B.J. Upton: What's the Deal with the Most Versatile Free Agent?

David RyanContributor IINovember 12, 2012

Do baseball fans appreciate B.J. Upton the way that they should?
Do baseball fans appreciate B.J. Upton the way that they should?Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

One of the best free agents in this year's crop, OF B.J. Upton, may be available for a five year deal worth just $60 million, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman

With an AAV (average annual value) of just $12 million, Upton would be a steal of a signing for practically any front office in baseball. Over the last three years, Upton has ranked 3rd, 4th, and 2nd respectively in Power-Speed #. His last two seasons, he has produced 2.8 and 2.6 WAR, respectively. For those readers disinclined to sabermetrics, Upton has averaged 153 H, 20 HR, 75 RBI, and 39 SB per 162 game season over his career.

Let's take this even further: Upton has played at 2B, 3B, SS, LF and CF in his career, has lead the league in OF assists and has five top five finishes in Total Zone Runs as an OF. He was the 2nd overall pick in the 2002 MLB Draft, has produced 13.6 WAR in his MLB career and is going to be 28 years old for most of next season.

Does that player seem like he's only worth $12 million dollars when you have 66 players making $12 million or more? Vernon Wells makes twice that! Carl Crawford, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee all significantly out-earned that value. Heck, even Nick Markakis makes $12 million!

Contracts are paid on past success, predicted future success, team need and a player's marketability. Upton has that demonstrated success, he's entering his prime seasons and there are plenty of teams pursuing outfielders.

The problem with B.J. Upton is his marketability.

ESPN's Scoop Jackson fell into hot water in 2008 when his description of Upton as a player that was "lazy" drew ire from the African-American community. In reality, Jackson's analysis of Upton is still the knock against him. He's a player that is so talented, he just doesn't seem to play as hard.

As if the lack of motivation wasn't enough of a headache with a player of immense talent, Upton is also portrayed as having an attitude issue. He had no problem acting immaturely when teammate and fellow superstar Evan Longoria challenged his effort during a game in 2010, even when it was apparent that Upton dogged it after the ball.

Yet, as Joel Sheehan of SI.com illustrates, B.J. Upton is also a tremendous talent who rises above the criticism and unfair expectations forced onto him by the vitriolic sports media.

The question is, which Upton are you going to get if you offer that lucrative deal? And I think the answer lies in the competitiveness and skill level of the team surrounding him.

Upton has only been linked to a few teams this offseason, most notably the Phillies. The Rangers also have a stated interest, likely for a corner outfielder position. The Braves, Brewers, Red Sox, Orioles, Giants, Tigers, Yankees and Mariners are all discussing possibly adding an outfielder as well, though none have been linked directly to Upton.

The truth about B.J. Upton is that whomever he ends up with will be lucky to have a player of his skill and fortitude. In my opinion, the criticisms concerning his purported lack of hustle are overstated due to his meteoric rise to the majors as a teenager. And maybe he will never meet those super star expectations that were forced onto him. He will likely never be the messiah for inner-city baseball either.

So let's all drop the pretense and just appreciate Bossman Junior for what he really is: a world-class ballplayer.