Yesterday, I wrote about the Rays and selling off a piece or two. B.J. Upton was the focus, and I hinted that Desmond Jennings might be able to replicate his performance. I did not want to leave that thought hanging—even though Upton’s two home runs since are doing a nice job of making the timing look silly—so here is the expansion of that thought.
Let’s start with Upton. The Sunday performance will raise his seasonal line, but his 2008-2011 offering of .247/.336/.397 will remain mostly constant. The average major leaguer is hitting .252/.320/.389 this season and the average center fielder is hitting .262/.328/.410. Upton, for his part, is an above average hitter by those measures, and the two big projection systems out there figure this to continue. PECOTA has Upton at .240/.329/.383 and ZiPS says .246/.334/.410. If you discount Upton’s 2009 season more strongly than the systems or three-year system, then his expected production increases. The defensive metrics are all over the place for Upton. Some say he is above average and has been for a while now, others say he is above average now, but wasn’t last year, and others say the exact opposite of that. To my untrained eye, Upton is above average, probably a plus-five defender for the sake of conservatism. Upton is an above average runner too, who makes up for whatever mechanical flaws he has with outstanding athleticism.
Jennings is tearing up Triple-A, and has hit .285/.374/.431 over parts of three seasons with Durham. Not shockingly, the projection systems play it close to the middle ground, with PECOTA saying .261/.334/.369 and ZiPS at .268/.339/.378. They don’t expect Jennings’ Triple-A numbers to translate perfectly, at least not right away, but he still figures to be an average-to-above average offensive center fielder. Defensively, it’s hard to get a good read Jennings, but in the time he was up with the team last season, it appeared that he embraces a more reckless style of defensive play. One play in particular showed off Jennings kamikaze attitude, as he nearly bulleted through the left field wall chasing a foul ball in Toronto. I do wonder if there is a dome-adjustment period for outfielders who previously had not played under a roof, but Jennings got his feet wet last season, so he should be fine. Jennings has a lesser arm than Upton, but his range is said to be fantastic, so he should be an above average defender, perhaps with better mechanics.
I’ve written about how the Elias rankings do not value Upton’s skill set properly, so if the Rays want to get a lasting return as Upton leaves, it will have to come via trade rather than draft pick. With a season and a half standing in between Upton and free agency, this might be the best time for the Rays to get a return. It just depends on if a team will offer fair value, if so, the Rays can make a move without hurting their chances too much. If not, then having too many worthwhile outfielders is rarely a bad thing, and the Rays will just have to figure out how to keep a ready outfielder busy in Triple-A for a little while longer.