How the Phillies Coming Up Empty on B.J. Upton Could Doom Their Offseason

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How the Phillies Coming Up Empty on B.J. Upton Could Doom Their Offseason
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
B.J. Upton shows off his new Braves uniform.

The Atlanta Braves introduced new centerfielder B.J. Upton to media and fans on Thursday (Nov. 29), making his free-agent signing official.

Meanwhile, what is Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. thinking after the Braves and Upton agreed to a five-year, $75.25 million deal?

At first glance, this appears to be a major blow to the Phillies' offseason plans. Upton would have filled two of the team's major needs, providing a centerfielder and a right-handed power bat that the lineup is sorely lacking. 

Sure, there are several other centerfielders still available on the open market, a couple of whom are superstar talents. But Upton seemed to be the best fit for the reasons mentioned above. So where do Amaro and the Phillies go from here? 

First of all, the Phillies and their fans might reject the notion that they lost out on Upton. The Phillies tend to get their man, whether through free agency or trade, so perhaps losing Upton to the Braves indicates that Amaro didn't want him as much as believed.

The Phillies' offer to Upton seems to hint at that. According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the best package Philadelphia proposed was a five-year, $55 million deal. That falls far below what Upton was likely to get on the open market and calls into question just how serious Amaro was about signing the centerfielder

As the Philadelphia Daily News' David Murphy points out, Upton has been the sort of player the Phillies already have, one who doesn't hit for contact nor draw many walks. Obviously, the Braves are betting on his upside, hoping that he'll improve in those areas. But Amaro apparently didn't want to take the risk that Upton is what he is. 

Certainly the Phillies can get a more dependable offensive player.

Nick Swisher would fit nicely in either corner outfield spot. He could also be a right-handed bat at first base when Ryan Howard sits against tough left-handed pitching. While Swisher wouldn't provide the speed that Upton could, he hits for power and gets on base far more. 

Will the Phillies now go after Michael Bourn?

If Amaro favors a leadoff hitter, the best available is still on the market in Michael Bourn. Bourn would bring more speed and better defense to the Phillies lineup than Upton would. But he'll also likely be more expensive and is something of a one-dimensional player on offense. 

The market for Bourn may even be tilting in the Phillies' favor. The Washington Nationals were considered the favorites to sign him, but acquired outfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal

The next best option for Philadelphia after Upton could be Angel Pagan. He doesn't have Upton's power, but profiles as a leadoff hitter for the Phillies who can hit for contact, get on base and steal bases. As a switch-hitter, he would also hit right-handed against left-handed pitching. 

A five-year, $55 million contract for Pagan might work. Perhaps that's what Amaro had in mind with that offer to Upton. Maybe that's the figure he had in mind and thought it was worth floating to Upton, even though he knew it would be rejected. But that kind of deal could very well get Pagan. 

That might be why we know the Phillies made that offer, as well. We can scrunch our faces up at it, knowing it would have taken far more to sign Upton. But Pagan and his agent could see that figure and call Amaro up. Upton may not have wanted it, but we'll take it. 

Such a contract could also be appealing to former Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino. Amaro might not be interested in giving that much money to Victorino since he witnessed the outfielder's decline first-hand. Had the Phillies made that kind of offer to Victorino previously, he surely wouldn't have been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers

Then, of course, there's Josh Hamilton. He's the best position player on the free-agent market. And some expect the Phillies to make that move, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

Even if Hamilton bats left-handed, he's such an explosive hitter that it likely won't matter to the Phillies. Besides, Hamilton has a .280 average and .808 OPS versus lefties. He's not an automatic out in that matchup.

Two other trade possibilities that Philadelphia may be considering, as pointed out by Delaware Online's Chris Branch, are Peter Bourjos from the Los Angeles Angels and Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies

Another major consideration is that the Phillies have more than one need to address this offseason. Amaro couldn't go all in on a centerfielder. The team needs at least one more outfielder, probably a third baseman and a setup reliever in the bullpen.

It looked like Philadelphia had its setup man, working out a deal for Houston Astros reliever Wilton Lopez. However, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reports that the potential trade has fallen through, most likely because Lopez failed his physical. 

Losing out on Upton and Lopez looks like a nasty one-two punch to the Phillies so far this offseason.

But it's obviously still early, with the winter meetings not even taking place yet and so many players still available on the free-agent market. Amaro could get all of his business done next week (Dec. 3-6) in Nashville.

It rarely works out that cleanly for an MLB general manager. But being patient may just end up being Amaro's best move.

 

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