Is B.J Upton the Next Great Yankees Centerfielder?
From the headline alone, Yankee haters will crow about buying more all-stars and the rich getting richer. After an explanation of needs, contract status' and an enticing offer to the Tampa Bay Rays, maybe New York acquiring B.J. Upton will seem a little more reasonable.
The Tampa Bay Rays wasted little time in exercising their 2010 option on left-fielder Carl Crawford. Crawford's outstanding season included "slash" stats (average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage) of .305/.364/.452, 60 stolen bases and a MVP of the All-Star game, easily meriting the $10 million contract.
Having committed that amount to Crawford, along with being on the hook for $8 million due to DH Pat Burrell, Tampa may be reluctant to offer Upton a large salary, likely leading to arbitration.
Upton's sub-par season of .241/.313/.373 may not bode well for him heading towards arbitration. He will, however, be due a giant raise from his '08 salary of $435,000.
Also hurting Upton's future in Tampa are his periodical mental lapses and occasional lack of hustle. Ultra player's-manager Joe Maddon went so far as to bench Upton during '08. Step in the New York Yankees.
Coming off a world championship may seem like a poor time to look for improvements, but New York will have big decisions to make preparing for 2010. The biggest decisions, sans Andy Pettitte's status, come from the outfield. Not their strongest part of the field in '09, the potential outfield of 2010 has a lot of wiggle room.
Likely gone is free agent Xavier Nady. After suffering a second major elbow injury, Nady's career may even be in jeopardy. Free agent Jerry Hairston, Jr. may be retained, but only as a fourth/fifth outfielder or fifth/sixth infielder.
Certainly in the mix will be Nick Swisher. Swisher's deal is through 2011 and he seems to relish New York. Also in control will be arbitration-eligible Melky Cabrera. Developing into a solid player, Cabrera can expect a hefty raise. Speedster Brett Gardner will likely see the opening day roster, possibly as the fourth outfielder.
Which leads us to Johnny Damon. At 36, yet still a valuable offensive player, (.282/.365/.489) Damon will surely draw interest as a free agent. Should that interest come from the Yankees?
Tough call. This writer says no. Damon's defensive liabilities are only expanding and his productivity will slip eventually.
If that opens left field, I suggest moving Swisher to left and letting the stronger armed Cabrera play right, thus opening the sacred real estate in between.
Of course, acquiring the ultra talented Upton will not, and should not, be cheap.
For his services, I suggest New York offer a pair of Austin's. Number one prospect Austin Jackson seems ready for the big's after a season at AAA where he hovered around .350 until a late season slump. Jackson is also the organization's best defender in center field.
Austin number two is Austin Romine. The highly touted catcher was recently named the Florida State League (high A) MVP and continues to impress in the Arizona Fall League. With Tampa catcher Dioner Navarro undergoing elbow surgery, another receiver should be on the team's wish list.
The final Yankee dilemma: Hideki Matsui. This World Series hero and MVP also enters free agency at 35 and in possesion of balky knees. If the Yankees sign him, (and I hope they do) the DH role is then occupied, leaving aging catcher Jorge Posada behind the plate.
In an ideal world, Matsui's knees allow him to play an occasional left field, giving Posada time off from behind the plate.
With Upton possibly roaming all that sacred real estate, maybe Matsui will need only to catch the at-him balls.
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