Former LA Angels' outfielder Torii Hunter wanted to get a deal done quickly this winter. "'It’s gonna be quick,'" Hunter told the hosts of MLB's Hot Stove show, "'I’m not gonna wait it out. I know who I want to play for.'" After five years in the Anaheim outfield, the 36-year-old, 16-year veteran who had a .286/.352/.462 line during his time with the Angels, signed a 2-year/$26M dollar deal with the Detroit Tigers. "'You try to grab those teams that best fit you and if you know who you want to play for and you’re talking to those teams, you go ahead and grab them right then and there,'" Hunter said, "'[There is] no use in wasting time and getting to the Winter Meetings and letting everybody know, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m signing with whoever.’"
Hunter's represented by Larry Reynolds, president of Reynolds Sports Management. Another client of Mr. Reynolds is soon-to-be-former Tampa Bay Rays' outfielder B.J. Upton. The '02 Rays' 1st Round pick heads into free agency after eight seasons with Tampa Bay in which the outfielder had a combined .255/.336/.442 line and a 162-game average of 34 doubles, 20 HRs and 39 stolen bases.
After back-to-back +4.1 fWAR seasons in 2010-11, Upton likely finished his time with the Rays with a .246/.298/.454, +3.3 fWAR 2012 campaign, in which he hit a career-high 28 HRs. Bill James' projections have Upton posting a .248/.329/.436 line with 34 doubles, 23 HRs and 35 stolen bases in 2013, in what will likely be the first year of a long-term deal with... ?
Upton made visits to Atlanta and Philadelphia recently, meeting with representatives of each team and according to a report by Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore the Washington Nationals have spoken to the free agent outfielder as well. The WaPost writer reported that though Upton didn't visit the nation's capital on his tour of prospective new homes, the Nationals, "... have had initial dialogue with free agent outfielder B.J. Upton... and are expected to have increased communication with Upton in the near future."
The Nationals have long been linked to Upton via rumor as they've searched for a long-term center fielder. Asked about the Nats' interest in the top free agent outfielders available this winter, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, in an MLB Network Radio interview, described Upton as a center fielder who provides, "... great defense, steals bases," and is a, "... 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, [but] a great make-up guy from a great family we have great relationships [with] and I've known for several years."
The Nats' years-long flirtation with Upton, the older brother of Justin Upton who was the Arizona Diamondbacks' '05 no.1 overall pick when Rizzo was the D-Backs' Director of Scouting, will likely end one way or another this week according to a report out of Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay Times' writer Marc Topkin, who's covered B.J. Upton throughout the outfielder's career with the Rays, wrote today that Tampa Bay is preparing for life without their center fielder, who is expected to make a decision on where he'll play sooner rather than later.
"Upton is looking to make a decision this week," Mr. Topkin writes, "with both the Braves (who brought in former manager Bobby Cox to impress during his visit) and Phillies considering him their top choice."
CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, in a report on the possible landing spots for Upton and fellow free agent outfielder Michael Bourn, wrote last week that, "Washington isn't quite as set on adding an outfielder as Philly and Atlanta, two teams that need center fielders."
In explaining the Nats' situation in his MLB Network Radio interview, Mike Rizzo told the hosts the Nationals were, "... 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."
If the Tampa Bay Times' Mr. Topkin's report is correct, one of the two big free agent outfielders could be off the market by the end of the week. The Winter Meetings start next week (Dec. 3-6). Though the Nationals have said previously that re-signing Adam LaRoche is the no.1 priority this winter, the Nats' GM has said that the team is carrying on "parallel" discussions while they talk to the free agent first baseman. Have they talked to Upton again? Will they talk to him this week? Will Upton end up in the NL East? We could find out soon...