Does a Laynce Nix For B.J. Upton Swap Work:

Steve O Speak

The Nationals have been in pursuit of Virginia product B.J. Upton (who was a youth teammate of Ryan Zimmerman) for sometime. While in the past Upton was too good for the Rays to give up on, his down season, combined with his high arbitration rate make him very likely to be dealt this season. In addition the Rays have more outfield depth overall as well as top prospect Desmond Jennings waiting in AAA. Now the question is would this trade work?

For the Nationals it should be basically a no-brainer. Laynce Nix is having a career season and is a free agent after the year. Washington needs to add whatever value they can for him and send him on his way. Any talk of resigning him should be ignored as Bryce Harper is quickly making his way through the minors and Michael Morse may be moved back to LF if the Nationals acquire a power hitting 1B. Unless the N.L. adopts the DH for next season, there is little need for Nix.

In return the Nationals could get the answer to their center field woes. While Roger Bernadina has come up with some big hits and great defensive plays, they are too few and far in between to have a major impact on this team. Bernadina fits best as a 4th outfielder and shouldn’t be starting everyday for the Nationals. Despite having great speed his defense has always been a bit of a liability in CF. Upton on the other hand has been great defensively up until this year, and could just need a change of scenery to get his defense back on the right track.

When Upton is going well his defense is of the gold glove variety, and can be a real difference maker in the outfield (which is a big reason why Tampa has held out so long). While it is a concern that it’s not up to par right now, I would have to believe that his defensive issues this year are just a fluke, after being a top CF since he moved to the position mid-way in 2007. In addition Upton has always brought exceptional speed to the base paths and been one of the league’s best base stealers. Upton’s speed would be a great tool for a Nationals team that has been as aggressive as anyone on the bases.

If Upton’s defense and base stealing are there then this can be a good deal for the Nats, but the real question is how will his hitting be? Now regardless his hitting will be better than Bernadina and Rick Ankiel, but that isn’t exactly setting the bar too high. Upton has power, but he doesn’t always show it (though this season it seems to be coming out) the real question is whether he will get enough hits (and walks, though his walk rate isn’t horrible). This year though Upton has been extremely unlikely with a BABIP of .277, which is well below the mean of .300 and Upton’s career mark of .327. If some of Upton’s hits start falling, then this deal could end up being a steal for Washington.

So why then would Tampa consider making this deal? Well for starters they need to give Desmond Jennings a shot. He has been their top position prospect for a couple of years now, but he can’t crack the starting lineup. He should be able to step in from day one and replace if not exceed the all-around production Upton has brought to this team (likely more bat than defense). Also, Upton is pretty pricey for the budget conscious Rays, as his $4.8 million arbitration deal is the 2nd biggest deal on this team. With Upton headed for another Arbitration case that could pay him over $7 million next season, Tampa should look at going with the younger option and saving money. Saving money is even more important as the Rays still need to sign a number of their banner draft class this year, as well as afford quite a few raises next season (esp. David Price). While this deal doesn’t offer the Rays any long term value (outside of saving money) is does help them in the short term.

The Rays are currently in 3rd place in the A.L. East, but sit just 3.5 games out of first place and 3 games out of the Wildcard. Being 10 games above .500, there is no reason for the Rays to think that they can’t overcome those odds. Adding another bat like Laynce Nix (likely as their DH), would allow the Rays to promote Desmond Jennings, and move Johnny Damon as well. Nix would be a major boost offensively in a DH role (at least against RHP), and Jennings should be able to exceed Upton’s value this season, considering how much of a funk Upton has been in. The Rays could also look to move Damon’s contract (which is the only one bigger than Upton’s on the team) to free up even more money for their future success.

The deal would represent a slight risk for the Rays, as they’d be selling low on Upton, but his value can be replaced internally for about 1/15 the price. Nix would be a good addition to an offense that hasn’t been able to keep pace with the Red Sox and Yankees, and help improve the Rays chances of getting a playoff spot this year. The money freed up by the Rays would also have a lasting impact in either signing rookies, or ensuring they can have a more aggressive payroll next season.

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