The Atlanta Braves have signed free-agent B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract, giving the former Tampa Bay Ray the largest contract in franchise history as the Braves bid adieu to Michael Bourn.
I am wholeheartedly a B.J. Upton apologist due to the everlasting memories of his offensive showing in the 2008 playoffs. In his second full season, a then-23-year-old Upton mashed seven home runs in 11 playoff games, leading the Rays to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
Maybe it was just removing the word 'Devil' from the team name that did the trick, but those 52 plate appearances have had an irrevocable effect on my thinking when it comes to this Upton, forcing me to predict this is the year B.J. puts it all together. In four seasons since, that year has yet to occur and it is fair to wonder if it ever will.
I, however, think a monstrous season could be in the cards for Upton, though that may be because I have a hard time betting against athletic players that: (1) proven they belong (2) possess the tools required (3) shown flashes of stardom.
However, I do agree whether or not it can be sustained for five seasons, let alone one, is doubtful, but Atlanta isn't investing in the upside from Upton. In actuality, the Braves are investing $15 million for five seasons in Upton to play exactly like he did in 2012 in which he produced 3.3 fWAR and played like a $15 million player (via FanGraphs).
Even then, the Braves would be getting more bang for their buck because of Upton's defense and stolen base success. Upton can truly play center and is a gazelle when it comes to hunting down fly balls. However, Upton's defense last season shaved 0.2 from his fWAR total of 3.3.
As far as the stolen base success goes, it's been one part of Upton's game that has improved through the years, unlike his contact rate. To make stealing bases worthwhile, players should be converting at least 70% of their attempts. Upton's been better than that and it's even more impressive given the number of bases he swipes.
So even if Upton has peaked and is what he is at this point, Atlanta made the right move replacing Michael Bourn with B.J. Upton. While that is easy to say right now before the remaining free-agent players sign their contracts, it's hard to discredit the Braves from acting quickly on a 28-year-old that could get better, or give them exactly what they paid for.