The Nationals’ mission of landing a center fielder at the trade deadline did not come to fruition, but they could have another chance to acquire one of their potential targets.
The Rays have placed center fielder B.J. Upton on waivers, Danny Knobler of CBSSports reported this afternoon. If the Nationals claim him, they would have two days to work out a trade with the Rays.
Now, the Nationals may not have the chance to place a claim on Upton if a team in front of them does so first, and it’s clear that they necessarily want to. General Manager Mike Rizzo likes Upton’s defensive ability and power, but a source said some Nationals scouts are lukewarm on him, especially at the plate. The sense I get is that there’s healthy debate within the Nationals about the merits of making Upton their answer in center field.
The Rays are in an interesting place in regard to Upton. With prospect Desmond Jennings in their outfield fold – and playing very well since his July promotion – Upton has become expendable. Plus, Upton is set to make about $5.5 million after a raise through arbitration this offseason, probably too expensive for a small-market team like Tampa. Those factors led one major league executive to say, with no ambivalence, that Upton “will get non-tendered” this winter.
A waiver-wire trade, then, maybe be the Rays’ last, best chance to cull something of value for Upton. Opposing teams will know that Upton is likely to be non-tendered and, rather than jumping to trade for him at the start of the winter, could simply wait to bid on him as a non-tendered free agent. The same issue, of course, could just as easily make a claiming team uninterested in giving up anything of value. But the two-day window would at least add a hit of urgency.
Upton, who played youth baseball against Ryan Zimmerman and is still only 27, has hit .205/.331/.391, a disappointing regression. Upton possesses tantalizing raw potential, and it’s possible the trade rumors swirling around, a spate of minor injuries him and the emergence of Jennings has hindered him this year.
The Nationals could get nowhere close to acquiring Upton over the next few days, in which case this would all be a bunch of wasted bandwith. But, with the Nationals’ center field search still ongoing, it makes for interesting food for thought.