Blue Jays and Melvin Upton Jr.: Questions, and what to like about the trade

Jul 2, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Melvin Upton Jr. (2) hits a walk off solo home run to beat the New York Yankees 2-1 at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 2, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Melvin Upton Jr. (2) hits a walk off solo home run to beat the New York Yankees 2-1 at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

The Blue Jays struck well in advance of the trade deadline, adding outfielder Melvin Upton. Jr from the San Diego Padres

Early Tuesday morning, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Blue Jays and Padres were close to a deal that would send Melvin Upton Jr. across the diamond to the Blue Jays for an unnamed prospect. Not long ago we learned the details and the trade was finalized.

The Blue Jays agree to trade 19 year old pitching prospect Hansel Rodriguez to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Melvin Upton Jr. (formerly known as “B.J.”). Rodriguez is a right-hander who has been pitching at Rookie-Level Bluefield, and had posted a 3.06 ERA over six starts while striking out 26 over 32.1 innings. A decent prospect, but not a back-breaker by any stretch of the imagination.

Upton, 31, is due the balance of $15.45 million this season, as well as 16.45 million next year on the contract he signed with the Atlanta Braves in 2011. The former 2nd overall pick has had a bounce-back season in San Diego, slashing .256/.304/.439 with 16 home runs, 45 RBI’s and 20 stolen bases in 25 attempts. Those numbers are exciting, but Jays’ fans are all too familiar with B.J. Upton from his time in Tampa Bay, as well as his epic flop in Atlanta.

While the Twitter-verse didn’t waste time questioning the sanity of the Blue Jays front office, many (possibly myself included) were quick to jump the gun in their reactions to the deal before learning all the details.

I’ve had some time to think about the deal, had a few cups of coffee, and the details are in. I’ve now completely changed my opinion and I’m hoping I can help you see the “glass half-full” side of the deal too.

What to like about the trade:

Now that the details are out, things look a lot better for the Blue Jays on this trade and it looks like a much more worthwhile risk. The Padres have agreed to eat all but 5 million (!) of Upton’s remaining salary. Typically, when a team is willing to eat that much salary in a trade they are looking for an elite prospect in return. While Rodriguez is a solid prospect, he’s not among any Top 100 lists, and seems like a more than reasonable return for someone who has performed as well as Upton this season.

The deal adds depth to the outfield, and allows the Blue Jays to ease Jose Bautista back into action in right field as his toe allows. They could also choose to work out Bautista more at first, using him at DH and move Edwin Encarnacion as the first baseman, and/or rotate Upton through to give all of the above more time off prior to the playoffs.

Upton has been a productive player in 2016 and could potentially add a weapon to an already potent offence. He’s already hit 16 home runs, and moves to a hitter’s haven in Toronto, especially compared to the spacious Petco Park in San Diego. As mentioned above, he’s also stolen 20 bases this season and could be a late inning runner/defensive replacement when he’s not in the starting lineup.

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The former 2nd overall pick is also a former centre-fielder, and could still be at least league average or better at the position now. When Kevin Pillar needs a day off, Upton Jr. could slide to his place. He’ll be able to fill in for Michael Saunders against left-handed pitching when asked, against which his OPS is .913 this season.

Upton also has a year remaining on his contract, and knowing that the Padres are picking up most of the tab, he provides cheap insurance in the event that free agency isn’t very kind to the Blue Jays this offseason.

What to question about the trade:

There could be multiple layers to this trade, but knowing the salary details, it sets very little in stone for the Blue Jays.

Before knowing that the Padres were eating all but 5 million, many Jays fans worried that this move was more about 2017 than this season. Both Bautista and Saunders are free agents at season’s end, and many fans would love to see both return. We’ll save that conversation for another day, but adding Upton turns out to be nice insurance at a low cost.

It may mean the Blue Jays can move on from one or both of the pending free agent outfielders more easily, but that’s a reality that Jays’ fans need to prepare for either way.

Upton will likely cut into the playing time of Ezequiel Carrera as well, and the move may ultimately cost him his roster spot, but again, Jays fans need to be careful about how we value our own. Carrera has absolutely performed above expectations this season, but adding a right-handed hitter at a low cost is a good move for the club.

There is the fear that Upton Jr. could return to the player he was from 2013-15, when he was among the worst hitting regulars in the MLB, but there’s good reason to think he’s turned a corner from that point. If for some reason he does struggle greatly, the Blue Jays can simply use him as a platoon/late inning replacement type, and there’s still value there.

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The Blue Jays still need to add pitching, whether it’s in the form of a starter and/or bullpen help, but adding Upton Jr. is a fairly solid addition in the final week before the trade deadline.

Now that we know the salary details, we should all relax and hope we get the best version of the former All-Star…. because believe it or not, he’s pretty good at baseball.