On Saturday afternoon the Los Angeles Angels designated outfielder Justin Upton for assignment. He will be available to anyone on waivers if they want to pick up his contract, but given that he is owed $28,000,000 there’s as much of a chance as someone claiming him as there is a chance of me landing on the moon before the end of 2022. Some teams could try to make a trade for him with the Angels eating the entirety of the contract since they are going to be eating it anyways and now you simply give them *something* to jump in line. What’s more likely, though, is he clears waivers and then signs a contract with another team for around league minimum.

Could the Cincinnati Reds be a good fit for the outfielder? On the surface it’s a tough sell. Last year he hit .211/.296/.409, good for a 90 OPS+ with 17 home runs in 318 at-bats. He wasn’t much better in either of the previous two seasons, either.

So you could be asking yourself what the heck kind of reason there would be for the Reds to pick up a 34-year-old Justin Upton? Essentially the idea would be to give him the role that the team would likely give to Aristides Aquino.

Over the past two seasons, Aquino has hit just .186/.300/.389. He’s been a very poor hitter in that stretch of time. He’ll be younger than Upton – just 28-years-old – but will he be better? He hasn’t been over the last two years, posting just a 76 OPS+ compared to Upton’s 91 (ballparks make a big difference here).

Of course that information isn’t all that useful. Neither player is going to be in an every day role. Both guys are right-handed hitters who would likely be used against left-handed pitchers in a platoon-like role.

Aristides Aquino has only managed 123 plate appearances against left-handed pitching the last two seasons. In that time he’s hit just .196/.317/.422 against lefties with 2 doubles, 7 home runs, 16 walks, and 37 strikeouts. Justin Upton has had 175 plate appearances over the last two seasons against lefties while hitting .222/.320/.503 with 4 doubles, 13 home runs, 21 walks, and 53 strikeouts.

Both guys have struck out a lot – 30% of the time they’ve stepped to the plate against lefties. Both have good walk rates against lefties, too. The difference is that Upton has hit for significantly more power against lefties and he’s done so in a ballpark that’s a lot tougher to hit for power in than Aquino, too. That really shows up in the wRC+, where Upton has a 122 mark against lefites in the last two seasons while it’s just 92 for Aquino.

Offensively that kind of upgrade would be big if the two players held that same level of production. It’s not as simple as that, though. Defense matters and Aristides Aquino has a clear edge there. And contracts matter, too. While the money doesn’t likely come into play as both will make near the minimum, Aquino will be under team control for several years beyond 2022 if the team would like to keep him. That won’t be the case for Upton. Does that make a difference at all? Your mileage may vary.

38 Responses

  1. Ryan

    The fact that a guy like Upton with those numbers is STILL owed 28 million is a major problem with baseball, Why should we working stiffs pay to watch such mediocrity?

    • weigarp

      Agree 100%. The Angels, though, have been notorious for giving out awful contracts — Upton, Pujols and Hamilton.

    • Grand Salami

      NFL style contracts benefit everyone except the aging vets.

    • Frankie Tomatoes

      Because when you were a working stiff when Upton was really good he was being underpaid in a big way and this is things evening out. Fangraphs has Upton being worth $272M in his career. His career earnings? $201M including this year. He has been underpaid, not overpaid. This issue is how his pay was dispersed over the years.

      • Luke J

        This is what the players have asked for. They repeatedly take the positions in CBA negotiations that benefit aging veterans to the detriment of the younger players. It would be better for baseball as a whole as well as a majority of players if the union actually represented the interests of most of its members instead of the highly paid veterans.

      • greenmtred

        You make a good point, Luke, but I’m not certain that the situation in baseball is so different from the common practice in society as a whole: earnings tend to increase with age, to a point. Loyalty and experience are being rewarded. Does this mean that resources are being disproportionally lavished on people who don’t produce as much as their younger co-workers? Sometimes, certainly.

    • Melvin

      @Jimbo you and I are AA fans on here unlike most so I agree. There is also the potential ceiling factor. I know people think I’m bananas but I have the same feeling about Aquino as I did about Votto around this time last year.

  2. RedBB

    Sure give us your top 2 prospects with him or pay us $27M. OTW NO

    • Old Big Ed

      Red, being designated for assignment means that unless another team claims him or works out a trade for him, then Upton is a free agent and can sign wherever he wants. The signing team would pay him the minimum salary, and the Angels would pay the rest.

