Oct 24, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; American sportswriter Peter Gammons prior to game two of the MLB baseball World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Rumors: What You Talkin' About, Pete?

There’s a good way to recognize when you’ve become Road Kill.  All you have to do is look about for the scavengers circling you.

That, unfortunately, is the best characterization I have for some of the fallout today after the Braves’ release of Dan Uggla.  Even more unfortunately, we have something else – tweeted by a Hall-of-Famer, no less – that requires further scrutiny, for this statement is starting a firestorm of its own today:

 

 

Let that one sink in for a second.

 

What Does That Really Mean?

Peter Gammons is a very well respected baseball columnist and commentator.  He is indeed a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in that role, so I tread carefully and respectfully in what I’m about to say.  However, Gammons also has been known to tweet some – well – frankly very odd things from time to time.

Do I think he made this up?  No.  Does it require some added context?  Heck yeah.

 

Gammons is very well connected with the teams in the Northeast, especially Boston, so it is fair to guess that this came from one of the northestern AL-East clubs or from the Cubs (former Boston GM Theo Epstein now runs them now).  But in the absence of Gammons providing the full context (or if I can quote Erin Andrews:  “Don’t you just love social media?”), this sounds a lot like an off the cuff remark from somebody speculating about the Braves’ situation with B.J. Upton.

To summarize:

  • This does not mean that Wren was shopping BJ while he was “actively” making calls to try and trade Uggla in the past month.
  • This does not mean that the Braves are even close to releasing BJ.
  • This does not mean that a second salary dump is coming (noting that Atlanta still has to pay Uggla).

 

So What Is the Situation With BJ?

B.J. Upton. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Well, his batting average is up to … .215 now.  Obviously, that’s not good.

However, there are glimmers of hope as he’s hitting .275 thus far in July.  Last night he had his requisite lone hit (1 for 4), though that was a solid double that drove in a run.  He later scored (easily) while running through an inexplicable stop sign at 3rd base.

Since June 24th, B.J. has at least one hit in all but 2 games.  There’s only 3 multi-hit games among them, but that’s still 19 games of sustained forward progress.  Maybe this lead-off thing is working – somewhat – for him.

 

B.J.’s contract is in its second year – it runs through 2017.  He turns 30 in a month, so he’ll be 33 when it expires.  The Braves are on the hook to pay him roughly $52.1 million from now forward.  In raw sabremetrics terms, he will need to be a “7 WAR player” from now through 2017 for the Braves to ‘break even’ on that $52.1 million.

From a fans’ perspective, that won’t ‘feel’ like he’d be worth it, for that translates to just 2 WAR per season.  But he’s certainly capable of that much, and could get there.  For comparison purposes, Tommy La Stella is on a 2 WAR pace… though he’s played only half the season so far.

 

This is Different From Uggla

B.J. Upton is the everyday regular Center fielder for the Atlanta Braves.  Unless you believe that Jordan Schafer is better (and obviously the Braves don’t right now), then you should admit that there is no viable alternative to B.J. for that position at this time.

There is no CF equivalent to Tommy La Stella in AAA who is slashing baseballs all over the yard.  Todd Cunningham is not riding in on a mighty steed to rescue this team from Melvin Upton, Jr.  The closest thing available is – oddly enough – Kyle Wren, who was recently promoted to AA Mississippi.  But he’s at least a year away from having a shot at the job.

Upton still has a viable speed tool, and he is better than average on defense – would be even better excepting a few mental lapses here and there.  He does flash occasional power.  He is now at 7 homers – his career peak is 28, but he’s more-or-less on pace for an average year or 13-14 after 9 in 2013.  He has already exceeded his extra base hit totals for 2013 (23) with 26 this season.  So this is not a player circling the drain – as Uggla was.

Dan Uggla, unfortunately, was just lost at the plate.  The Braves simply could not do what was necessary:  a month of minor league ‘rehab’ to get him a bunch of no-pressure ABs to work on that.  It’s a failing that the league and players’ association should probably make an allowance for, since it creates a no-win situation for player and team.  BJ has been able to rehab himself – a bit… slowly – while in the season.  After a couple of years’ effort, Dan could not.  Benching him was necessary, but also cemented his demise.

 

Do I think Frank Wren would trade B.J. is somebody wanted him?  Yes, I do – if they would also take about two-thirds of his contract with him.  But right now I also believe that would hurt this team.  Jason Heyward or Jordan Schafer would have to play CF… and I’m not at all convinced that such a move would work for the rest of the season as Jason is not a ‘natural’ CF and Schafer is streaky at best.

But do I think Wren is ‘desperate’ to move BJ?  No.  He was desperate to move Uggla… but this is not the same situation.

Even if it was… $20 million (Uggla’s remaining contract plus deferred signing bonus) still doesn’t compare to $52 million.

 

_____________

Gammons remark was not well-considered – and still has not been elaborated upon.  But Braves’ fans should frankly ignore it.  Your team will feature B.J. Upton in center field for the foreseeable future – and you could certainly do a lot worse.

 

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Tags: Atlanta Braves B.J. Upton Peter Gammons

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