According to reports, the Atlanta Braves could get their man this week.
Several insiders, including ESPN's Jim Bowden, believe that the Braves are the leading contender to sign center fielder B.J. Upton. But only slightly. The bidding war between Atlanta and the Philadelphia Phillies looks to be a fierce one.
Both teams need center fielders. Both need right-handed bats in their lineups. And each club would surely like to deprive an NL East division rival of its top free-agent target while improving its own roster with a star player.
However, it appears that the Braves have the edge for Upton. MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports that the 28-year-old outfielder initially favored the Phillies when the free-agency period began. But after meeting with Braves general manager Frank Wren, former manager Bobby Cox and current skipper Fredi Gonzalez, Upton's interest "seemed to soar."
Upton would obviously be a huge acquisition for Atlanta. First and foremost, he would replace Michael Bourn in center field. Perhaps Upton provides less defensive range, but he compensates with greater power and nearly the same level of speed.
Whether Gonzalez chooses to bat the center fielder toward the top of the lineup or in the middle of the order as a run producer, Upton's right-handed bat is a much-needed complement to a mix heavy in left-handed hitters with Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann.
But Wren won't be done with his offseason shopping even if he lands Upton. The Braves still need another player to fill their vacancy in left field, with Martin Prado moving to third base to replace the retired Chipper Jones.
Atlanta could also decide to keep Prado in left field and pursue a third baseman. But Kevin Youkilis seems to be the only notable player available at that position, and the Braves appear to be looking for a longer-term solution there.
That leaves the trade option, which might suit the Braves better, because they have a surplus of starting pitching. Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado could be used to get some help at third base. Tommy Hanson would also be a more veteran option, though he's coming off a mediocre season.
Do the Braves have enough to make the San Diego Padres consider trading Chase Headley?
The National League's RBI leader would certainly be a great fit in the Atlanta lineup. Headley could be expected to exceed the 31 home runs he hit in 2012 batting in Turner Field rather than Petco Park, even with the Padres moving its fences in next year.
Another possibility—though perhaps not as long term of a solution—would be the Detroit Tigers' Jhonny Peralta.
The Tigers are reportedly looking to upgrade defensively at shortstop by signing Stephen Drew. Peralta could then be dealt to a team seeking help at third base. The Arizona Diamondbacks are reportedly interested, but could the Braves be intrigued as well? Peralta would certainly be an option less expensive than Headley.
But the Braves apparently would prefer to bring in another outfielder. Bowman also mentions in his MLB.com report that Atlanta might have the resources to sign Upton and someone else to play left field. It's believed that Upton will sign a contract in the range of five years for $75 million.
That could leave Atlanta with enough money to also go after Shane Victorino, who would bring speed, defense and some pop to the lineup. He will also likely be cheaper in a market rich with center fielders.
However, if the Braves are looking to trade some of their starting pitching, they could probably get a player with the most upside in the outfield. Atlanta was previously rumored to be interested in Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler, but signing Upton addresses that need.
But what about Wil Myers? The Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton reports that the Royals are open to trading their top prospect for a No. 1 starting pitcher. Between Double-A and Triple-A this season, Myers hit .314 with a .987 OPS, 37 homers and 109 RBI.
The only problem for Atlanta here is that the Royals are looking for a veteran No. 1 starter. Rumors have attached Kansas City to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester or the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields. The Royals aren't interested in prospects like Teheran or Delgado, as highly regarded as they might be. They need a proven, top-of-the-rotation ace.
David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution mentions another Royal as a possibility. Could Alex Gordon be someone who interests the Braves? He's a left fielder, which fits right into their lineup.
Defensively, Gordon has won two straight Gold Gloves, and FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating credits him with saving 14 runs more than the average left fielder. Additionally, he earned 24 defensive runs saved this season, the third-highest total in MLB.
Gordon led the majors with 51 doubles this season to go with 14 home runs, 72 RBI and an .822 OPS. He does bat left-handed, but if the Braves add Upton to their lineup, that likely won't be as much of a concern for them.
Yet one more player to consider would be the Arizona Diamondbacks' Justin Upton. But the D-Backs want a shortstop. Arizona GM Kevin Towers reportedly covets Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, but Atlanta doesn't want to trade him. No deal there.
Regardless, the Braves' offseason could get off to an excellent start just before baseball's winter meetings and might get even more intriguing as the offseason progresses. Atlanta could very well be the team to watch next week (Dec. 3-6) in Nashville.
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