Toronto Blue Jays bet on themselves in Melvin Upton Jr trade
If you haven’t heard the big news today, the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Melvin Upton Jr.from the San Diego Padres. The cost of the trade from the Jays’ standpoint is prospect, Hansel Rodriguez and $5M. That’s all. The Padres will pay $17M of Upton Jr’s remaining salary. But, this deal means a likely shakeup in the outfield for Toronto.
The immediate impact of the trade for the Jays is positive. It allows the team to rest any of their three regular outfielders – Michael Saunders, Kevin Pillar, Jose Bautista – and it affords them the luxury of deploying Bautista at first base or as the designated hitter without emptying the power output of right field. The obvious loser here, for better or worse, is Ezequiel Carrera. It’s not clear where he fits in the team’s short-term plans.
Carrera is hitting .261 on the season with a .351 on-base percentage. He has five stolen bases in eight attempts; 35 runs and 14 RBI on 48 hits (four home runs) in 216 plate appearances (70 games); and a .990 fielding percentage with one error in 439 innings split between left field, centre field, and right field.
This compares favourably against a .256 batting average and .304 on-base percentage for Upton, but that’s really where it ends. Upton has 20 stolen bases on 25 attempts; 46 runs and 45 RBI on 88 hits (16 home runs) in 374 plate appearances (92 games); and an only slightly less impressive .989 fielding percentage with two errors in 776.1 innings split between the same three positions.
Over this season and last season, I slowly came to appreciate Carrera’s unique contributions to the team. He offers some outfield depth, is quick in the field and on the base paths. If we’re comparing Carrera with Upton, however, this is a good upgrade. I can’t say it’s an ideal upgrade, but it is a fairly significant one from an offensive standpoint.
Having said all this, it’s really the long-term implications of the trade that interest me. Upton will remain under team control until the end of next season. This coincides with the likely departure of one of Bautista, Saunders, and Edwin Encarnacion in the off-season.
If Encarnacion walks, the Jays can move Bautista to first base or DH and play Upton in right field; if Saunders walks, the Jays can fill the gap in left field with Upton; and if Bautista walks, they can deploy Upton in right field. What Upton provides, looking past this season and into next season, is some control and certainty over the composition of the roster. Upton may not be an ideal – there’s that word again – replacement for any one of these players, but he’s certainly a better failsafe than Carrera.
At $16.45 million next season, Upton’s contract would have been roughly equivalent to the cost of qualifying one of these players. Even if they ultimately leave town, it’s a no-brainer that the Jays should qualify Bautista and Encarnacion. Saunders, on the other hand, presents more risk given his injury history and the fact he’s playing well above his career norms this season. The Jays can offer him a three-to-four (may be more?) deal, one averaging less than a qualifying offer, and if he declines, they have a ready-made replacement in Upton without the long-term commitment attached. Of course, at first, this trade looked to have an impact on future offers. But, with San Diego paying so much of Upton Jr’s salary, that should not be a question.
Taking a step back, the Upton acquisition mirrors the off-season signings of J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, the recent extension of Justin Smoak, and what we know about the Bautista and Encarnacion contract negotiations. Team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins appear to believe in a two- or three-year window of competition for the core of the current roster, and this move reflects that belief. It will help keep the Jays competitive this season and next season.
It might not be a “sexy” trade, but it reflects a team that is confident in itself and its chances to compete over the next few seasons. I can get behind that.
Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila IIIUNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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