This morning the Cleveland Indians released a pair of former Tampa Bay Rays signed to minor league pacts in catcher Ryan Hannigan and outfielder Melvin “BJ” Upton.
Last week Marc Topkin suggested the Rays could see a reunion with Peter Bourjos for the RH outfield role. Bourjos is currently on a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs, but is unlikely to make the team’s opening day roster. Last year the Rays brought in Bourjos at the end of spring training after he was released by the Chicago White Sox, and he went on to patrol center field for the team.
Topkin suggests that a reunion with Upton is unlikely.
But should the Rays be interested in bringing in a past their prime former Ray to be the right handed outfielder?
Call Me Melvin
Upton missed almost the entirety of the 2017 season after having surgery to repair the ligament in his thumb. He only managed 49 plate appearances with the San Francisco Giants AAA club.
In 2016, though, Upton spent time split between the San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays. He combined for 20 homers and 27 stolen bases over 539 plate appearances. His low batting average and on base percentage led to a 85 wRC+.
Not all was bad news though as Upton crushed left handed pitching to the tune of .275/.341/.533, with a 132 wRC+ and nine homers in 136 plate appearances. His BABIP was slightly elevated at .324, but was mostly earned due to a 6.0% higher line drive rate against southpaws.
Upton also saw his first extended action outside of centerfield in 2016. In 912.2 innings he put up +10 DRS and +2.7 UZR (+4.1 UZR/150) in the left field corner. It’s a small sample, but should be expected out of a solid center fielder as he ages.
Upton signed a minor league contract with the Indians that would pay him $1.5MM if he made the major league team. The Indians had a similar abundance of left handed batting outfielders in Michael Brantley, Bradley Zimmer, and Lonnie Chisenhall. Brandon Guyer already had the fourth outfield spot locked up, which menas Upton was battling Rajai Davis for the fifth OF role and backup CF.
It’s no surprise Upton didn’t get the job. Upton isn’t the same player he was when he was known as BJ patrolling center at Tropicana Field.
If the Rays are looking into bringing in a veteran to fill the right handed outfield role Upton should be among those considered, but at this point — given the upcoming promotion of kids who need playing time — the right type of veteran should be their main focus.