The Washington Nationals talked to B.J. Upton, they're rumored to be interested in an outfielder, but just how hard are the Nats pushing for the top free agents like Upton and Michael Bourn this winter?
Atlanta Braves' GM Frank Wren was answering a question about any potential interest in free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, but spoke more broadly when he told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern this morning that in reality, "The dance hasn't really started on most of these big free agents." Teams looking at the big names on the market this year are in more of a recruiting phase right now as we saw this week in reports about B.J. Upton's visits to Atlanta and Philadelphia. When it comes to terms and dollar amounts, however, Mr. Wren explained, they haven't really, "... started exchanging your thoughts with the representatives." Not yet.
The Braves did have Upton in for a visit though, and as the general manager explained, the goal of such visits is to help the player, "... to get a real understanding of what your organization is all about." Representatives from the team, "... spent the better part of six hours on Thursday with B.J. and his representative Larry Reynolds," Mr. Wren said, "and it was really an opportunity for all of us to get to know one another." In addition to a tour of all the team facilities, the Braves' GM, hitting coach Greg Walker, manager Fredi Gonzalez and former skipper Bobby Cox were on hand to meet with the 28-year-old outfielder and talk about the organization with him.
When Upton met with the Phillies, Jimmy Rollins was on hand according to a report this week by FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, who wrote that the market for Upton was heating up. While Atlanta and Philadelphia are openly courting free agent center fielders this winter, the Washington Nationals, in Mr. Rosenthal's words, "... are a wild card in the market," since their decision may depend upon what Adam LaRoche decides to do. That's what Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said too...
In an interview on MLB Network Radio last week, the Nats' 2012 NL Manager of the year told the former Nationals' GM Jim Bowden and Casey Stern, "It depends on Adam LaRoche. I need a middle of the lineup left-hand bat." After that, the 69-year-old skipper said, "Bryce Harper is going to be my center fielder and probably [Michael] Morse in left and [Jayson] Werth in right." Johnson didn't sound convinced the Nationals would do anything big on the free agent market.
"We didn't do anything at the deadline," Johnson said, "We didn't need to." In a separate MLB Network Radio interview last week, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo reiterated that the Nationals were conducting "parallel discussions" while they waited to see how the situation played out with Adam LaRoche. According to a report by Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore this week, the Nationals have had "initial dialogue" with B.J. Upton, but the outfielder did not visit the nation's capital on his recent tour of prospective destinations.
CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman wrote this week, the Nationals are not, "... quite as set on adding an outfielder as Philly and Atlanta, two teams that need center fielders."
As the Nats' general manager explained Washington's situation, "... we're very versatile in what we do position player-wise because [Bryce Harper] can play both center field and if we go out and get a center fielder he can move over to the corner very comfortably where probably his ultimate position is as a power-hitting corner outfielder." That position on the Nationals' behalf hasn't changed since last season when Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak explained state of the Nats' search for an outfielder. The Nationals have players who can fill the positions now, and they believe they have the players on the way up in the organization that can play in the future.
So if Harper can play center now, and they feel one of the prospects in the organization can do so in the near-future why commit to either Upton or Bourn on any long-term deal? If LaRoche leaves and Michael Morse or Tyler Moore moves over to first, however and suddenly there might be a need in the outfield in 2013...
CBSSports.com's Mr. Heyman wrote Saturday that he sees Washington as, "... logical landing spot for Bourn," noting that, "They have shown interest in both Bourn and Upton in the past," and adding that, "... as leadoff hitters, both players fit the Nats (Jayson Werth was their atypical yet effective leadoff hitter at the end of the 2012 season) but Bourn may fit slightly better." Rizzo described Bourn as a, "... prototypical leadoff guy who hits for a high average, steals bases, great defense, great make-up," while Upton, he said, provides, "... great defense, steals bases," and is, "... more power-orientated, less on base percentage guy who would have to hit in the middle of the lineup instead of the top of the lineup."
So if the Nats want a leadoff man, Bourn makes sense ... Of course, Davey Johnson told ESPN980's The Sports Fix's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro this week that he was happy with Werth at the top of his lineup and liked his 20-year-old 2012 Rookie of the Year behind him. "I really like Jayson Werth and [Harper] 1-2," Johnson said, "I mean, they're not only run producers, but they got on base. They were outstanding at getting on base and both of them [are] outstanding base runners. I wouldn't trade those two guys for any [1-2] combination in baseball."
So Upton? When do the Winter Meetings start again? [ed. note - "December 3-5 in Nashville."]