I'm a B.J. Upton fan. He's a good power/speed guy who plays solid defense at a premium position, CF, that is a current need for them. He's only 28 and should be worth the 5 year/$75.5M deal he signed. Or at least close to it. That the Braves signed him is a coup for them. For Atlanta, it was a perfect fit and here's why...
- They're ready to win now and should be for the length of his contract, thus its perfect timing for them to maximize that contract value.
- They need a RH to break up their string of good LH hitters.
- They have no top CF prospects in their system that are ready to take over any time soon. In fact, CF is a big weakness in their system overall.
- BJ Upton liked Atlanta and wanted to go there.
In many ways Upton is also a nice fit for the Cubs considering his relatively young age, his speed/power combo, and their need for a CF in 2013. The Cubs certainly have the payroll space to sign him. I understand the appeal of Upton and the disappointment from some that the Cubs didn't go after him, so I wanted to take this opportunity to look at why signing -- or even pursuing -- Upton just wan't in the cards for a team like the Cubs right now.
if we look at the same list as above and apply it to the Cubs, it's just not as good a fit as it was for the Braves.
- The Cubs are not ready to win now. They might win, but a whole lot of things have to go their way. Upton is a good player, but he's not the kind of guy that turns around a team from 100 losses to playoff contender. Upton would likely be most useful to Cubs pennant race at the back end of his contract while spending the earlier years, likely his better ones, on a losing team. In some ways it's similar to the Matt Garza situation. He was arguably their best pitcher the last two years, but it was never going to be enough to put them over the top. The Cubs may decide to keep Garza and he should continue to pitch well, but he'll no longer be in those prime years by the time the Cubs start winning consistently. The timing wasn't quite there for Garza and it really wasn't there for Upton either.
- The Cubs have been looking for a LH hitter to balance their lineup. Jed Hoyer has specifically said that he prefers to get a CF who bats lefty. And while that's not a deal-breaker, it makes him less than a perfect fit. Certainly a lesser fit than Atlanta, who specifically targeted a RH bat.
- Unlike the Braves, the Cubs do have a few CF prospects. One, Brett Jackson, could be up sometime midseason. Another, Matt Szczur, should be up by next season. A third, Albert Almora, is a pretty polished hitter and defender and probably won't take that long to reach the majors either. Certainly not 5 years.
- One bit of news struck me today exemplifies what I'm going to say for this last point of comparisn. Hiroki Kuroda was offered 1 yr/$18M to play for the San Diego Padres. Why is that important? Because he signed for $3M less to play for the Yankees...because he wanted to play there. There's nothing wrong with San Diego. Great pitcher's ballpark, beautiful city, great weather, intelligent organization on the rise...that's all good, but he wanted to be a Yankee. The word is that Upton loved Atlanta and the way he was treated by the front office, not to mention that this is a team that expects to contend for a World Series. I've said often said here that, while money is king, establishing relationships count when it comes to courting FAs. The Braves and Upton agreed on a nice deal for both sides at 5 yrs/$75M, but it's unrealistic to think he would have preferred to sign with the Cubs had they offered the same money. It's unlikely they could have signed him unless they significantly outbid the Braves, but as we saw with Kuroda, even that doesn't guarantee anything. But let's say you do manage to throw enough money at him to change his mind. Do we really want the Cubs to pay a premium for a good, but not great player? I don't. That was a big problem with the Hendry era.
The Cubs did not even get into the bidding and it probably had very little to do with what they felt about BJ Upton. Perhaps, you might say, they could have at least tried. Well, who is to say they didn't kick the tires here and learned early in the process that interest was minimal? Upton was in a good position to get what he wanted. That the Cubs offered "opportunity" wasn't a lure for Upton. He was going to play everyday no matter where he signed. He didn't need to prove anything, nor was he in a position where he needed to raise his value. The situation didn't play up to the Cubs strengths as far as their best selling points in this year's market. It would have required significant time, effort, and money to lure him to Chicago, possibly at the expense of other pursuits. Even if they played it perfectly, it was still going to be a long shot.
Like most of us, I imagine the Cubs would have liked to have Upton out there everyday in CF. Why not? He's a good ballplayer and there's a need. But I understand why the Cubs didn't pursue him, and I understand why that was probably quite alright with Upton too. The Braves were just too perfect a fit on both sides. Congrats to them on a nice signing and, as for the Cubs, we can at least give them credit for being realistic and keeping their perspective on the situation.
Sometimes a team's got to know it's limitations.
But it won't be long before the Cubs are in a position to look for that final piece or two, and by that time, the bigger name free agents will start to look at the Cubs as the "perfect fit".
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