MLB Trade Rumors: B.J. Upton Is Underrated, Overrated

KANSAS CITY, MO - : B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays swings during the 1st inning of the game against the Kansas City Royals. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Rays have Desmond Jennings waiting for a center field job and BJ Upton is getting expensive in arbitration. Add in that the Rays are 6.5 games back of the AL Wild Card, and you can see why the Rays are likely to trade Upton. And the competition should be fierce, if you believe the early rumblings. The Giants are said to be looking at him as an alternative to Carlos Beltran, while the Nationals are considering "offering the moon" for him, which I'm guessing means they have a good prospect named Tom Cullen.

The news that Upton is available isn't surprising, but it does change the strategy for a few teams. Upton is under team control through next season too, so he's not just a pure rental. The price could be steep, sure, but Upton is one of the more dynamic talents in the league, right?

 

                                                                  
Year   Age  Tm  AB  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
2011    26 TBR 349 80 13  0 15  52 23  7 41 98 .229 .310 .395 .706


Okay, so he's not having the most impressive year in 2011. But in the past, he was one of the more dynamic talents in the league, right?

 

                                                                    
Year   Age  Tm  AB   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
2010    25 TBR 536 127 38  4 18  62 42  9 67 164 .237 .322 .424 .745


Uh. But I'm sure that his 2009 was so good that he can be called somewhat dynamic.

 

                                                                    
Year   Age  Tm  AB   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
2009    24 TBR 560 135 33  4 11  55 42 14 57 152 .241 .313 .373 .686


Hmm. So if my back-of-the-envelope calculations are correct, if Upton has gone from a .241 batting average to .237 to .229, next year he'll hit .218, and after that, he'll sign with the Mariners to lead the team in batting average. Science!

Those aren't the numbers of someone who should create a trade-deadline frenzy. That's Endy Chavez with a draft pedigree. So if a team is really interested in Upton -- really willing to pay what is said to be a fairly steep price, here's what they're counting on:

Tropicana Field has drastically suppressed his numbers
According to the park factors on Baseball Reference, Tropicana Field is actually a more extreme pitcher's park than Petco Park. Everyone knows that when a guy like Chase Headley hits .294/.384/.400, he's hitting like Ted Williams in his prime -- you know, something like .406/.553/.735 -- but the numbers require a little adjustment to be read right. But Upton deserves that same kind of understanding. Those numbers up there intentionally omitted his OPS+, which was 97 over the last three seasons. So he's a league-average hitter, and ...

He's a plus defender in center, and he's a good baserunner
If you believe in the WAR numbers at FanGraphs, Upton is still a valuable player when he's hitting .220 or .230. He's a great defender, and he steals bases at a high rate. He might not have the sexiest BA/OBP/SLG slash lines, but he makes up for that in other areas.

He is still a tools monster -- a scouting favorite who could turn into the player everyone thought he'd be
Bingo. This is the real reason teams are tripping over themselves in that calm, measured, trade-deadline kind of way. The Nationals think a change of scenery is what he needs. Other teams are going to get greedy and think he can be more than a plus defender, citing his 2007 (.300/.386/.508, 24 HR) as evidence. He's still just 26 for another month.

There are all sorts of names floating around the deadline, but Upton's might be the most interesting. He could help a lot of teams, sure, but just how much is up to the imagination of those other teams. And if that imagination runs wild, maybe the Rays will really cash in on a player who has been, to this point, somewhat of a disappointment relative to his expectations.

All tables provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View the original tables here

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