The Toronto Blue Jays added Melvin Upton Jr. from the San Diego Padres in a July 26th deal for pitching prospect Hansel Rodriguez
Melvin Upton Jr. has never been a player short on raw talent. When the Blue Jays acquired him ahead of the MLB trade deadline this year, they added a perennial 20-20 threat as a part-time player.
Beyond 2016, the Blue Jays also hold Upton under contract for the 2017 season, his final before entering free agency. He had his moments when playing situationally down the stretch, but for the Blue Jays to be open to trusting him with an expanded role next spring, they’ll need to see him fulfill his still-immense potential.
Upton’s presence did allow the Blue Jays to avoid dipping too far into their minor league depth, and while his numbers with the Blue Jays were not impressive over the final two months or the postseason, he did allow manager John Gibbons to play the matchups more often.
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Against left-handed hitters in 2016, Upton hit .275 with a .341 on-base percentage and .874 OPS. These numbers were offset by a weak season against right-handers, but Upton has hit lefties marginally better throughout his career and the Blue Jays could look to capitalize on that next season.
The 32-year-old also stole seven bases with the Blue Jays and could enter next season as the team’s biggest threat in that area (alongside Kevin Pillar and potentially Dalton Pompey). Even if Upton is not used in a starting role, his defence, platoon splits, and speed give him value coming off the bench. He’ll also be cheap — nearly free, actually — as the Padres ate $17 million of his remaining $22 million salary and the majority of Toronto’s commitment was paid in 2016.
Over 57 games and 165 plate appearances, Upton hit just .196 with the Blue Jays after the trade. While his speed will certainly be viewed as an asset with the team looking to get faster, Upton’s strikeout rates are very problematic.
Upton has struck out 150 times or more in every full season dating back to 2007 with the Rays (he was limited to 87 games with the Padres in 2015). That career strikeout rate of 26.6% does not fit well in a lineup that could also include Kevin Pillar and Justin Smoak, who are known to rack up the K’s themselves.
Working in Upton’s favour is the fact that he’s cheap. This will give him a clear path to a job with the Blue Jays, but given how little the team owes him, he is by no means guaranteed a roster spot entering next season.
He’ll certainly be motivated to win a starting job, however, or at least a part-time role, as it’s a contract year.
Assuming the Blue Jays address at least one corner outfield position via trade or free agency, Upton will join Ezequiel Carrera and Dalton Pompey in a competition for the remaining spot and bench role. If used correctly, however, Upton still has every ability to be worth 2.0+ Wins Above Replacement and disrupt ball games.
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