With the trade deadline approaching, the Nationals continue to have interest in acquiring Rays outfielder B.J. Upton, whom they sent a scout to watch during the Rays’ series against the Yankees earlier this week.
Upton has two connections to the Nationals. First, General Manager Mike Rizzo drafted with the first overall pick and signed his brother, Justin, when he was the scouting director of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the process, Rizzo came to know the Upton family well.
Second, Upton grew up playing with against Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. They are the same age, and they’ve have known one another since childhood. Today, Zimmerman said that while he’s fine with the current constitution of the team, he would welcome the chance to have Upton join the Nationals.
“I mean, I like the team we have here,” Zimmerman said. “Anytime you had talented players to your team, it gives you a better chance to win. That’s the ultimate goal. If he’s going to help us win, I’d love to have him on our team.”
“He’s been a supremely talented player ever since I can remember,” Zimmerman added. “He’s fast, he can hit for power, he’s got an unbelievable arm, he can play defense. He’s one of those players who as he continues to learn, he’s only going to get better.”
Upton, 26, has long been dogged by reputation for not extracting the most out of his vast potential. There have also been questions about his effort during games at times. He is one of those players whose raw talent acts like a curse – the things he does not do well tend to overshadow what he does well. Yes, he has a .312 on-base percentage and strikes out once every four plate appearances. He’s also hit 15 homers and stolen 23 bases this year while playing elite defense.
“I think, Mike’s never come up to me and asked me like, ‘Hey, should we trade for this guy?’ ” Zimmerman said. “But he dealt with Justin. He knows their family and he knows what they’re all about. Justin is a little more outgoing. B.J. is more quiet, and I think he gets kind of a little misunderstood. People think he’s a little standoffish, maybe a little bit cocky. But he’s a quiet guy.
“I think that’s the biggest question people ask about him, is about his character. It’s not unfair, because he is what he is. I think a lot of people get the wrong idea. He’s a great guy. He works hard. He wants to win. He’s competitive. A lot of thing’s he’s done in the past on the field have been in kind of the heat of the moment. He wants to win.”
The biggest hold-up with Upton may be his contract status. Upton will become a free agent after the 2012 season, and the Nationals would like more of a long-term solution to their needs in center field.
A few other nuggets regarding the trade deadline:
>>> The Nationals have received several inquiries about shortstop Ian Desmond, but they are hesitant to trade the 25-year-old. Desmond is hitting .228/.276/.314 this season. Rizzo considers Desmond part of the Nationals’ future core group, and “we’ve made it pretty clear we’re not moving core pieces,” Rizzo said.
>>> Among their starting pitchers, the Nationals have received the most calls on Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis. They are not actively shopping either player, though, and will not dump unless they receive what Rizzo deems as fair value. Before the all-star break, one major league executive predicted the Nationals would not trade Marquis because their perception of his value exceeded that of the league’s.