Troy Tulowitzki and David Price it’s not, but the Blue Jays have called the opposing dugout and have swung a trade with the visiting San Diego Padres.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 26, 2016
Melvin Upton Jr., formerly known as B.J. Upton when he played for the division rival Tampa Bay Rays, will be joining a Toronto ball club that, if you believe the reports, was desperately in need of a right handed outfielder to support the lefty bats of Michael Saunders and Ezequiel Carrera.
After putting together six consecutive good seasons totaling 18.8 WARP with Tampa Bay, Upton was rewarded with a five-year, seventy-five million dollar contract from the Atlanta Braves, where he was to join an incredibly talented outfield with his brother Justin on one flank and Jason Heyward on the other. Unfortunately for he and the Braves, his career took an immediate and devastating turn for the worst. Upton hit a paltry .184/.268/.289 in 2013, and was one of baseball’s least productive players with negative 2.1 WARP.
With nowhere to go but up, things have improved in the years since. Upton has even performed as something resembling a league average hitter over the past couple of seasons with the Padres since being a salary dump in the Craig Kimbrel trade. But still, unless the prospect going the other way is negligible this acquisition doesn’t make a ton of sense. With SD picking up a lot of the salary, it could end up being somebody better than expected.
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) July 26, 2016
Upton is a right handed bat, sure, but his career doesn’t scream left hander masher like you’d expect a pickup designed to support Saunders and Carrera would, and should be. Against lefties, Upton is a career .248/.351/.409 hitter, and against righties, he’s a .244/.312/.402 hitter. The only tangible difference between the two is that he’s considerably better at drawing walks versus southpaws (13.5 percent vs. 8.7 percent).
The fielding metrics on Upton are also all over the map, but there’s no arguing that he’s a significantly better fielder than both Saunders and Jose Bautista, so one of his many (minor) roles will be that of a defensive replacement in the corner outfield. Melvin remains an outstanding base runner as well, which creates a potentially smooth transition to that defensive role should one of Saunders or Bautista do what they do best — reach base — in the later innings of games with a small lead. The biggest question mark surrounds where, and how, manager John Gibbons wants to get Upton’s bat into the lineup. He still has some pop as his hard hit rate and isolated power are both above average, but he’s something of a square peg to fit a round hole with Jose Bautista returning this week.
Saunders has crushed lefties this year, and while surely some of that is luck, he’s not going to turn into Adam Lind over night. Pillar is just too good of a fielder to remove from the outfield, and Jose Bautista is of course Jose Bautista. Upton’s best opportunity at consistent at-bats may require some creativity on Gibby’s part and some flexibility on Edwin Encarnacion’s. If Encarnacion can play first base a little more, both Saunders and Bautista can take their beat-up lower halves to the designated hitter spot with some regularity, allowing Upton to slot into the vacated outfielder corner while Justin Smoak takes his talents to the bench.
But that’s just yet another question to be answered regarding a trade that is already surrounded with questions, so for the time being at least, all Blue Jays fans can do is sit on their hands and wait patiently.
Check back for more analysis once full terms are announced.
Content below written by Joshua Howsam
Padres get rhp hansel rodriguez for melvin Upton. $ goes to (or.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 26, 2016
The piece going to San Diego is Advanced Rookie Ball RHP, Hansel Rodriguez. The young righty has a big fastball (reached the upper 90s), but command and secondary stuff still need a lot of work. He has a high ceiling, but it will be years before he makes the big leagues, if at all.
Padres are paying all except $5M on melvin Upton. He has $22M plus left.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 26, 2016
This is what really makes the deal a solid one for the Blue Jays. Yes, Upton is limited in the ways mentioned above, but he still does provide speed, power, and a whole bunch of position flexibility to the team. He also fills a potential hole next year, as two thirds of the Toronto starting outfield (Saunders and Bautista) are pending free agents. At such a low cost (both in terms of money and players – Rodriguez is so far away that there is no need for a win now team to hold him), even a marginal upgrade such at this one becomes a very good move. In addition, the deal provides a level of cost certainty that will allow the Jays to spend elsewhere in the offseason (say on Bautista or Encarnacion).
Nice move, Messrs. Atkins and Shapiro
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