Waiting Game: Should Rays Continue To Be Patient With B.J. Upton?

Bleacher ReportContributor IJuly 1, 2010

ATLANTA - JUNE 15:  B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 15, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

One thing is apparent after the visiting Tampa Bay Rays salvaged a two-game split with the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

B.J. Upton had nothing to do with it.

That’s because the young center fielder wasn’t in the starting lineup.

"I just did not want to start him tonight based on a lot of different items that I'm looking at," Rays manager Joe Maddon told MLB.com writer Bill Chastain before Tuesday's 8-5 loss.

"Often times, I don't start somebody. A day off after a day off is part of the reason. I just chose not to start him tonight. But he's definitely available for the game.”

Before Wednesday's 9-4 victory, Maddon said it was a sore right quadriceps that kept Upton from appearing.

Whatever reason Maddon wants to use about not starting Upton, Rays fans couldn’t help to think it had something to do with 

Sunday’s dugout skirmish between two of southwest Florida’s most popular athletes, Upton and Evan Longoria.

Maddon did cover his tracks Tuesday in the top of the eighth, entering Upton as a pitch hitter. Upton tripled, then took centerfield in the bottom of the ninth.

According to Chastain, Upton told Maddon Wednesday that he felt a little sore and did not give reporters details on the injury.
However, Upton’s short appearance didn’t help the stumbling Rays (45-32), who finished 11-14 in June and are two games behind the AL East-leading New York Yankees and one game behind Wild Card-leader Boston.

The news gets worse.

Not only is a playoff spot slipping away, the recent events with Upton have put the front office in the spotlight, and with the trade deadline looming, the decision on what to do with the center fielder has reached a crossroads.

In 2007, Upton put up All-Star numbers in just 129 games, hitting .300 with 24 homers, 82 RBI, 86 runs, and 22 stolen bases.

At the time, Upton was 22-years old and it seemed he’d develop into a 30-30 player who could hit for average and flash the glove—despite coming through the Rays’ system having no idea what type of defensive glove he’d wear.

This hasn’t been the case, at all.

In the 2008 regular season, Upton hit .273 with nine homers, but rebounded in the postseason, smashing seven homers in 16 games.

Upton struggled in 2009, hitting .241 with 11 homers.

In 72 games this season, Upton is batting .262 with seven homers and has put the Rays’ front office on red alert.

"We've had a lot of conversations lately," said, Maddon about Upton before Tuesday's game. "We had one after the game [Sunday]. We had one yesterday and also today. We had some wonderful conversations—very frank. I just wanted to share with him some of my past experiences as a young man and as a manager today.”

It’s well documented that Upton is a good guy who had a good upbringing by his parents, Manny and Yvonne, documented in this 2007 article by ESPN’s Bomani Jones (below).

So, let’s assume maybe attitude isn't the problem.

Let’s say Upton’s latest tantrums and lack of hustle don't come from being a bad egg.

Instead, it's from being a frustrated competitor—Longoria confronting Upton came from frustration, right?

The real question is, what happens if the player’s skills don’t listen?

What then?

When does an organization stop waiting for a player’s talent to come around and part ways with him?

“At this point, salvaging Upton’s potential is going to be that much harder for the Rays,” wrote St. Petersburg Times columnist Gary Shelton on Tuesday. “For a long time, the Rays have had to endure the underachievement and hoped the talent inside Upton will emerge."

Fact is, at the end of the season, Upton becomes eligible for arbitration and could see a spike in pay, and starting left fielder Carl Crawford becomes a free agent.

Ask any Rays fan and they’ll admit they want Crawford to stay, no matter what the cost.

According to baseball-reference.com, Upton currently makes $3 million a year. That money could be spent on Crawford, who makes $10 million and will see a pay raise to around $15 million.

Last season, the Rays parted ways with a potential superstar prospect, pitcher Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir, picked 15th overall in the 2002 amateur draft by the New York Mets, was dealt to the Rays in 2004 and was supposed to be the hard-throwing lefty a franchise builds a rotation around.

In five-and-a-half-seasons, Kazmir made two All-Star teams, but combined for a 3.92 ERA, a 55-44 overall record, and a 2.29 K/BB ratio.

Numbers not good enough for a legitimate ace.

At last season’s trade deadline, the Rays shipped Kazmir to Anaheim for minor leaguers Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney, along with Sean Rodriguez, who has played in 58 games this season.

As of June 30, Kazmir is 7-6 and carries a 5.92 ERA for the Angels.

The bottom line is, baseball is a business and too much attachment to an investment can hinder a team’s progression.

I’ll admit, I like B.J., and once had an attachment to the second-overall pick from 2002.

Back in 2008, I drafted Upton in the third-round of The Super League’s first baseball draft.

Looking at his 2007 stats, the kid was a five-tool, 5x5 fantasy player, and I thought it could only get better.

In 2009, the Frontnac Bigg7evens kept Upton, thinking the kid had a tough season and needed a second chance.

However, after another slow start, Frontnac cut ties with the centerfielder and traded him for Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia.

At the time, Upton had fantasy upside, and that’s how it was possible to make a deal.

Currently, Upton has real-life upside, and now is the best time to move the 25-year old.

But it’s not easy to let go of an investment, especially one that a franchise has scouted, drafted, and spent time and money developing.

Unfortunately, for the Rays, it's time to decide.

Either keep Upton and accept him for the player he is, or deal Upton to another team who is willing to be patient and let him reach that potential we're all still waiting on.


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