Should Upton Start Shopping for Luggage?

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Coming into the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays
season, I knew it was a make or break season for the future of Rays
CF B J Upton. The way he performed in the field and at the plate
early on in this 2011 season could ultimately decide if he stayed or
left the Rays via a trade either at the Trade Deadline, or if the
Rays fell out of post season contention.


Ultimately the Rays did not feel
overwhelmed coming into Spring Training by Upton’s salary of $ 4.825
million while also subtracting the high salaries of SP Matt Garza and
SS Jason Bartlett instead of the wishy-washy tendencies both at the
plate and on base of Upton.


Some say the Rays were holding onto
Upton for 2011 hoping his trade stock would rise so they could
package him in the same way they did Garza with the Cubs this Spring,
or for additional possible Bullpen pieces for 2012. With Upton
entering his last and final arbitration this off season.


If Upton does hit his stride finally
providing ample hitting and smarter base running to go with his solid
defense, it could solidify his sport on the Rays 2012 roster. But
then again, who would have thought Bartlett and Garza would be
wearing National League jerseys in 2011 when the 2010 post season
ended.


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You have to also wonder what the Rays
brass is thinking right now with LF Sam Fuld, who has been a career
CF in the minors leading the AL in stolen bases ( 10 )and 4th
in hitting ( .365) heading into Sunday’s finale in Toronto. The
emergence of Fuld could hasten the potential of an Upton deal knowing
Fuld would makes only $ 418,300 for the 2011 season compared to
Upton’s escalating salary.


Do not forget the Rays have another
budding OF star currently hidden down in Triple-A Durham in Desmond
Jennings who most thought had a more than moderate chance to crack
the Rays roster this Spring before Fuld began his legendary run.
Jennings is currently hitting .241 with the Bulls with 5 SB and 2
Home Runs.


Having spare parts in their farm system
to interchange with Upton if the Rays want to unload another possible
$5 million plus salary for 2012 is just another intriguing part of
the whole Upton equation. With Fuld and Jennings showing they can
play CF, it has to put a bit of pressure on the organization to
possibly make some sort of ” fishing expedition” to see what
Upton could net the Rays in terms of players or prospects.


With the Washington Nationals currently
scouting Upton, they are one of a few teams sending team officials
out watching Upton on the road or at home. As the season unfolds,
Upton will either show his value, or the Rays might finally cut their
ties with their former First Round pick. But people fail to remember
Upton is still only in his mid-20’s, even younger than Fuld.


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Upton is currently sitting about normal
for him at a .219 average with 2 HR and 7 RBI, but his base running
in the early games of the season tended to push the needle closer to
a trade than the Rays retaining Upton for the full season.


But Upton is one of the Rays leaders in
the clubhouse even if he is not currently a intimate part of the Rays
marketing plan for this season. If you take the Rays marketing
direction in consideration, besides the Sunday, June 19th
bobblehead promotion, Upton’s name has seen limited exposure. The
fact the promotion is just a couple of weeks before the Trade
Deadline has it’s own interesting twist.


All in all you are either a Upton
supporter or a critical vocal partner. Sure the guy has not been the
most model MLB outfielder in respect to power and hitting potential
for the Rays, but people forget he has also been more than willing to
change from his original SS position to wander around the Rays
infield before finally landing at home in CF.


You either believe Upton still has
further MLB potential, or that he has peaked as a player. With Carl
Crawford heading to the confines of Fenway Park for 2011 you had the
realization that this might be Upton’s year to shine and show he has
matured and taken the next step in his development.


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But Fuld’s sudden cult following has
overshadowed Upton and possible given him another chance to lay low
and not be held totally accountable at times at the plate. For this
Rays team to get another chance to hit the post season party, Upton
has to be a vital part of the team, a contributor of the highest
order and a bright light in the clubhouse.


If not, the decision is made easier by
the Rays brass and Upton possibly could be wearing something other
than a Rays jersey by August 1st. I have posted before
that it is Upton’s time to “put up or shut up”, now it is time
for Upton to sprint out from under the Fuld media umbrella and show
again he is the veteran here. Either that or Upton has better buy
some good luggage for his journey somewhere else.


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