Braves Sign B.J. Upton

In case you haven’t been near the Hot Stove since yesterday afternoon, the Braves have signed B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75M contract. Suddenly, it feels like 1977 all over again.

I figured for sure that Upton would sign with either the Braves or Phillies, and seeing him in Atlanta is to me good news / lesser of two evils. Here’s my logic: Upton was a PERFECT fit for the Phillies, in that they need a centerfielder, they need someone with speed on the bases, and they desperately need a righthanded power bat to balance the lefthandedness of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Upton would have fit nicely into the #5 or #6 spot in the order, replacing the hole left by Hunter Pence (or more appropriately, Jayson Werth). Playing half his games at CBP, Upton was a lock to hit 30+ HR — even if it came at the expense of a .245 AVG and 160+ Ks (again, sounds a lot like Werth circa 2009, though with more defense and less OBP). In short, adding Upton, I think, would have significantly bolstered the Phillies and been a big piece in their quest to compete for the division crown. Not to say they still can’t, or that there isn’t another addition or three for them to make this winter toward that end, but just saying that Upton would have been a big step in that direction.

On the Braves, however, I don’t see Upton having as significant an impact, because I already had Atlanta penciled into second place and fighting for first regardless of who was patrolling center field. I figured that if Upton went elsewhere, they would have brought back Michael Bourn and not missed a beat. Even Angel Pagan would have fit their need in CF (he might still fit in LF). Bottom line is this: Braves will vie for first place in the NL East with or without Upton, while the Phillies still desperately need a guy like Upton as a first step toward building a playoff contender. Which means that right now, there’s still an outside shot that the Mets can compete with the Phillies for third place. Make sense?

Of course, it’s sad when one goes through scenarios like this and comes to the conclusion that the result is the Mets maybe not finishing fourth. Which is why I’m suddenly reminded of 1977. Those who remember that far back know that the Mets were coming off back-to-back third-place finishes heading into the 1977 season. During that winter, free agency was a big new pot on the hot stove, but the Mets weren’t lifting the lid to sniff what was inside. They had a strong starting rotation with a mix of veterans and youngsters, led by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack. They had two or three decent hitters and a few holes that could have been filled via the free-agent market, which included players such as Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Rollie Fingers, Bill Campbell, Don Baylor, Gary Matthews, Bobby Grich, Sal Bando, Richie Hebner, Nate Colbert, and Eric Soderholm. I highlight those names in particular because the Mets needed to upgrade their infield and outfield corners, and could have used a lights-out closer. However, the Mets chose not to dip into free agency at all, and didn’t make any significant trades to improve the club, either (unless you consider the acquisition of utilitymen Rick Auerbach, Luis Alvarado, and Sheldon Mallory to be significant). This lack of action irked the face of the franchise, a.k.a., “The Franchise” — Tom Seaver. One quote led to another and before you could say “Dick Young,” the June trade deadline came and Seaver was on his way to Cincinnati for four bright young prospects who ensured the Mets a succession of fifth- and sixth-place finishes over the next seven years.

So today I see the supposedly small-market, fiscally responsible, usually stingy, overly conservative Atlanta Braves sign a center fielder the Mets need but aren’t even sniffing, and wonder if it’s 1977 all over again. Further, I wonder why the current face of the franchise, David Wright, would want to lock himself up to a seven-year sentence in Flushing. How is Wright not thinking like Seaver did 36 years ago, wondering if Mets ownership would ever again have the cash or care to bankroll a winner? Seaver was smart enough to know that “homegrown players” like Lee Mazzilli, Bruce Boisclair, Mike Vail, Wayne Garrett, and John Milner were a nice group of guys, but not the foundation of a championship club — isn’t Wright aware of a similar situation with the 2013 Mets? Contrary to the spin out of Citi Field’s executive offices, a playoff run is at least 4-5 years away. Or does Wright really believe that Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Wilmer Flores will all mature into All-Stars immediately, and the Mets newfound “flexibility” next winter will result in a $350M spending spree on marquee free agents?

I get that the Mets are rebuilding. What I don’t get is why rebuilding prevents them from considering pieces that can help them right now and through the next 3+ years. I’m not suggesting that the Mets should have given B.J. Upton 6 years and $90M to outbid the Braves; all I’m asking is that they at least kick the tires on a 28-year-old centerfielder who can help them win in 2013 — as well as 2014, 2015, and 2016. Building a long-term winning organization happens in the farm system — but what is the logic in forcing the big-league club to stink during that process? Are the Mets going to spend $75M on scouting and development over the next five years? Somehow I doubt it.

The first official day of winter is still a few weeks away. Yet, it’s already feeling like a long, cold, dark winter for Mets fans.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. MikeT November 29, 2012 at 11:30 am
    Brian Harvey? Looks like someone forgot to proof-read.

    If the Mets sign Wright and Dickey to extensions they they are less than 4-5 years from playoff contention. They will have a playoff caliber rotation in 2013 with Dickey and Wheeler in AAA. The bullpen and offense needs to improve, obviously, but a great rotation is enough to push a team into contention in a down year. Who’s to say the NL East is going to be all that great next year or in 2014? I don’t believe in the Phillies, the Marlins are awful, and the Braves just became even more hack-tastic with Upton. The Nats will have pitching, but without Strasberg they are not the same team and what about his 2012 makes you confident he won’t just get hurt again?

