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Angels acquire Justin Upton for Wild Card push

The slugging outfielder heads west, while prospect Grayson Long and a PTBNL go to the Motor City.

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In a season-long development that still shocks me, the Angels are serious playoff contenders. Even after losing Mike Trout for about 40 games, the Angels have stayed strong behind some odd pitching and an MVP-caliber Andrelton Simmons. Oh, and Mike Trout continues to be unreal, even in 40 fewer games. Being only one game back of the second Wild Card spot, the Angels yesterday acquired Justin Upton from the Tigers in a move to solidify their chances and, hopefully, leapfrog ahead of the crowded field.

With the muddled state of the AL Wild Card, the Angels already had as good of a chance as anyone else to sneak into the postseason. I wrote last week about how close the AL Wild Card currently stands. The Angels, now, have kept up with the Twins, and separated themselves from the rest of the pack. That pair of teams both have chances north of 30 percent to make the playoffs, with the Angels trailing slightly on every platform outside of FiveThirtyEight. Acquiring Upton surely moves the needle for them, even as they jettison Cameron Maybin to fit him in.

Justin Upton provides the Angels with a true middle-of-the-order bat. With both Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun underperforming, the Angels have lacked many true threats in the lineup, beyond Trout and possibly Andrelton Simmons. The outfielder, who recently turned 30, currently boasts a 138 wRC+ and a .379 wOBA, marks that would place him behind only Trout among Angels hitters. The next closest hitter in both metrics is Andrelton Simmons, who is currently at a 112 wRC+ and a .335 wOBA. Upton also carries a big stick: Over the past five seasons, he has eclipsed 26 home runs in each of them. Once again, he would be only second to Trout in home runs on the Angels.

Going forward, Upton is owed $88.5 million over the next four seasons, but his contract contains an opt-out after this season. Upton’s opt-out for this season has been a bit of a hot topic. After a poor season last year that left him floating between a one- and two-win player, it seemed certain that Upton would buy in for the rest of his deal. Now that Upton is performing much better, as a four- to five-win player, it makes opting out look a lot more attractive. However, many are unsure if Upton can beat what he’s already guaranteed in free agency, even with his recent improved performance. The money he’s owed over the next four years is very reasonable, and the fact that he’s now north of 30 may cause some hesitation among teams to offer him more. But, given that the Angels were not concerned with his opt out in trade talks, it didn’t move the needle much. If he opts in, the Angels have a good player at a reasonable price; if he opts out, that money can probably be used to sign a similar player (perhaps even Upton himself) this next offseason.

In return, the Angels sent Grayson Long and a PTBNL to the Tigers. Long is not an insignificant piece. The minor-league hurler was drafted in the third round in 2015 out of college. He currently sits in AA and is pitching very well: Over 23 starts, he carries a 2.52 ERA, a 3.07 FIP, a 22.7 percent K rate, and a 7.8 percent walk rate. Among scouts, he’s generally pegged as a back-end, innings-eater type. For a prospect that’s currently in AA and thus pretty close to the majors, that’s a valuable profile, and not a bad return for a third of a season of Upton.

Overall, the Angels are adding a player who has already accumulated four wins and provides the exact prescription they need to energize their postseason run, despite uncertainty about his contract situation. Time will tell if it’s enough to capture that second Wild Card spot, but it’s certainly a move that reinforces their chances.


Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.