Tifton Gazette

Local Sports

November 29, 2012

BJ Upton, Braves finalize $75.25M, 5-year deal

ATLANTA — Jason Heyward was in the audience as B.J. Upton was introduced Thursday as Atlanta's new centerfielder.

That made manager Fredi Gonzalez smile as he realized he didn't have to worry so much about finding the third starter in his outfield.

"Shoot, we may not even need a left fielder," Gonzalez said. "With him playing center and Jason, who just won a Gold Glove, in right, it's going to be fun watching these guys cover some ground in the outfield."

Upton was given a No. 2 Braves jersey after finalizing a $75.25 million, five-year contract — the biggest ever given a free agent by the franchise.

The 28-year-old spent his first eight big seasons with Tampa Bay. He hit .246 with 28 homers, 78 RBIs and 31 steals this year and replaces Michael Bourn in center. He is not expected to fill Bourn's role as a leadoff hitter.

Braves general manager Frank Wren said adding a right-handed hitter gives more balance to a lineup that includes left-handed hitters Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Heyward. Wren said the right-handed power from a centerfielder made Upton especially attractive.

"It's one thing to have a leadoff hitter, which has been great for us, having that true leadoff hitter," Wren said, referring to Bourn. "We feel like we can find that or create that. But to get someone who can play center field at (Upton's) caliber and can also hit 20 to 30 home runs, that's a different dimension. We felt like that would really add to our offense and make our offense deeper.

"We were so left-handed dominant over the last number of years," Wren added. "Now to be able to better balance our lineup left and right, that was something we felt could really enhance our team."

Martin Prado is expected to move from left field to replace the retired Chipper Jones at third base. Wren said he believes third base is Prado's best position, but he said Prado's versatility gives the team options during talks at next week's winter meetings.

 

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