ATLANTA -- When B.J. Upton arrived at Turner Field for what was essentially a recruiting visit on Nov. 15, he did not know what to expect. This was Upton's first venture into the world of free agency, and the Rays had been the only organization he had known since being drafted at the age of 17.
Over the course of the three-plus hours that followed, Braves general manager Frank Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and former manager Bobby Cox produced the kind of hospitable atmosphere that provided Upton reason to believe he wanted to call Atlanta his new home for the foreseeable future.
"These guys got me," Upton said. "There is no other way to put it. They had me when I came here. I left here and I felt really good about it."
Two weeks after that influential visit, the mild-mannered and soft-spoken Upton returned to Atlanta to sign the largest contract the Braves have provided a free agent.
Wren and Gonzalez were among the members of the Braves organization who were seen smiling on Thursday afternoon when Upton signed his five-year, $75.25 million deal. His average annual salary of $15.05 million eclipses the $15 million salary Derek Lowe gained after signing a four-year, $60 million contract with Atlanta in January 2009.
"This was our key addition," Wren said. "We really wanted to get a center fielder that could defend like we're accustomed to having. Then the additional dynamic of having 28 home runs from the center-field position we think really improves our ballclub."
When the Braves were looking for an outfielder before the 2011 Trade Deadline, they inquired about Upton and quickly realized the Rays were not willing to trade him. This led Wren to trade for the Astros' Michael Bourn, who served as Atlanta's speedy center fielder and leadoff hitter over the past season and a half.
Given the choice to enter into a long-term agreement with either Upton or Bourn this winter, the Braves quickly set their sights on the 28-year-old Upton, a five-tool outfielder who possesses the rare combination of speed and power.
Bourn's status as a plus defender and elite basestealer has come courtesy of his speedy legs. The Braves had some concerns about the value the soon-to-be-30-year-old outfielder could provide near the end of a long-term contract.
With Upton, they felt it was easier to project what he might provide through the length of this five-year deal.
"[Signing Upton] continues what we've been trying to accomplish, which is to get younger and more athletic and able to play the game the way it's being played today," Wren said. "He brings a great defensive dimension and also power to the center-field position."
While Upton has the ability to replace some of the defensive contributions Bourn made, the Braves will now attempt to find a left fielder who can handle the leadoff role previously filled by Bourn.
"We feel like we can find that or create [a leadoff hitter]," Wren said. "But to find someone of Upton's caliber who can hit 20-30 home runs, that's a different dimension. We feel that can really add to our offense and make our offense deeper."
With Upton, the Braves get the right-handed power hitter they were seeking to add to a lineup that already includes left-handed sluggers Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward.
"I thought last year, a couple times we got behind the eight ball being so left-handed dominant, especially late in the game when they were bringing in specialty relievers," Gonzalez said. "Now having some right-handed guys, it's going to be a plus for us."
Upton batted .246 with a career-high 28 homers and a .752 OPS in 146 games with Tampa Bay in 2012. He also recorded a career-high 169 strikeouts and posted an alarming .298 on-base percentage.
While the strikeout total is high, it was not much different than the total Bourn compiled (155) in the leadoff spot. Upton's tendency to swing and miss was at least accompanied with occasional power.
With Rays third baseman Evan Longoria sidelined much of this past season, Upton put some added pressure on himself and feels he hurt himself by attempting to tinker too much with his swing.
"You have to learn a lot in this game," Upton said. "You learn something new every year. That was one of the things that I learned -- even though things are not going as well, there might not be anything wrong with you. Sometimes I think I read too much into that. At least I know that now."
Upton arrived at the big league level at the tender age of 19 in 2004. He returned for some time in '06, and then combined to hit .286 with 33 homers and a .836 OPS during the '07 and '08 seasons.
When Upton hit seven home runs in the postseason while helping the Rays reach the 2008 World Series, it appeared that he was on the road to superstardom. But during the four seasons that have followed, he has hit .242 with a .316 on-base percentage and a .420 slugging percentage.
"We think he hasn't peaked yet," Wren said. "We think there is still more in there. Now that he is surrounded by hopefully a deeper lineup, we believe we will see more of that come out. He's a good player."
At the same time, the Braves feel Upton is a genuine good guy who will prove to be an asset both on and off the field. Wren said he "was blown away" by the maturity and knowledge that Upton showed during their meeting at Turner Field two weeks ago.
"Nobody has said anything bad about him, and the clubhouse guys know everything," Gonzalez said. "They had great reviews."
Upton understands that some fans have already labeled him as being lazy because of a few incidents. He was removed from a pair of games in 2008 for not hustling, and his effort was questioned before he and Longoria argued in the dugout two years ago.
Upton accepts these incidents as part of his past and looks forward to his new future in Atlanta.
"The guys that I've been in the clubhouse with, the guys who I've played with and who know me, they know what I'm all about," Upton said.