      A trade would make sense, only if more than 1 team approached the Angels with a serious interest in Upton. So, if the Reds and (say) the Rockies were interested, then the Angels might could start a mild bidding war between the Reds and Rockies, and one of those teams could agree to pay Upton $1 million, as opposed to the minimum salary, thereby saving the Angels about $300k. (Another variation would be for the Reds/Rockies to trade the Angels a longshot prospect.) It doesn’t typically work out that way, and Upton is likely free to sign wherever he wants.

      Upton might just retire, because the money to him is the same whether he plays or not. There could be a tax angle to it for him, although I am not sure about that. If, for example, he lives in Florida, he could argue that he retired to Florida and all the $28 million paid to him was paid to him in Florida, and not in California. Given California’s income tax rates versus Florida’s 0% SALT rates, that would save Upton about $3 million in SALT taxes, but then again that theory may not work. Scott Boras’s people should know those rules, but I don’t.

      Upton might just want to play in a place that could reestablish some value, and GABP would likely fit that bill.

  3. Kevin Patrick

    Well…I don’t have Upton’s autograph, and I do have Aquino’s…well…my son does anyway. But I think my son would prefer Upton anyway. There is certainly name recognition there. I’m not trying to get rid of Moose, but if the Reds were, this is how you might do it. Let’s say roster flexibility is what the Reds want. The Reds could send Akiyama, Moose, Moran and Aquino over there for Upton and then argue about the money. All of a sudden, Drury and Barrero have roster space…heck…you could even send over poor Kyle Farmer who came to the Reds in a similar type of trade. The Angels could then unload off their roster anybody they didn’t feel like keeping.

  4. LDS

    Pass. How many reclamation projects must the Reds undertake before they realize the strategy isn’t a winning one? Getting rid of AA and Akiyama considering how fragile Senzel and Naquin are, would be foolish without a much better return than Upton.

  5. Harold

    Why bring in an over the hill Upton when he has been a poor hitter for the last 2-3 years. He has never had that great of an attitude and would be a waste of time. Get rid of Shogo and AA and bring back Ryan Friel or pick someone of the waiver wire. Better players will be available that picking up Upton or keeping Shogo, who can’t hit, or AA who can’t even make contact.

  6. MK

    Forget the money and look strictly at his playing ability. He has gone downhill the last few years and the fact the Angels released him says that doesn’t appear to have changed. So no on talent alone.

  7. Old Big Ed

    Meanwhile, Wade Miley has an elbow barking at him, and has yet to throw an inning in ST for the Cubs.

    I was one of the few who thought the Reds did the right thing with Miley. His pattern over the past few years has been to have nothing left in the tank after about 22 starts, which happened last year. He is now pretty much a twice-through-the-order fifth starter, and the Reds’ decided — correctly in my view — that Miley’s skill set was not worth $10.5 million. The fact that no team made any sort of trade offer suggests that most other teams agreed with the Reds.

    By the Cubs claiming him off waivers, the Reds were able to offload the risk that Miley would get injured between the start of spring training and the trade deadline. Now he is hurt, but it is now the Cubs’ problem and not the Reds’ problem.

    • Jim Walker

      Maybe it turns out there was no trade market for Miley b/c the Reds didn’t want to open his medicals to anyone??

      • Tom Reeves

        Or maybe the Reds were ethical and 1) didn’t want to hide an injured player’s info to make a trade and 2) didn’t want to hurt the chances the player could still sign with someone as a free agent.

    • Chris

      Old Big Ed, with all due respect, if you really felt that way, you were completely wrong in your thinking. Yes, in the end, the results might seem like you were right, but that’s due to luck. The fact is, The Reds could have kept him, and EASILY traded him getting something, even a bucket of balls; but instead they got nothing. Period; NOTHING. This was one of the dumbest decisions I’ve ever seen. Wasn’t Miley a 5 WAR last year. You don’t think someone would have taken him off our hands with only a $10 mil salary?

      • BK

        Chris, the Reds were never going to retain him. What they “got” was savings from his buyout. Do I like the fact that the Reds have spending limits? No. Do I understand them? Yes. At the end of a really nice year, he fell off the cliff in September. Most projections forecast regression. For a team that “had” to reduce payroll, this decision is at the very least understandable.

      • Chris

        BK, I don’t completely disagree with your points. The big disagreement though, is that I don’t believe the Reds could not have retained him, and then traded him. Without a doubt, multiple teams would have traded for him. Take the Cubs for example; they took him and are paying him his $10mil. Would you not concede that the Cubs or someone else would not have traded for him, and given something up? Even if the Reds had to eat a $mil or two, getting prospects would have made it an obvious move.

