The centerfield market cleared up a bit this week with two of the top names changing locations. First, B.J. Upton signed a 5-year, $75M contract with Atlanta on Wednesday, a lot of money for an above-average to good player, especially when they cost a team their first round pick. Today, Denard Span, and his 3 years for $21M left on his contract, was acquired by the Washington Nationals for high-upside pitching prospect Alex Meyer.
We’ve already discussed both these players fairly in-depth this offseason, essentially saying they’re very similar in total production, despite doing it in very different ways. I was in favor of acquiring Span, but Upton possesses more upside (and risk).
On the free agent market, one WAR on the free agent market has cost teams nearly $5M the last few years, so the Braves are basically Upton to be what he is, a 3-win player. However, that rate may rise significantly with the explosion of TV contracts, such as the $250M/year deal the Dodgers just signed. By the team Upton’s contract is over, the Braves could be paying him to be a 2 WAR – or average – player.
Many have looked at his .298 OBP this past season and thought this contract is way too much. He walked at a near career-low rate, due to him swinging more often. It is very similar to the adjustment Jason Heyward made this past season. If Upton is hitting 6th or 7th, this is manageable, but if he is near or at the top of the order, it probably isn’t. If it’s a trade-off between patience and power, his spot in the order should dictate his aggressiveness. At best, he figures out how to be patient and simultaneously hit for power while maintaining his average CF defense. At worst, the power disappears and he becomes a below-average hitter while his attitude problems flare up, making the Dan Uggla deal seem great.
Reports came out the past couple days that the Braves talked to the Twins about Span, but could not get close with a deal. I find that very hard to believe considering what the Nationals gave up. Meyer is a Josh Johnson type body with an upper-90’s fastball, but he was also a 22-year-old pitching most of the season in the South Atlantic League (A). He made seven good, but not great, starts in High-A, so he may start in AA this upcoming season.
Despite being half his size, J.R. Graham possesses as good of an arm as Meyer, and I think every single Braves fan would have been ecstatic to get a quality starting centerfielder for Graham. It’s possible that the Twins may have needed another arm to go with Graham, due to his size, but something like Graham and Juan Jaime would have probably been just as valuable as Meyer by himself. The Upton deal on its own isn’t horrible, but when coupled with this steal by Washington, it looks a lot worse.
This Upton deal does tighten the Braves payroll a bit, bringing the current total to $55M. The players under arbitration are projected to make around $23M, leaving no more than $20M for a left fielder, any other free agent signings, and the remaining 15+ players who make the minimum. The Braves could trade any combination of Tommy Hanson, Jonny Venters, and Paul Maholm to clear some money, but a high price name like Corey Hart is probably now out of question. This is not the deal I wanted, but at least they didn’t decide to go with Jordan Schafer again.