B.J. Upton’s Effort–Or Lack Thereof

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Keith Hernandez was almost apoplectic at B.J. Upton’s lack of hustle when chasing David Wright’s long fly ball that went for a double in the ninth inning of the Mets’ 9-1 win over the Rays in Tampa on Wednesday night.

In a slight nod to reality, the Mets were leading 7-0 at the time of the Wright hit. They had two runners on base and R.A. Dickey was about as unhittable as unhittable gets in a Major League game. Whether Upton made an effort—for appearances or otherwise—and caught the ball or didn’t catch the ball was irrelevant in the game.

Be that as it may, with Upton it just looked bad.

Hernandez said that the type of behavior exhibited by Upton could cause a fistfight in the clubhouse between him and the pitcher.

The Rays organization is long past that with Upton. Now it’s a question of how much he’s going to produce while he’s still with them.

I had thought that this would be a year of massive production for the multi-talented and mercurial free-agent-to-be. Because he’s about to turn 28 in August, can hit, hit for power, run, play a Gold Glove caliber centerfield and has shown the ability to take his walks (when he decides to), there are few reasons not to want him. But one of those reasons is a big one: he acts like he doesn’t care.

One would think that his pending free agency would inspire him to spend the entire 2012 season playing like a maniac so he could get paid by someone this winter.

That’s what I thought would happen.

It hasn’t.

After starting the 2012 season on the disabled list with a sore lower back (ironically close to the location where Upton has caused pain to the Rays since he was drafted), he’s been essentially the same player he was following his breakout in 2008: enigmatic and with questionable desire.

The numbers are pretty much the same since 2009 with declining walks, increasing strikeouts, lax defense and occasional displays of the speed and power than make him so enticing.

Upton may be right in the perception that talent is going to trump the known negatives about him; that some team is going to ante up with a 5-7 year contract worth $100-$130 million because of those skills. But if he was playing up to his capabilities with dollar signs in his eyes, he’d be sure to have multiple teams chasing him this winter. Now I’m not so sure.

In a world where Jayson Werth got $126 million, it’s quite possible that there’s a team that will go that crazy to get Upton. That team would be pulling a J.P. Morgan Chase and betting an inexplicable sum on derivatives—the derivatives being Upton’s tendency to alternate playing like he means it or loafing around the field grounding into double plays he has no business grounding into and letting balls fly by him because he chose not to run after them.

There’s a difference between effortless and lazy. Robinson Cano doesn’t run hard either, but the majority of his play is effortless. Is it the same with Upton? And does he have the Cano credentials to justify letting some of his lapses go unchecked as the Yankees do with Cano?

Talent-wise he does; performance-wise he doesn’t.

Cano’s going to get paid when his time comes.

Is Upton?

I don’t know.