B.J. Upton is becoming the player the Tampa Bay Rays envisioned when they made him the second overall selection in the 2002 Major League baseball draft. Upton, 27, is also in his last year before free agency.
In other words, Upton may be arriving as a player, just in time to leave. Upton is making $7 million this year and stands to make considerably more in free agency.
Upton got a late start on the season after injuring his back in a spring training game collision with left fielder Desmond Jennings. Upton has played 30 games this season and his numbers suggest this may be a different player than what the Rays have seen in the past, .300/.357/.482 with four homers, 16 RBI and an American League-leading 10 steals.
Over the past seven games, he is 13-for-29, a .448 average. Those are attention grabbing stats. Upton has flashed signs before of being of the verge of taking his game to another level. In 2008, Upton hit 24 home runs and hit .300. His post season numbers that year were also eye-popping as he slugged 7 home runs and had 16 RBI in 16 games played.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon credits the maturation process of Upton. Upton seems to be enjoying playing the game. He looks relaxed and he looks confident. The question that Rays management must answer soon is whether or not Upton will be traded sometime this summer, or will he just be allowed to leave through free agency.
The Rays are likely to contend throughout the summer, making the decision more difficult. However, the Rays went through this in 2010, with Carl Crawford. Crawford left and signed a mega-deal with the Boston Red Sox. In that situation, the Rays had then prospect Desmond Jennings waiting down on the farm. That may not be the case with Upton’s situation. The Ray’s farm system is loaded with pitching prospects, and everyday players may be a year or two off.