      • Old Big Ed

        They saved $10 million, Chris. That money can be used elsewhere — and even if it is not spent this year on payroll, it at least is not out the door and gone. To say that $10 million is “nothing” is inaccurate.

        I don’t think any team wanted to pay more than $10 million for Miley, as evidenced by the fact that no team offered to do so. And “$10 million” includes prospects, whose value must also be accounted for; getting a team to assume $8 million of Miley’s contract and give up a prospect makes sense for the Reds only if the prospect is “worth” $2 million or more.

        I posted a similar sentiment about Miley a few weeks after the transaction, which went into more detail about his durability woes. And I suggested that the Reds were wise to take the spring training injury risk off the table.

        Depending on how serious Miley’s injury is, the Reds may well have spent $10 million on Miley this year, and truly have gotten “nothing” in return. The Cubs now have that risk.

        One could certainly question the Reds’ acquisition of Minor on similar grounds.

  8. JB

    I wish the Reds had the coconuts to let Moose and Akiyama go like the Angels did with Upton.

    • Tom Reeves

      Moose maybe has an ounce of gas left in the tank – especially as a DH. Moose also has some strong leadership abilities and the team responds when he’s with them. Akiyama simply hasn’t played well to remain on the team.

    • Chris

      Why would you let Moose go? You would gain absolutely nothing. Moose has dealt with injuries the last two seasons, but prior to that he was a premier power hitter, and an excellent player/leader in the clubhouse. You LOSE nothing by finding out if he’s healthy and productive.

  9. Magnum44

    I personally think the way this club should operate moving forward is build from within and sign nothing but reclamation projects. After Shogo Moose and Nick C. signings I really hope they run out what they got sign the Phams and the Uptons and hope they find their magic in GABP

  10. Jim Walker

    A trade could get Akiyama off the books for the Reds and leave the “dirty work” of releasing him to the Angels as with the Homer Bailey situation and the Dodgers.

    The deal would be Akiyama and a draft pick lottery guy to the Angels for Upton and $20M. That’s a salary neutral deal with the Angels getting a lottery pick guy for their trouble.

    My guess is that while the Angels have crossed the point of no return if Upton goes to waivers, a deal like this (or for someone to take a couple of million of Upton’s salary to beat the uncertainty of the waiver process) is exactly what they are hoping for versus just dumping the $28M down the drain.

    And there is a potential backside gain for the Reds too. If Upton is having a good season and as expected the Reds are mired in mediocrity, he could be flipped as a rental for a nice return down the line.

  11. Arley Ray Cope

    Ludwick, Rolon, Gant, Mitchell and many others. Reds have a history of signing wash ups. Some were good some sucked.

    • JayTheRed

      Not sure why you included Gant and Mitchell, They had decent seasons while playing for the Reds overall. There was some issues but not for the entire time they were with the club .

    • Votto4life

      Greg Vaughn!

      Although I guess he wasn’t washed out but had a great season for the Redlegs.

  12. JB WV

    What good is another right handed strikeout machine against lefties that can’t play d? Friedl and Shrock could put up similar numbers versus lefties and put some hustle into the outfield. Aquino has had plenty of chances to prove himself. Move on. I’d rather go to the park to watch those guys.

  13. BK

    Upton’s age is a factor … defense will likely continue to regress (probably forces Pham to play RF if they are in the same outfield) and most projections show continued regression for his bat, too. Hopefully, we’ll see some better options go through the DFA process as rosters are set. The fact that Upton would have been a sizeable upgrade over Aquino over the last two years facing LHP really illustrates just how tenuous Aquino’s position with the Reds is.

  14. Chris

    I think picking up Upton, in preference to Aquino would an absolute horribly foolish move. If Upton does well, you can count on losing him next year; not so with Aquino. The biggest issue of all though, is the unknown. Upton is just one more year older, which means his downward trend probably continues. Chances of him being as good as last year (which wasn’t even good), is diminished due to his age. Aquino is still a wild card. He potentially could see more AB’s this year than he has seen in the last two years, which could really help him, and if he’s successful, we still have him next year as well. No brainer here.

  15. Mike

    We have plenty of outfielders who can hit .215 and not steal bases and are younger and might become something. Upton has no upside. The guys we have (except Shogo) have potential. He’d cost us league minimum because he’s worth league minimum.,