Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 11/28/12
The Braves wasted little time in making a statement in free agency. Atlanta has reportedly agreed to a five-year 75.25 million deal with center fielder B.J. Upton, marking the largest free-agent contract in the franchises history. Upton, 28, had spent his entire major-league career with the Rays. Last season he hit .246 with a career-high 28 home runs, 78 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. The signing, which is pending a physical, fills two big needs for the Braves. Looking to add more right-handed power in their lineup they got it with a player who averaged 23 homers in each of the last three seasons, including 19 from Aug. 1 through the end of the season, which tied for the most in the majors. They also made up for the all but certain departure of Michael Bourn, who became a free agent. If theres are any negatives with Upton its his plate discipline and his fit. He struck out 169 times last season, his third straight with at least 161 Ks. He also doesn't fit the classic lead-off hitter role, like Bourn, who had 64 steals in 208 games in a Braves uniform. That's something Atlanta may have to address in free agency or try and find someone on the roster to mold into that position, with Martin Prado or Andrelton Simmons as possibilities. But ultimately Upton is younger than the 30-year-old Bourn and a mix of power and speed Bourn cant match he hit a career-best nine homers last season with the Brewers Ryan Braun and Angels Mike Trout standing as the only players with as many steals and homers as Upton had last season. He's been on a steady incline each of the past three seasons, going from 18 home runs in 2010 to 23 in '11 and then the 28 this last season and also adds balance to a lineup that was heavy on left-handed hitters. Upton, who is one of eight players to reach 100 homers and 200 steals before turning 28, was one of the biggest center fielders on the open season in a group that includes All-Stars Bourn, Josh Hamilton and Shane Victorinio. From a monetary standpoint it's a bold move for the Braves. General manager Frank Wren had said the team was unlikely to overspend in free agency. Instead he gave Upton, who earlier this month had turned down a one-year, 13.3 million guaranteed offer from the Rays, a deal that beats out Derek Lowes 60 million in 2008 as the teams largest free-agent contract ever. Power in center field has been missing since Andruw Jones left in 2008, with the Braves hitting just 44 home runs. In that same span, Upton has hit 89 HRs. Now the Braves possess a potent combination of power and speed in Upton and 23 year old Gold Glove-winning right fielder Jason Heyward, who last year hit 27 homers with 21 steals. Given the Braves' needs and what Upton brings to the lineup, he looks to be an upgrade, even at an historic amount for the franchise.
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