With trade speculation swirling around him relentlessly from the moment he arrived to the San Diego Padres last offseason, there has been a lot of focus on where Justin Upton would ultimately land. Previously at the mercy of the decision-makers in the front office, Upton now gets to decide where he’ll call home.
Having played for three different teams since 2012 alone, Upton will likely be looking for teams that can contend both now and later while searching for the biggest contract he can obtain. At 28 years old and a career .271/.352/.473 hitter, Upton should have no shortage of suitors as he calls his next shot.
The only certainty the Detroit Tigers have in their outfield to begin next season is J.D. Martinez. That’s a nice start, but it’s obviously not enough. With absolutely nothing in left field and an unproven Anthony Gose in center, this is a Tigers team that needs at least one additional big bat in the middle of the order to complement Miguel Cabrera if it truly anticipates contending for anything as soon as next season.
Upton, who has played in at least 149 games every year since 2011, is an especially good fit on a Tigers team with multiple injury risks in the everyday lineup. If Detroit wants to return to winning, the club is going to have to spend. But with upwards of $100 million already invested in just five players (Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez and Cabrera), the Tigers may choose to allocate their resources at multiple different positions instead of throwing all their cash into one pile.
This is a Baltimore team with multiple holes on its roster, but perhaps no single need is more glaring than the undermanned outfield. The current lineup projects to consist of Adam Jones, Manny Machado and seven question marks, and the road to winning the American League East isn’t going to get easier with New York, Boston and Toronto all expected to contend next season.
Upton would not be the cure-all for a lineup that is really ailing, but his arrival could make for the creation of a nasty three-headed monster with Jones and Machado. This is a team that likely stands to lose Chris Davis from a lineup that wasn’t good enough with him in it, and that makes an emphatic upgrade like Upton all that more important.
Texas would be a slam-dunk selection except for one giant question that can’t be overlooked: Do the Rangers really want another big contract on their books?
With three deals of at least $20 million annually in Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels and Shin-Soo Choo as well as four others (Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre) making at least $10 million per season, the Rangers are going to have to view Upton as the final piece to the puzzle if something is going to get worked out. The good news: That is exactly what Upton can be for this Texas team.
With starting spots locked in at every position with the exception of left field, Upton can be the Josh Hamilton replacement that the Rangers really need. There is no chance this team can actually rely on the former top prospect to be an everyday player at this point in his career, and Upton would present a sizable upgrade to this version Hamilton. With a healthy Darvish (elbow) and Upton added to a roster of a team that surpassed everybody’s expectations last season, Texas could be on the verge of doing something special.
New York Yankees
A harbinger of health, Upton would make a lot of sense for a New York Yankees team that was ravaged by injuries last season. Desperate for an upgrade in right field to replace the aging Carlos Beltran, Upton is a logical candidate for the Yankees to pursue if the team loses out in its pursuit of Jason Heyward.
Though New York did just trade for Aaron Hicks, I expect that transaction to serve as an appetizer for a Brett Gardner deal and not as Beltran substitute. Not including Brian McCann’s $17M salary, the Yankees do have five players earning at least $20 million annually, so Upton’s price tag may have to be discounted if he wants to land in the Bronx. With so much competition for his services, that makes this scenario a tough sell.
San Francisco Giants
Like most, I expect San Francisco to prioritize a pitching move ahead of addressing its offense, but acquiring a bat like Upton’s isn’t an opportunity that presents itself regularly. This isn’t a front office that will spend just to do so. If the Giants miss out on the top names in David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto, expect the attention to be directed elsewhere.
Left field currently projects to be a wasteland, and Upton would clearly fix that in a hurry. On a roster that really doesn’t have a good option as the No. 4 hitter to protect Buster Posey, Upton could fill that role nicely.
Other Teams to Watch: Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals