When the Atlanta Braves signed center fielder B.J. Upton last winter to a lucrative five-year, $75.25 million contact, they envisioned a young star who would provide solid production in the middle of their batting order for years to come.
They may one day rue that deal.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is now seriously considering asking Upton to work out his hitting woes in the minors.
That's right—demoting a player making eight figures annually.
Speaking to reporters before Friday's game against the Washington Nationals, Gonzalez talked about what to do about Upton, who is currently hitting just .145.
It's a hard decision. It's a decision that you take very, very seriously. You talk collectively with your coaches about it, and it's something always falls on my shoulders, right? That's fine. I'm comfortable with that. But you've got to think about 25 (players), six staff members, four clubhouse guys, the front office and the fans.
It seems almost unthinkable that Gonzalez would be forced to make that decision. Upton clubbed 118 home runs with a .255 batting average in eight years with the Tampa Bay Rays. He's always had a propensity to strike out, with a 25.1 percent career strikeout rate, but the Braves obviously knew that when they signed him.
What they didn't count on was a current strikeout rate of nearly 35 percent and a player who looks completely lost at the plate.
Upton was not in the starting lineup for the second straight day, and he's been relegated to the bottom of the batting order when he has played in recent weeks.
With Evan Gattis hitting .281 along with 12 home runs and 32 RBI, Gonzalez would be remiss to keep his hot bat out of the lineup. On Friday, he had Jason Heyward in center with Justin Upton in right and Gattis in left.
As long as Upton is struggling, that's the outfield combination that makes sense for a team trying to stay on top in the NL East.
Upton is a classic example of why long-term deals are so incredibly risky for teams. Even Josh Hamilton, who signed a five-year, $125 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels, was a major risk. He's struggling in his own right, albeit not quite like Upton.
There is so much for general managers to consider when putting together deals for free agents. In the Braves' case, they apparently weren't willing to keep Michael Bourn, preferring to let him hit free agency and take their chances in the market.
Bourn is working out pretty well for his new team, the Cleveland Indians, and he's doing it for one year and approximately $24 million less.
Can Upton eventually work things out? Sure, but whether he can play up to the level of his contract is another matter entirely.
For right now, that answer is a resounding no. And the Braves are hoping that it's just a blip on the radar.
If not, they'll be counting the dollars spent in their sleep.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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