TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 28: B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays breaks his bat during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays August 28, 2011 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)
Just how much interest the Washington Nationals had in B.J. Upton at the Non-Waiver deadline in July remains unclear. There were reports that said D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's connection to Upton's family had him convinced a change of scenery could turn things around for the 27-year-old Tampa Bay Rays' outfielder, and reports that the Nats' real target was the Twins' Denard Span. Upton, who was placed on waivers last week, has a .224/.308/.392 slash so far this season, 16 doubles, 18 HR's and 27 stolen bases on the year with the ninth-best UZR/150 (+1.2) amongst center fielders in the Majors and the 15th highest WAR value (+2.1) among MLB outfielders at his position.
An unknown team claimed Upton, as Tampa Bay.com's Marc Tompkin reported on Saturday in an article entitled, "Upton claimed on waivers, but deal unlikely", in which he wrote that, "The Nationals have been considered most interested and could be the claimants, assuming Upton got by AL teams." Whether or not the Nationals did claim Upton, no deal was worked out as the Rays beat writer reported this afternoon in a follow-up article entitled, "No deal with team that claimed Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton on waivers", in which he reported that, "... the window closed to make a trade with the still unknown team that claimed him on waivers."
Mr. Tompkin, though, did once again mention Washington. "There has been speculation that it was the Nationals or Indians," Mr. Tompkin wrote, but as many predicted, if Tampa Bay simply waits until the offseason they can talk to any teams with interest instead of being limited to whichever team did actually place a claim on the outfielder.
Tampa Tribune writer Roger Mooney wrote Friday in an article entitled, "Upton feels he won’t be back next season", that the waiver claim was viewed as, "...further proof to B.J. Upton that his days as a Ray are coming to a close." in an appearance on Sirius/XM's MLB Network Radio with Jeff Joyce and Morgan Ensberg, however, Upton said, "I think I was misquoted on that."
"I said I'd love to be here," Upton explained, "but definitely just stating the obvious with the trade deadline talks and now [the waiver claim] coming up, I just said it's definitely a possibility, it's not something that you can rule out. You just don't know what could happen." Did the Nationals claim Upton and try to work out a deal? Did the Cleveland Indians? They were another possibility the Tampa Bay press entertained, but you'll never know. Did D.C. GM Mike Rizzo pursue Upton? Will he continue to look for a center fielder this winter?
When he was asked about the Nationals' search for a leadoff man/CF in a post trade deadline interview on the The Mike Rizzo Show, the Nats' GM told 106.7 the FAN's Danny Rouhier he believes the Nationals, "... have guys in place that are developing as we speak that I feel confident saying will be that answer for us in center. Now, because all developmental curves are different, I don't know exactly when that time frame is."
"This person," Rizzo said speaking of the names mentioned in connection to the Nats' search this summer, "... we feel that would have been a bridge to one of these younger players in our system [that] we believe has the ability and the temperament and the skill set and the tools to take over as an everyday center fielder [and] top of the order hitter."
"I felt if there was an opportunity to accelerate that curve," Rizzo explained further, "and get us a guy now that's young enough and controllable enough that it would be worth the risk of giving up a player or two [for] the Nationals because we're finally at a point where we have depth in our system that can kind of counteract any losses that we have." Some of that depth will be on display this September, then the Nats have all winter to continue their search.