While checking in on the Durham Bulls this weekend, something stuck out at us. Desmond Jennings, who some thought would replace Carl Crawford in left field this year, has started three of the first four games in center field.

Why is this significant? Because, come July, the Rays may need a new center fielder.

BJ Upton is on a tear to start the season. It is still very early, but after nine games Upton has a .920 OPS (OBP + SLG). To put that in perspective, only four players in the American League had a higher OPS in 2010.

Whether it is a healthy shoulder, a stronger mental approach, or even the time he spent with Rod Carew, Bossman looks like the guy we saw in 2007 and in the 2008 playoffs. And that makes him very likely to be traded.

Upton is making $4.8 million this season, in his second year of arbitration eligibility*. Next year, in his final year of arbitration, Upton can expect a bump in salary to $7-8 million** depending on how well he does this season. He will be eligible for free agency following the 2012 season.

It has been well-documented that the Rays have explored moving Upton in the past. And now that he is producing, interest in the speedy center fielder may finally match the Rays’ demand.

The Rays did hold on to Carl Crawford until he walked via free agency. But with Upton, they could choose a different path. For one, Upton is no lock to be a Type A free agent and command two draft picks as Crawford did. In fact, at this point, Upton wouldn’t even be a Type B free agent (1 draft pick) if he hit free agency today.

Also consider that the Rays were a playoff contender as Crawford neared free agency. And yet there were rumors that the Rays discussed a potential swap prior to the 2010 season that would have sent Crawford to the White Sox.

Like Matt Garza, Upton is about to get very expensive and his production may be peaking. And like Garza, the Rays may move Upton before the price tag goes up. And rather than replacing Crawford, Jennings may find himself as the Rays next center fielder.

*players are eligible for salary arbitration in years 4-6 and are eligible for free agency after 6 years of service time.

**Shane Victorino is a decent comparable for BJ. He made $5M in his second year of arbitration eligibility and $7.5M in his final arbitration season (both were part of a long-term extension)

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20 Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    Crawford also had signed an extension so he wasn't 6-and-out like BJ would be.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      And I think that is important. The Rays like to budget 2-3 years in advance, and it is easier to budget players like Crawford with longterm deals than guys like Upton where his year-to-year salary is a bit of a mystery.

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  2. CC says:

    Not going to say anything negative. Just copy and paste in address bar.

    http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/stats/sortable_team_stats.jsp?c_id=tb

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    • Scot says:

      How does this relate to the Upton discussion? I don't see your point other than the Rays have started slowly.

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      • Chris says:

        Because if you are in first, you don't trade him (like we didn't trade CC last year). If you are in last or 4th, why not?

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  3. angrybuddha says:

    Can't be that much of a mystery, though, Cork. You seem to be within a $100k or so with your projections of arbitration results... so the Rays should be pretty clear on what their players are going to be costing them - even those without fixed contracts.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      When I am projecting I am usually taking a middle road based on what it might look like if the sides avoid arbitration, as most players do. In those cases there is certainly some cost certainty in the arb years. but the margin of error tends to go up the more money they are making. For example, Tim Lincecum asked for $13M and Giants offered $8M. That's a big window based on the judgment of an arbitrator. While Upton is not in Timmy's league, there could still be a $2M difference between the two sides. That might be ok for the Rays, but I'm not certain.

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  4. David says:

    If Upton does get traded and I see him actually run to first base on an infield grounder I will be mighty pissed.

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  5. Gus says:

    Trading Upton now would be akin to trading Kazmir after his "comeback" month of August 2009. A sure sign of surrender on the season, but selling high for a player who isn't likely to remain at this high level for much longer (unless you believe Rod Carew has finally got through to him). The strikeouts I saw over the weekend reminded me of the old BJ (guessing with 2 strikes) and I'd be inclined to dump him if (a) they got young major leaguers in return and (b) they gave Jennings the CF job and left him there for the next 6 years.

    You can't win a pennant in April, but you sure can lose one. Absent a miracle series win in Boston, I'd be willing to say: they've lost this season by losing Longo and going all in (20% of the payroll) on the Manny-Damon quinella.

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  6. Derek says:

    I think this is less cut and dry than it's being made out to be. There are a couple of factors in play here. One is Matt Joyce, and the other is Sean Rodriguez. If the FO thinks these guys can handle playing everyday, then we could see an Upton trade at the deadline, if not, then I think they will wait it out, and hope for the comp picks after 2012. Seeing is how Elias only looks at a players previous two years, which would be BJ's 2011 and 2012. I don't think they make the mistake again of playing guys that might not be ready for full time duty. (I'd also like to point out that everyone on here was super pissed when Maddon said he wanted to ease these guys into playing time, now you know why)

    The same thing applies to Shields, if one of Torres or Cobb can handle the big leagues, then Shields is gone, but if they can't, then they will be the ones who will be traded.

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  7. Scot says:

    Good blog. Useful data and reasonable argument. If Upton stays hot, he will look more appealing to some teams. To which teams would he be most appealing?

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  8. Joe says:

    I was about to say imagine our offense without BJ Upton but then I remembered that with him, we only have 1 win and that came off Dan Johnson's bat. I love how Upton is swinging the bat, he certainley would be nice trade bait but Rays FO TRADE FOR HITTERS NOT PITCHERS. Had the right idea with Garza, make more trades like that please. Jennings and Chirinos are the only guys I see helping soon from the minors but we can't dear start their clocks, not with the amazing Kotchman to save us!

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    • KillaTapes says:

      Do you think they should not worry about their clocks and bring them up now? I'm not sure I see what the worth in that would be. You ultimately lose service time from them in the future, when this team will be, you know, better than the crap that's out there now. And I'm not convinced they're enough to bring this team out of the gutter now.

      But what do you think?

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  9. Mark says:

    I realize the history of the organization with past players, and the price tag is going up for Upton, but both sides have mentioned a long term deal. Is that not an option??

    It's funny, a month ago, everyone was hyped for S-Rod, Brignac, D.J and Joyce to finally get their shot and so far they have done nothing. There is a reason these guys were not full-time players last year.

    (On a side note: I do like all of these players and think they have 'potential' to succeed, but as of yet, they have not shown us anything to suggest they can be above average major leaguers.

    And while I love what Jennings has done in the minors, there are reasons why he is not called up yet. What has he done in spring training to really set him apart? Health is a another major concern. What happens if he gets hurt? Who fills in then?

    Might just be me, but I like the idea of signing BJ, Longo, Price, Hellickson and Davis to long term deals and building around those players with the likes of Jennings and the names mentioned above as the supporting cast.

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  10. Alex says:

    Hasn't Desmond Jennings always been a CF minus the tail end of last year when he was going to get called up?

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    • Alex says:

      I'm not sure why you think this is significant. Of the 402 games that Jennings has played in the minor leagues 372 have been in CF. That's almost 93% of his games.
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=jennin001des

      I think they are keeping him at CF because they may trade Upton/they know Upton may be gone soon but more than anything they are keeping him there because CF is more valuable then the other two positions. Better for him to get his playing time in CF and have him move if necessary rather than playing the "easier" position.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      yep. but if he is earmarked for LF later this season or all of next season, why not have him playing LF in the minors?

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  11. Alex says:

    Well yes I think Bj will be gone eventually within the next year or two but I still think keeping Desmond in CF is better because it is the harder position to play. Better for him to get experience there. He's obviously the CF of the future but that doesn't mean he can't play LF until CF is open ala Josh Hamilton (granted his reason for playing LF is b/c of injuries).

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  12. neverwin says:

    I don't like this idea.
    with Upton gone, WTF hell the starting line-up would be?

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