Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

New Atlanta Brave B.J. Upton has "great memories'' of Tampa Bay Rays

B.J. Upton spent most of his first day as an Atlanta Brave talking about the future. But at the end, with some prompting, he admitted there was some looking back as well.

"I loved playing in Tampa," Upton told the Tampa Bay Times. "I loved playing with those guys. And I wish I could have continued to do that. But I think we both know that wasn't going to happen. I was prepared to leave mentally. And I'm happy with the way it turned out."

He had plenty of reasons, signing a five-year, $75.25 million contract that is the largest for a free-agent in Braves history. The Rays knew they couldn't keep Upton and didn't negotiate past the one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer required for draft pick compensation if he signed somewhere else.

Upton said during his news conference he didn't hold "any grudges" and would always think fondly of his time with the Rays. (Though he did note how the Braves embraced him during a Nov. 15 recruiting trip: "I really never felt like that before.")

"I look back on my time in Tampa with a lot of great memories and a lot of great teammates," he said later. "I grew up in the big leagues, so there were a lot of ups and down. But I wouldn't change a thing."

Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman, acknowledging the integral role Upton played in their transformation to contender, wished him well.

"And," Friedman said. "I'm glad that he's going to the National League."

Upton, who will wear his familiar No. 2, gets a $3 million signing bonus and salaries starting at $12.45 million and going up $1 million per year.

What will he miss most about playing for the Rays?

"The fans, man," he said. "I know we had our ups and downs, but they really supported me. I was a Ray for 10 years, and the support meant a lot. I'll never forget it."

In other Rays news:

•With a midnight tonight deadline to tender contracts, the Rays face interesting decisions on several of their eight arbitration-eligible players, specifically infielder Ryan Roberts, who projects to make $3 million, and outfielder Ben Francisco, around $2 million. Also in question could be infielder Sean Rodriguez (around $1 million) and reliever Burke Badenhop ($1.6 million). In some cases, the team may seek to negotiate lower salaries by the deadline and if not then cut the players loose with the potential to re-sign later.

•Utility infielder Mike Fontenot seems to have the best chance of making the team of six players signed to minor-league contracts with spring training invitations. Two other newcomers are first baseman Nick Weglarz and right-hander Will Inman, neither with big-league time. Re-signed were outfielder Rich Thompson, and minor-league infielder Shawn O'Malley and right-hander Matt Buschmann.

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