Phillies have Upton as top offseason target
Free-agent center fielder would fill multiple voids on 2013 roster
PHILADELPHIA -- B.J. Upton's name popped up in Philadelphia long before the free-agent market opened.
The Phillies love him.
They think Upton could fill two sizable voids on their 2013 roster. First, he can play center field. Second, Upton is a right-handed bat with power. That combination has him unquestionably as their top offseason target.
A source confirmed reports on Friday that Phils manager Charlie Manuel visited with Upton earlier this week, which is nothing unusual for the Phillies. They frequently visit free agents in the offseason, not only to recruit them, but to get a feel for their ability to mesh with other players in the clubhouse and thrive in the pressure cooker of Philadelphia baseball.
The Phillies know one thing: They are going to find somebody outside the organization to play center field next season.
Is it going to be Upton? They would like it to be.
They consider Upton a player with plenty of positives. His slugging percentage has increased each of the previous three seasons, and that power should play up nicely in cozy Citizens Bank Park. The Phils especially need power from the right side of the plate because of a left-handed-heavy lineup centered around Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Currently, their only other right-handed hitter with pop is Carlos Ruiz, and he cannot be considered a sure thing considering he hit a career-high 16 home runs last season (previous career high was nine in 2009).
Upton has 232 career stolen bases, so the Phillies would be getting somebody who can cause problems on the bases. He also has a strong arm and plays a fine center field. Upton's ability to play solid defense is important with a rotation that includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The Phils want somebody who can catch the ball and save a few runs (and pitches) for a rotation they believe can be a team strength again.
Don't overlook the fact Upton is just 28, either. It's certainly less risky signing a 28-year-old to a five-year contract (if that is what Upton is seeking) than somebody a few years older.
But Upton is far from perfect. He has not hit better than .246 since 2008. His on-base percentage plummeted to .298 in 2012, which is noteworthy certainly because the Phillies have talked about their need for hitters that have patience at the plate and have a knack of getting on base. Upton also has not had better than a .784 on-base-plus-slugging percentage since 2007, and he had issues with hustling in the past. An unknown is how he would handle Philadelphia. Carl Crawford left Tampa Bay for Boston and struggled. Could Upton take the heat? The Phils have been investigating.
If Upton signs elsewhere -- the Braves also visited with Upton this week -- the Phillies could turn to Angel Pagan, Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton. Although each of those players have their own lists of positives and negatives.
Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said Philadelphia will not rush into things this offseason, although he often gets what he wants (i.e. Halladay, Lee, Jonathan Papelbon).
Amaro wants Upton.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.