ATLANTA -- After reaching a two-year agreement with veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird on Thursday morning, Braves general manager Frank Wren spent Thursday afternoon and some of the early evening courting free-agent outfielder B.J. Upton. The Braves welcomed Upton to Turner Field on Thursday to provide the talented former Tampa Bay Ray a better sense of how much they are hoping he chooses to play in Atlanta next year. Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez were both present for the meeting. With the assumption that Josh Hamilton will be too expensive, Atlanta appears to regard Upton as the most attractive outfielder available on the free-agent market.
But the Braves are not the only National League East club interested in Upton. The Phillies are believed to be making a serious push to land the 28-year-old, who had been with the Rays since being selected second overall in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. Upton and Michael Bourn will both likely get five-year deals worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million. The Phils and Nationals appear to be the most likely suitors for Bourn, who will celebrate his 30th birthday in December. Upton will not turn 30 until the latter portion of the 2014 season. While most of Bourn's value comes via his legs, Upton possesses both speed and power. With some uncertainty about when Bourn might begin losing his speed, it seems easier to project the value Upton could provide over the next five years. Upton has increased his home run total and recorded at least 31 stolen bases in each of the past five seasons. He finished two home runs shy of joining the 30/30 club in 2012. Along with hitting a career-high 28 home runs, Upton also recorded a career-high 169 strikeouts and compiled an alarming .298 on-base percentage. He has combined to hit .242 with a .317 on-base percentage and a .436 slugging percentage over the past three seasons. If the Braves sign Upton, they will still be in need of a leadoff hitter. With the likelihood that Martin Prado will make the switch from left field to third base, they will also need to continue their search for a left fielder.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.