ATLANTA — Fredi Gonzalez may no longer favor a wait-and-see approach with B.J. Upton.
On Friday, the Atlanta skipper admitted to pondering a minor-league assignment for Upton — who’s batting .146 on the season — just a few months after signing the largest contract in Braves history (five years, $75.25 million).
“In my own mind, you think about those things, but really I haven’t gotten to that point,” Gonzalez told The Associated Press. “I think there’s some logistics — contractual things and that sort of stuff — that they might not be able to do it that easy.”
A regular in the majors since 2007, the 28-year-old Upton averaged 23 homers, 29 doubles and 74 RBI in his final three seasons with the Rays (2010-12), prior to inking a long-term deal with the Braves. And from 2008-12, Upton racked up five consecutive campaigns of 30-plus steals.
But homers and steals have never been Upton’s weakness in the big leagues. A career .250 hitter with a so-so on-base percentage (.331), he seemingly doesn’t possess the characteristics of a classic leadoff hitter. And with the Braves this year, Upton (only 10 hits in May) has been all over the map, batting 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th in the lineup — with no slot yielding a batting average above .212.
Since turning pro in 2003, at the age of 18, Upton has spent part of seven seasons in the minors. But even if the Braves have the contractual right to demote a healthy Upton, without having to pass him through waivers first, it could be a potentially dicey move for the organization — especially with brother Justin also playing for Atlanta (acquired in January).
As an aside, Braves fans might recall how Atlanta wanted to demote Jeff Francoeur during the summer of 2008, while the struggling veteran refined his swing in the minors. But the experiment wasn’t a success, even though Francoeur batted .538 in three games with Double-A Mississippi.
There was some delay time between Francoeur getting and accepting the assignment; and when he returned to the parent club, a frazzled Francoeur never batted above .220 for July, August or September that season. Within that three-month span, he belted only three homers.
In July 2009, Francoeur was traded to the rival Mets for outfielder Ryan Church, who hasn’t played in the majors since 2010.
To compensate for B.J. Upton’s lagging production, the Braves have tried many lineup combinations in recent weeks, with either Jordan Schafer, Reed Johnson or Jason Heyward (Friday’s starter) occupying Upton’s spot in center field.