There’s been a ton of talk about the Detroit Tigers this offseason, initially because of their willingness to trade off assets in order to both shed payroll and rebuild their weak farm system. Recently, there have been reports that they’re going to keep assets and adjust mid season if necessary, and that their high asking prices are high enough to push away potential buyers.
So, it’s tough to say at this point what they’re going to ultimately end up doing, as a trade for one or two players could send a domino effect through the organization at any moment. Despite the unpredictability of their offseason plan, I still believe that they’re a team that is open to this type of trade.
The player I’d target is Justin Upton. He signed a large six year contract worth $132.75 million last offseason that will pay him $22.5 million each of the next five seasons, which are his age 29 through 33 seasons. His first season as a Tiger was largely deemed as a failure, as he slashed .246/.310/.465/.775 with a 105 wRC+.
Those numbers are well below his career line of .268/.347/.472/.819 with a +119 wRC+, and it looks like that contract is going to be a behemoth of an anchor if he can’t produce at a level near or above his career norms.
However, his 2016 slash was dragged down by a downright putrid April and May in which he hit .217/.264/.326/.590 with a 54 wRC+, 36.5 K% and a measly 3 HR. Upton is known to be a very streaky player, but this was awful, even by his standard of streakiness. From June 1st through the end of the season, he turned his season around with a .259/.331/.531/.862 with a 128 wRC+, 28 HR, and BB and K rates of 8.9% and 24.9%, much closer to his career norms.
A trade for Upton would be investing in the player from June 1 through the end of the year as opposed to the player from the first two months of the season. If he can avoid such a slump like he had in April/May, which is likely considering the severity of it and how he bounced back, then it’s likely that he can revert to being a 3-4 win player as opposed to his 1.4 fWAR in 2016.
He’s a proven power hitter, and that was shown that he still has the ability to hit 25 plus home runs. He’s not a fantastic defender in LF by any means, but his DRS of 1 in 2016 and 8 in 2015 show that he’s a capable outfielder, and his baserunning has received a positive rating in each of his nine seasons.
He’s an athletic, powerful hitter who runs the bases well and is a proven power hitter and run producer. You’ll have to deal with his streaks of dismal hitting, but his hot streaks often outweigh them.
If the Blue Jays can get the Tigers to eat a portion of the money in the remaining years of the deal in order to make the yearly salary a little more palatable, let’s say $2.5 million a year, you’d have to imagine they wouldn’t have to give a huge package of prospects when taking on that kind of money.
By taking on that kind of money, the Jays could demand a reliever in the deal as well. Justin Wilson is a name that has been named in rumours, Shane Greene showed lots of promise in a bullpen role last year, and Bruce Rondon is another name that would intrigue the Jays.
Upton’s contract is obviously very heavy, and owing $20+ million to Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Upton, and potentially Josh Donaldson a couple years down the road could be a roadblock for future moves, but the Blue Jays management already showed the willingness to spend $20 million on another player by offering Encarnacion 4/80 earlier this offseason.
A trade like this would fill a hole in the Jays OF, while also opening up the possibility of filling a need in the bullpen as well, without having to give up a package of prospects that would deplete the upper minors.
The one caveat of this idea that exists is Upton’s no trade clause, that allows him to block trades to 20 different teams. It’s unknown whether or not the Blue Jays are on that list or not, or if he would block a trade or not to Toronto if they are indeed on the list, but an opportunity to play with his brother on a competitive team, in a hitters ballpark could be enough to incite him to allow such a move.