Upton signs with Braves
Tampa Bay Rays’ B.J. Upton hits an RBI-single off Cleveland Indians’ Nick Hagadone in the fifth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland July 26.
B.J. Upton is on his way to Atlanta, while Andy Pettitte is staying in pinstripes.
With the winter meetings only days away, baseball’s offseason began to heat up Wednesday with a pair of moves involving potential closers: Ryan Madson joined the Angels and Jonathan Broxton remained with the Reds.
Hours later, the Braves made big news.
Looking for a new center fielder and some right-handed pop, Atlanta found both in Upton, who had 28 homers and 31 steals for Tampa Bay last season. The fleet-footed free agent agreed to a $75.25 million, five-year contract, a deal that was finalized Thursday.
Upton’s deal is the biggest free-agent contract of the offseason so far and the largest in Braves history.
Pettitte, meanwhile, will return for another season with the New York Yankees.
Feeling strong at age 40, the veteran lefty completed a one-year deal worth $12 million, putting baseball’s biggest postseason winner back in the Bronx.
“I think we’re good enough to go all the way, I really do,” Pettitte said on a conference call. “I’m at the point where, if I didn’t feel like we had a chance to win it deep down, I wouldn’t do this.”
The five-time World Series champion retired after the 2010 season to spend more time at home but then decided to come back this year – while working as an instructor during spring training – and signed a contract guaranteeing him $2.5 million.
Pettitte went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts. He missed almost three months because of a broken lower left leg, sustained when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Cleveland’s Casey Kotchman on June 27.
“I definitely think that if I would have pitched a full season and thrown 200 innings, that I definitely wouldn’t feel as fresh and physically feel as good as I do right now,” Pettitte said. “Obviously, I feel like that helped lead me to a quick decision.”
The move means the AL East champs are set to start 2013 with the same rotation as last season: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova or David Phelps.
Next up for general manager Brian Cashman could be a contract for 43-year-old closer Mariano Rivera, determined to come back from a torn knee ligament.
Madson is making a comeback from Tommy John surgery, and he agreed to a $3.5 million, one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels five days before the start of baseball’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. He can earn an additional $3.5 million in roster and performance bonuses.
The longtime Philadelphia reliever missed last season with Cincinnati, which signed him in January after a stellar performance in 2011 with the Phillies. He had surgery in April on a torn ligament in his right elbow.
Well ahead of schedule in his recovery, Madson said he expects to be the Angels’ closer. General manager Jerry Dipoto agreed the veteran is likely to supplant Ernesto Frieri when fully healthy.
“I feel like if I can throw the ball like I’m capable of, I expect to have that role,” Madson said. “I expect to come to spring training and earn the job.”
Broxton isn’t sure what role he’ll have in Cincinnati after securing a $21 million, three-year contract that gives the NL Central champions a chance to reconfigure their starting rotation.
The two-time All-Star came to the Reds last July in a trade with Kansas City. He filled in as the closer when Aroldis Chapman developed a tired shoulder and had four saves in six chances overall with a 2.82 ERA.
Now the Reds have the option of turning Chapman into a starter, which was the plan last season until Madson blew out his elbow. The team has told Chapman to prepare for next season as a starter, although it hasn’t committed to Broxton as the closer.
Broxton wanted a multiyear deal so he could settle in one place. He didn’t insist on assurances he’d be a closer.
The 28-year-old Upton hit .246 with 78 RBIs for the Rays last season. He will replace free agent Michael Bourn as the Braves’ center fielder and should provide much-needed power from the right side.
Upton’s first full season with Tampa Bay was 2007, when he hit a career-best .300 with 24 homers and 22 stolen bases. His home run totals have increased in each of the last three seasons, but he has hit below .250 with more than 150 strikeouts in four straight years.
Bourn was the Braves’ leadoff hitter, but Upton is not expected to fill that role.
Elsewhere, the Boston Red Sox made a flurry of minor moves, trading right-handers Zach Stewart and Sandy Rosario as well as third baseman Danny Valencia.
Stewart was sent to Pittsburgh and Rosario to Oakland for players to be named. Valencia was shipped to Baltimore for cash.
Boston also hired Greg Colbrunn as hitting coach.
Athletics reliever Pat Neshek agreed to a $975,000, one-year contract that avoided salary arbitration, while Kansas City traded right-hander Vin Mazzaro and first baseman Clint Robinson to the Pirates for minor league pitchers Luis Santos and Luis Rico.
The Chicago Cubs designated right-hander Casey Coleman for assignment to make roster room for newcomer Scott Feldman, who agreed to a $6 million, one-year contract the previous day.
Feldman’s former team, the Texas Rangers, acquired right-hander Cory Burns from San Diego for a player to be named or cash.
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