With Carl Crawford set for a large raise when he becomes eligible for free agency this winter, there has been a school of thought that the Rays might deal their star left fielder this summer in order to extract value for him before he leaves this winter. However, with the team atop the AL East, it seems unlikely (to say the least) that the Rays would deal one of their best players, and the team has publicly stated that they’ll do whatever they can to keep him, though they obviously can’t compete with the big payroll teams if one comes calling with a few barrels of cash.
However, I wonder whether we’ve been speculating about the wrong outfielder that the Rays may put on the block this summer. With B.J. Upton struggling once again, perhaps he’s the toolsy OF that Tampa Bay will dangle this summer.
While he’s always possessed star potential, Upton’s disappointing 2009 season was one of the reasons the Rays weren’t able to repeat as a playoff team last year. He’s shown no improvement this year, as he continues to get himself out by chasing pitches out of the strike zone. The result – a .210/.285/.370 line that gives him a well below average .301 wOBA, not that different from the .310 wOBA he posted a year ago. After drawing walks in 15 percent of his at-bats in 2008, that number fell to 9 percent last year and has remained there this year. While Upton does have power and speed, he doesn’t use either well enough to compensate for a poor approach at the plate. After what looked like real improvement in pitch selection two years ago, it’s been nothing but regression ever since.
For the last year and a half, Upton has essentially been an average baseball player, with his value mostly coming from his glove in center field. However, with his second trip through arbitration coming up at the end of the season, he’s no longer cheap enough for the Rays to sit around and hope he lives up to his talent level. They’re paying him $3 million this year, and that will likely go to $5 or $6 million next winter. For the Rays, that’s a significant amount of the budget, and money that could potentially be offered to Carl Crawford if Upton wasn’t around.
While trading a guy who was a +4 win player in both 2007 and 2008, and doesn’t turn 26 until August, is certainly a pretty big risk, the Rays may have to decide whether they’d have rather have Crawford or Upton going forward. They almost certainly can’t have both, and Crawford’s the one that is actually making them a good team right now. Instead of shipping off the star player who does everything well, perhaps Andrew Friedman and company should consider shopping the underachiever who is reaching the point of his career where he’s no longer cheap or all that young. There would certainly be a market for Upton, as teams will always take chances on that kind of talent, and the Rays would be able to replace him far easier than they could replace Crawford.
Given their budget, Tampa Bay won’t have that many chances to win it all. If it costs them the potential of B.J. Upton to keep the present of Carl Crawford, that may very well be a trade worth making.