DALLAS - Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Nationals’ pursuit of a center fielder has taken them to conversations with the Tampa Bay Rays about B.J. Upton.
Now this isn’t the first time the Nats have entertained the notion of trading for Upton, who was one of their targets at the July 31 non-waiver deadline. The 27-year-old Upton has underperformed in St. Petersburg, where the emergence of outfielder Desmond Jennings has probably numbered his days.
The Rays figure to sell high, preferring not to wait until after the 2012 season, when Upton becomes a free agent, to cut ties. They entertained offers at the trade deadline in July, but decided to hold on to Upton. In the season’s final month, he pulled his average up from .222 to .243, finishing with 23 homers and 81 RBIs, one off matching his career high in both of those categories.
Upton would solve the Nationals’ need for a speedy guy who can cover the wide gaps in Nationals Park, and he could offer some pop from the leadoff spot. He’s got to improve on the .331 on-base percentage he posted last year, but there’s some thinking that moving teams could be the kick in the pants that he needs. Plus, Upton is from Norfolk, Va., the same cradle of the Chesapeake that produced third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He’s arbitration-eligible for another season, and a good bet to bump the $4.83 million he made last year.
What would the Rays want? Probably more than the Nationals have offered in the past, since this tango between the teams has been ongoing for a couple of years. Tampa Bay is restocking offensively, could use a first baseman and some major league ready talent. The thing that the Nats have that the Rays need is catching depth, though Jesus Flores is no more than one piece of a larger package and the Rays probably want someone more advanced than prospect Derek Norris.
The renewed interest in Upton comes after the Nationals made another run at New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner, but were rebuffed. Gardner would be moved to center if he were acquired by Washington.