It was recently announced that the Angels have worked out an extension with Justin Upton. The sum of the new contract works out to be five years at $106 million. It’s actually just a minor extension, as it adds just one year and $17.5 million to Upton’s previous deal.
Of course, the Angels did this because of the possibility of Upton opting out of what would have been the last four years of his deal. In late July, I wrote about whether or not he should opt out. I concluded that it would be in his best interests to stay put, but a few things have changed since then. For one, the Angels traded away Cameron Maybin, meaning that they will not pick up his $9 million option. He also continued to rake for the last two months of the season. He hit .273/.361/.540 with 35 HR, which was his best offensive season since 2011. Combining that with his good defense and baserunning adds up to 5.7 bWAR. Adding him to Andrelton Simmons and Mike Trout makes for a strong core.
Even if Upton regresses more than a little bit, he will still be a big upgrade over anyone else that the Angels had to put in left field. Had they hung on to Maybin, he might have been good for 1-2 WAR thanks to his defense and baserunning, but he is a below-average hitter at this point. Yes, he hit well in 2016, but that seems to be an outlier that was the result of a .383 BABIP. The Angels’ other options were replacement level players.
Upton should be a minimum 3-4 win upgrade. The bottom line is that Upton fills a big need for the team. J.D. Martínez is now a free agent, but he will likely cost a lot more.
The Angels finished 80-82 in 2017, tied with the Rays and Royals for five games out of the second Wild Card slot. Though the BaseRuns metric said that the Angels performed like a 76-win team, it is not hard to imagine them competing for a Wild Card slot in 2018 given how much parity we just saw in the AL. That makes the wins that Upton could add extra valuable.
The restructured deal also backloads the contract. Upton will make just $16 million in 2018 and $18 million in 2019. The contract maxes out at $28 million in 2022. That frees up money for the Angels to add another piece elsewhere. Neil Walker could be a nice upgrade at second base, and he probably would not cost much. Carlos Santana or Eric Hosmer would be good first-base acquisitions, though they could cost more. The starting rotation also needs a lot of help, especially if Garrett Richards continues to get derailed by injuries.
The Angels have Mike Trout for three more years before he enters free agency and gets at least $400 million. They need to do everything they can within reason to make sure they do not waste him any more more than they already have. He’s already their greatest player ever! Locking up Upton for just an extra $17.5 million is a good step in that direction. Getting Josh Hamilton off the books also allows for this deal to be easier to make. It might start looking ugly at the end of it, but if it is after Trout leaves then they will be rebuilding anyway.
It is more than a little bit of money, and there is risk involved. Upton is 30 years old and was just a league-average hitter as early as 2016. This is a good start to the Angels’ offseason, though. However, they need to do more to give themselves a good shot at a Wild Card slot.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.