Upton is one of the most difficult players the franchise has ever had to replace, especially since they started winning in 2008. This includes the losses of Crawford, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Carlos Pena, Scott Kazmir and other key contributors for the team.
In 2012, Upton had a .246 average with 28 home runs, 78 RBI and 31 steals in his final season with the Rays. Replacing that level of performance will be more difficult for the Rays than most other contending teams, even Rays teams of the past.
The difference with Upton’s departure from the previous roster changes is that there is no sign of a suitable replacement. No next man up that you can readily point to and see a glimpse of hope for the future.
When the Rays traded Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs, they were able to absorb those losses to their rotation easily. They had (and still have) a stable of pitchers that were developing in the minor leagues, with a new arm ready to step into the rotation.
Even today, the Rays could absorb the trade of a starter easily. They have eight pitchers on the roster that are legitimate major league starters with David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Chris Archer.
When Carl Crawford left to sign with the Boston Red Sox, the Rays had outfielder Desmond Jennings developing in the minors. Help is not on the immediate horizon this time. Even if Jennings moves over to center field, it only shifts the vacancy to left field.
Sam Fuld is an option, but he isn’t an everyday ball player and is a great defensive replacement and pinch-hitter for the team. Ben Zobrist could also start in the outfield, but his talents are much more needed at shortstop.
If only Rays shortstop prospect Tim Beckham would’ve panned out as planned when the team drafted him first overall in 2008. He could’ve filled the next-man-up role.
The team would certainly be in a better position. He could’ve filled the shortstop vacancy, thus allowing for an outfield of Matt Joyce, Jennings and Zobrist. Since he hasn’t, perhaps the answer is to tread water with Zobrist at shortstop until Rays top prospect Hak Ju-Lee is ready to for the majors.
Jamal Wilburg is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.