As the Nationals wait for a resolution to their ongoing talks with first baseman Adam LaRoche, they have had initial dialogue with free agent outfielder B.J. Upton, according to a person familiar with the situation, and are expected to have increased communication with Upton in the near future.
Upton, as first reported by MLB.com and FoxSports.com, met this week with both the Braves and Phillies, two of Washington’s National League East rivals. “I’m really blown away by the love other cities are showing me right now,” Upton tweeted this morning. “Can’t wait to see how this pans out.” The Nationals, though, have not yet met face-to-face with Upton.
Before getting more seriously involved with Upton or Michael Bourn, the other top free agent center fielder, the Nationals need to figure out their deal with LaRoche. General Manager Mike Rizzo has said signing LaRoche is his No. 1 priority.
But the Nationals also have the option to move left fielder Michael Morse to first base next season. If LaRoche signs elsewhere, the Nationals would turn to the free agent market to replace the void left by Morse in the outfield.
Upton, who played the first seven years of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays, would be one option. He hit .246/.298/.454 last year with 28 home runs. Despite his experience, Upton is still only 28 and will not turn 29 until August. He plays standout defense in center but would be more of a power bat than a leadoff candidate, though his .336 career on-base percentage is far better than his performance last year.
With the Braves and Phillies showing strong interest, Upton could come off the market sooner than later. He is represented by Larry Reynolds, the agent who recently negotiated Torii Hunter’s two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers.
If the Nationals missed out on Upton, it would increase their need to either reach a deal with LaRoche or turn to another outfielder. One option would be Bourn, a better on-base threat than Upton who hits for less power and is more than a year older. Bourn is represented by Scott Boras, the powerful agent who also counts Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, among other Nationals, as clients.
Because Harper can play both center field and left field, the Nationals could cast a wide net in searching for an outfielder if need be. But the center field options on the free agent market appear to be more enticing than corner outfielders.