How B.J. Upton Would Give Phillies' Offense the Missing Element It Badly Needs

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterSeptember 24, 2012

B.J. Upton could be making dollar signs in Philly next year.
B.J. Upton could be making dollar signs in Philly next year.J. Meric/Getty Images

Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has been rather public about his intention to upgrade the team's outfield next season.

Amaro is placing a premium on getting a center fielder. Fortunately for him and the Phillies, the 2013 free-agent market has some big-ticket players who can provide some help. 

Michael Bourn will probably be the most popular target for teams needing a center fielder with speed who can bat leadoff. Those skills would certainly help the Phillies, but it appears that Amaro is looking for a player who can be more of a run-producer—and supply a right-handed bat. 

That would seem to make B.J. Upton the best fit. Upton hits right-handed, has 20-home-run power and is capable of stealing 40 bases. At 28 years old, any team that signs Upton will still get some prime seasons from him. 

As's Jason Churchill points out, plenty of clubs will be in line for Upton's services this winter.

The Phillies' NL East rivals, the Washington Nationals, could also be in pursuit (though speculation is that they're eying Bourn as their top target). Other teams chasing Upton could be the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.

Even the New York Mets, Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds could join the bidding (according to the Miami Herald, however, the Marlins are planning to cut payroll, so going after Upton seems unlikely).

But if Amaro is serious about making the outfield a priority for the Phillies in the offseason, the guess here is that they'll go after Upton the hardest, as they need a right-handed run producer to mix in with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. 

Upton has batted second the most over his career, so that's where Charlie Manuel could stick him next season. A top of the order with Jimmy Rollins (if he stays at leadoff), and Upton would provide plenty of RBI opportunities for Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Howard.

Manuel could also bat Upton in the No. 4 spot between Utley and Howard. The presumption is the Phillies want a right-handed outfield bat to prevent Utley and Howard from batting back-to-back and providing a trickier matchup for opposing teams in later innings. 

Phillies center fielders have batted .269/.333/.418 this season with 16 home runs and 65 RBI. That includes the production that Shane Victorino provided before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers before the July 31 trade deadline.

Upton has averaged 19 home runs a season since becoming a full-time player in 2007. But over the past two seasons, his power has increased and he's averaged 25 homers per year. With nine games remaining in the 2012 season, Upton has an outside shot at 30 home runs, though that doesn't seem likely. 

A career triple-slash average of .256/.337/.422 doesn't look terribly impressive for Upton, but the Phillies might be willing to bet that those numbers go up with a batter like Utley or Howard hitting behind him. Amaro and company might want to note that Upton has had Evan Longoria batting him in Tampa Bay, however. 

Defensively, FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating says Upton is slightly below average this season (ranking seventh among qualifying center fielders).

But he has typically played better in center field during his eight-year career. Even with this year's showing, he still plays better defense than the Phillies have been getting at that position (among the bottom third in MLB) this year. 

Amaro and Manuel surely don't want a butcher out there playing center field, but Upton's defense will surely be sufficient. It's more important that Upton gives the Phillies some badly needed offense from the outfield. 

Bourn is a better defensive center fielder and a prototypical leadoff hitter. Josh Hamilton is obviously a superstar hitter who can add 35 homers and 120 RBI to any lineup.

But neither player fits what the Phillies apparently seek for their lineup. Both of them will also be too expensive for a team that's hoping to avoid the $178 million luxury tax in 2013 (and $189 threshold in 2014). 

Of course, Upton isn't going to be cheap—especially if seven teams bid for his services this winter. But I don't think that many teams will be in the hunt. This really could be a battle between the Phillies and Braves for Upton. And Atlanta hasn't made big free-agent signings under its Liberty Media ownership. 

All signs seem to be pointing toward Upton being the centerpiece of the Phillies' offseason renewal plan. It would be the right decision for Amaro. 


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