The tears in B.J. Upton's eyes during his last game with the Rays showed how tough it was on him to leave the only team he had known. But the Atlanta Braves gave Upton plenty of reason to smile again as the sides agreed to a five-year, $75.25 million contract.
Official announcement and statements will come this afternoon once Upton passes a physical, but it was clear Wednesday night to people who spoke with him how pleased he was with the deal — relieved, excited, even "ecstatic."
Within minutes of the deal getting out, Upton changed the avatar on his @BJUPTON2 Twitter account to the Braves logo.
Upton, 28, possesses a rare combination of power and speed and solid centerfield defense, and the Braves made it obvious how badly they wanted him.
They brought Upton up for a Nov. 15 visit, pitched not only by general manager Frank Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and hitting coach Greg Walker but also by legendary former manager Bobby Cox. They also had Hall of Famer Hank Aaron call Upton, though they didn't hook up. Then they showed they meant it with the offer, the largest free agent contract in their history, to outbid the Phillies.
Upton takes the place of Michael Bourn, also a free agent, adding right-handed power to a lineup losing Chipper Jones to retirement. The Braves, who lost the NL wild-card game, are still looking for another outfielder, which could make for an interesting scene today as Upton's brother Justin, the said-to-be available Arizona outfielder, will attend the 2 p.m. news conference.
As with Carl Crawford two years earlier, the Rays were resigned to Upton leaving as a free agent. They made him a one-year $13.3 million qualifying offer because, under a change in MLB rules, they had to in order to get draft pick compensation, but they had no further talks.
The Rays will get a pick added at the end of the first round, likely the second of the compensation picks behind the Cardinals, assuming pitcher Kyle Lohse signs elsewhere. The Braves' pick is eliminated, so the Rays technically move up a slot.
Several Rays took to Twitter to congratulate Upton:
David Price: "Atlanta you will enjoy watching this guy!! Very happy for you"
Sean Rodriguez: "The braves r lucky to have him. Gonna miss u bro."
As did one of the Braves current stars, Jason Heyward: "Looks like the profile pic says it all… Welcome to Atlanta!"
Upton had been a Ray his entire baseball life, drafted second overall in 2002, promoted to the majors in 2004 before he was ready at 19, bounced around before getting back to the big leagues for good in 2006 and settling into centerfield midway through the 2007 season, then playing a starring role in the 2008 run to the World Series.
The 966 games he played for the Rays are second in franchise history (behind Crawford's 1,235), and he is also second in hits (910), runs (539), doubles (202) and steals (232). He is the franchise leader in strikeouts with 1,020.
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Today, for the first time, he will be something else.
Longo deal's deferrals: Evan Longoria agreed to defer $11 million of salary without interest as part of the six-year, $100 million extension he signed. With the existing four years on his deal guaranteed, Longoria is due $136.6 million, though because of the deferrals the players union gives the contract a present-day value of $131 million. Also, his 2013 salary was technically decreased from $6 million to $2 million, with the $4 million added to the $1 million signing bonus he got. The change had benefit for the Rays under MLB accounting rules and some tax relief for Longoria.
Other Rays news: Infielder Mike Fontenot was signed and outfielder Rich Thompson re-signed to minor-league deals, according to Baseball America.