There’s just one week remaining until the July 31st trade deadline. Of course trades can and often do occur after that but players have to clear waivers. The Atlanta Braves would like to deal center fielder B.J. Upton, but given the 3+ years and $45+ million owed to him, it will be difficult to find a trade partner. Upton is not quite 30, but given his struggles with the Braves, his best years seem like a distant memory.
After seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays in which he accumulated 21 fWAR, Upton signed a five-year deal worth $75.2 million. That offseason the Braves also traded for Justin Upton, his younger brother. While Justin has succeeded in a Braves uniform, the change of scenery hasn’t been so kind to B.J. In his first season with the Braves, Upton’s strikeout rate shot up to 33.9 percent. His power abandoned him as he hit just nine home runs after dropping 28 the previous year. Overall he hit .184/.268/.289 for a 55 wRC+.
While the 2014 season has been better, it’s far from good. Upton is striking out in 30 percent of his plate appearances, and his power hasn’t returned. He’s hit only seven home runs and owns a meager .126 ISO. His batting line of .215/.279/.341 is an improvement, but it’s only a 74 wRC+, and he’s over replacement level by only the slimmest of margins. His contact rate have dropped by a wide margin, and when he does put the ball in play, he’s doing so with less authority.
The Braves recently dropped Dan Uggla, whose offensive production tanked over the past two years. They won’t do the same with Upton, but they appear eager to trade him. Unfortunately, his contract represents a heavy chunk of change, and he’s not very good. ZiPS and Steamer project a batting line in the .225/.295/.380 range, which is about 10 percent below the major league average. He can play center field, but he’s not an elite defender, and after stealing 195 bases from 2008-12, he’s swiped just 27 with the Braves.
It’s seems apparent that Upton is on the decline, and even though his projections paint a more optimistic picture than his performance in the last 1.5 seasons has, he’s a below-average player. If they want to move him, the Braves would have to eat a lot of the $45 million he’s owed from 2015-17. A team such as the Seattle Mariners that is in need of a right-handed hitting outfielder could potentially be interested, though they haven’t been linked with Upton.
With his devastating decline in his performance and the hefty salary, it’s unlikely that the Braves will be able to trade Upton. Perhaps they can convince a team to take him off their hands in the offseason when there’s more time to work a deal out. Right now it doesn’t look like Upton can be an upgrade for a contending team. His future might be a fourth outfielder, and he’s getting paid like a star player.