above them–even with Upton. That makes all this reported interest a bit suspect, really, why would a team probably two years from legitimate contention overpay for a player they only had for 1.5 seasons?

      As for the sentimental aspect, I don’t know. Maybe Upton would take a slight discount, but I think, for the most part, the hometown discount is an overrated consideration.

  2. td32 says:

    As someone that has been a staunch BJ Upton fan/supporter, maybe it’s time we all open our eyes a bit. BJ is AT BEST and average offensive CF’er… he is currently 15th in wOBA among CF’ers with a .326wOBA. It’s probably safe to say he is around a .330wOBA performer based on his past 4 season. He has built the reputation as outstanding defensive CF’er, but since 2008 his UZR/150 has been 8.4, 7.5, 1.9, and -13.7. His arm has gone downhill the past several seasons, as well.
    I’m not saying BJ is a bad player, just saying this may be a guy that is an average offensive CF’er that strikes out a boatload, a solid defensive CF’er that is trending downward, and someone that is becoming pretty expensive for the 2-3WAR he may be worth.

  3. ron says:

    Well I was going to add my two cents but td32 you summed it up absolutely perfect. He is what we have seen here. There is now PLENTY of data to support this sentiment. And honestly if some team is foolish enough to trade on hopes and wishes that a change of scenery will change anything… and is willing to give up a good offer for him the Rays would be fools not to exploit that.