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.