It’s official: BJ Upton is the newest Atlanta Brave. Having passed a physical this morning, Upton was introduced by the Braves this afternoon as their new center fielder. Upton will wear number 2 for the Atlanta Braves.
The deal signed by Upton is a 5-year, $75.25 million contract.
BJ Upton was the 2nd pick in the 2002 draft and came on the scene with the Tampa Bay Rays in a big way, making it to the World Series in his second full season as a Ray.
Though he has had unusual seasons and his offense has been an enigma in recent years, Upton brings the potential of huge rewards for the Braves. Upton’s defense in center field is as acclaimed as that of now ex-Brave Michael Bourn. In his 8-year big league career, Upton holds a .255 batting average, an on-base percentage of .336 and a .422 slugging percentage. During the 2012 season, BJ had a career-high 28 home runs as well as a .752 OPS while batting .246. He is that coveted right-hand bat that the Braves have been looking for to balance their lefty-heavy lineup.
One huge plus the Braves hope to capitalize on with the signing of BJ Upton is his career postseason .879 OPS (in 101 post-season at-bats).
Though Upton has struggled with strikeouts in recent years, he has always been a clutch hitter and has been a menace on the base paths. As Fredi Gonzalez noted in today’s press conference introducing Upton, BJ goes from first to third base on routine singles better than nearly every player in baseball. Upton’s speed will easily take the sting out of losing Michael Bourn in the lineup. Another plus of Upton is his first and second half splits. While Michael Bourn had a steep drop-off in the second half of the 2012 season, Upton remained relatively consistent. While he had significantly more homers in the second half last season, his batting average, stolen bases, walks and on-base percentage were steady.
With the signing of BJ Upton, the Braves now look to fill the hole in left field due to Martin Prado’s expected move from that position back to third base. The Braves are currently looking at various free agents and/or potential trades for left field including Denard Span, Cody Ross and Dexter Fowler. Even with Upton, the Braves still would like a more traditional leadoff man. Though Upton or Simmons (and Prado in a pinch) could leadoff, Frank Wren is still looking at better options. So far, Upton joins only Gerald Laird as significant signings this offseason for the Atlanta Braves.
Upton said in his introductory press conference in Atlanta today that he hopes to raise his batting average and reduce the number of times he strikes out. The Braves are betting $75 million that he can do just that.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.