    If the Mets have a legit shot at the playoffs mark my words they will make a play for it in the next few years. 2004 will not happen again (i.e. the Zambrano/Benson trades). Being cautious and smart with money is not something NYers like, but this is the reality now.

    • Joe Janish November 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm
      Thanks for the correction; my proofreader has been fired.

      Words marked.

      The Mets don’t have a “great” rotation. It might be above average or good but not great. Their bullpen is terrible. Their defense is poor. Offense is below average. There’s only so much a good starting rotation can overcome.

      Interesting spin: no spending = cautious and smart. How does not spending today make the team better tomorrow?

      • MikeT November 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm
        The Mets are bad today because they spent yesterday, so to speak. Thinking about why they are where they are, they overspent on Ollie, Bay, Castillo, Santana, and Krod. The thing people forget is that they HAVE invested in the team. So much of it was bad investments. Spending more to cover up problems would not have fixed it and would have bankrupted the team (in hindsight, I wish they had done this because Wilpon would have certainly been forced to sell). Thus, no spending now is cautious and smart because there are no good investments at the moment. People might refuse to accept it, but they would have to overpay to get anyone to sign at this point. If they finish 2013 with a good season with great pitching and a better outlook I believe they can convince people to sign without overpaying.
        • DaveSchneck November 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm
          With all do respect, the Mets have been bad recently not just because they spent, but because they spend poorly, combined with the fact that $500 million that the Wilpons had stashed in accounts earning double-digit interest evaporated. I agree with Joe in that there is no reason why they can’t spend some on a player this year that can be a contributing piece over the next 4 years. Upton is a bit of a gamble at that cost, but the offseason is still young and there are others, so I while like most I don’t trust anything the Mets say, I’ll wait to see their actions and the 2013 squad they piece together before passing judgment.

          I agree with all points that Upton on the Phillies would be worse for the Mets. One other reason is that if the Mets so choose to trade for a good CF (Span, Fowler), the Braves had more young pitching ready now, so theoretically there is one less competitor should that trade scenario materialize. Remote, but just saying.

        • Mike B November 30, 2012 at 9:44 am
          Mike I agree with you that the mets have made a lot of expensive moves that havent worked out. What team hasnt? MLB is a business and in business no one bats 1000, every team makes signings that dont work out and in this day and age the money is sickning, But that is the cost of doing business in MLB, if you dont got the stones for it get out of the show. The good teams are the ones that make mistakes but find a way to fix them and dont hold a fanbase hostage for the better part of a decade.
      • Andrew December 1, 2012 at 11:34 am
        The Mets potentially have a “great” rotation, depending on how a few things break. Kind of like the Phillies, actually.

        Let’s figure you have Dickey, Niese and Harvey as reasonable bets to all have strong years. Let’s say Dickey’s year is a tick below what he did this year, while Niese and Harvey take a modest step forward.

        The variables are then Johan Santana and Zack Wheeler, with Gee in there as well. That’s a group with really high upside. if things break right, that completes a monster rotation. if they break badly, another lost season.

        Actually, I like their chances to skew towards the positive end. It’s the absolute lack of offensive production from the outfield, including right handed power and speed as well, that is the team’s biggest weakness.

        If they can somehow put together a competitive OF, then they really need a strong defensive C. The bullpen is not as bad as people say, especially with Mejia and Familia on the radar. I’d sign K-Rod for $5/two years – why the hell not?

  2. Dan Capwell November 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm
    My preference would be to hold on to both Wright and Dickey and make some creative moves with the younger players, moving say one of the pitching prospects for an outfielder and some one Flores or Tovar for a catcher. However, I don’t think the current regime has it in them.
  3. derek November 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm
    keep wright and dickey…make a package up and trade niese…
  4. Dan B November 29, 2012 at 5:10 pm
    Spending money w/out a plan, signing a player out of panic is bad spending. But not spending money where it is needed to be spent is also bad spending. You want to build the team via the farm system? Great, but spend money on it. Every story this off season had a subtext which said Mets were cutting costs. I am not asking for Josh Hamilton. But we don’t have a good catcher and we have none in the minors. So go spend a couple million on a professional catcher. We don’t trade Hairst?on because he is only worth a low level prospect? Great! Let’s trade a couple low level prospects of our own so we can have a decent outfield. I am not asking to hold back a real prospect or to mortgage the future. I just want a real team.
  5. friend November 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm
    “How is Wright not thinking like Seaver did”

    Seaver was able to see the situation as he did, not because he was “The Franchise”, but because he had superior wisdom and insight. I am far from certain that Wright has demonstrated that he is similarly gifted.

  6. argonbunnies November 30, 2012 at 1:05 am
    Joe, I agree that it’s dispiriting to watch the Mets not giving themselves a chance to win in the next year or two, but I am thrilled we did not bite on Upton. He’s got great tools but is not a great player. On a team that needs to over-achieve a bit to have a shot, he’s the kind of player you quickly grow to hate. Think Reyes’ mental lapses in the field and giveaway ABs but without the boyish exuberance and decade of history to make us overlook it. Put it this way: if Upton had played like the player the Braves are paying him to be in 2012, the Rays would have made the playoffs.