As far back as April 2010, when the Washington Nationals were casting about for a replacement for then-recently-released right fielder Elijah Dukes, Tampa Bay Rays' outfielder B.J. Upton's name came up in discussions, with MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling writing in a 4/3/10 article entitled, "As Nats enter the season, status quo in right field", that the Nats, according to a "club source", had reached out to Milwaukee (to ask about Corey Hart), Chicago (to talk about the Cubs' Kosuke Fukudome) and the Rays, though he wrote that the Nationals, "came away feeling Tampa Bay wouldn't part with the 24-year-old speedster [Upton] unless it was out of the AL East race this summer."
A little over a year later, on April 18, 2011, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, in an article entitled, "Nationals: Seeking help in center," wrote that he expected to hear, "...the Nats to be linked to any and all available center fielders," this season since they'd dealt Nyjer Morgan and weren't sold on either Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel or any other in-house options as the solution for their center field and leadoff issues...
Among the potentially available outfield options, according to Mr. Rosenthal, was B.J. Upton, though Tampa Bay was saying they would, "...not entertain moving Upton unless they fall out of contention," at which point Washington would, "...hardly will be the only team interested." The Nats, according to a source with the team who spoke to MLB.com's Bill Ladson's a day after the Rosenthal rumors went into print, were scouting Upton at the time, they admitted, but, as Mr. Ladson wrote, "The source pointed out that it was routine scouting that is normally done during the season. The Nationals have not had any talks with the Rays about Upton."
Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo's was next, reporting in the 4/21/11 edition of his weekly Sunday MLB column, "Baseball Notes", that "major league evaluators" had informed him that the, "Rays [will be] exploring a deal for Upton if they should fall out of contention, or even if they’re in contention," if they can, "...make a deal similar to the one they made involving Matt Garza, in which they received good talent, including Sam Fuld."
In a May 31st blog post by MLB.com's Bill Ladson entitled, "Nats looking for center fielder, leadoff hitter", the Nats beat writer for Major League Baseball wrote that the Nationals were in the market for a center fielder/leadoff hitter, "... according to a baseball source, who also said the club [was] willing to overpay to get what they want." On June 5th, MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported that the Nats felt Rays' center fielder could fill that role in D.C. in a blog post entitled, "Nats continue to have interest in Upton", Mr. Ladson wrote that his sources were telling him that the Nationals consider Upton, "an excellent defensive center fielder" and, "according to the source, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo believes a change of scenery would help Upton’s career."
Last week it was FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal angering Nationals fan all over NatsTown when he talked Tyler Clippard to Tampa Bay in an article entitled, "Trade Thoughts: Rangers, Nationals", in which he wrote that Washington could, "...make a [B.J.] Upton deal work," if they were willing to part with, "...right-handed setup man Tyler Clippard and a young position prospect perhaps." But is Upton even available?
ESPN.com's Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) tweeted Sunday night that, "The Rays will listen to offers on B.J. Upton --but probably won't trade him unless they can get a good bat in trade (not nec. in same trade)." In this week's edition of Boston Globe.com writer Nick Cafardo's Sunday "Baseball Notes" column entitled, "In a renaissance of pitching, artists paint the corners", Mr. Cafardo writes that deciding what to do with Upton has been a, "should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-trade-him dilemma for the Rays,":
"The Nationals, for one, want a young center fielder they can grow with. Many believe Upton will smooth out and be that guy. So is he available? All signs point to yes."
Upton's posted a .216/.300/.361 line so far this season, down from .300/.386/.508 in '07, 273/.383/.401 in '08, .241/.313/.373 in '09, .237/.322/.424 last season, and .256/.341/.408 on his career. Upton's BABIP's fallen from .393 in '07 to .344 in '08, .310 in '09 and .304 in 2010 to .262 this season. The '02 1st Round pick, taken second overall that year, did hit 18 HR's last season, the second-highest HR total of his career, and he did steal 42 bases in 51 attempts. A +5.0 WAR in 2008 dropped to 3.9 last season (Roger Bernadina was worth +0.5 WAR in 2010, Rick Ankiel +0.8), and this year Upton's played at a +0.5 WAR to the Shark's +0.3 WAR and Ankiel's -0.1 WAR.
How much of an improvement is Upton over the Nats' in-house options? Is a change of scenery enough to help the now-26-year-old outfielder reverse the steady decline in production he's experienced over the last few seasons? Will playing close to his childhood home in Virginia and alongside his childhood teammate and friend Ryan Zimmerman help Upton turn things around? Is it even worth discussing Upton based on a few rumors? For over a year now the Nats and Upton have been mentioned together in rumors from sources and writers around the country. If the Rays wanted a significant return on their '02 1st Round pick, maybe they should have traded him last season. Can D.C. GM Mike Rizzo get a good deal on Upton now that his value has dropped some? Do the Nats' need another lightning-quick, light-hitting, plus defender? He is a right-handed bat at least...
• Another Note: The Upton talk is not the only time the Nationals were mentioned in Mr. Cafardo's "Updates on nine", this week. No. 9 on the list is Milwaukee Brewers' first baseman Prince Fielder, about whom the Boston Globe baseball writer writes:
"One man’s opinion: The Nationals will emerge as a major suitor for Fielder. There’s an amiable relationship between them and Scott Boras, they need a big-name power hitter, and they are an emerging team with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals are the "team of the future’’ and at age 27, Fielder is still a young man who can put people in the seats."