Angels outfielder Justin Upton is still weighing his opt-out decision, which promises to have widespread ramifications for the free-agent market. But as Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports, the club isn’t just sitting back and waiting to learn Upton’s fate.
Rather, Halos GM Billy Eppler says “there is dialogue going on” between the sides, citing a “positive conversation” with Upton and his agent, Larry Reynolds. He did not divulge details beyond that, quite understandably, so it’s not entirely clear just what was discussed. But it certainly seems as if the team is taking a proactive approach in the hopes that Upton will remain in an Angels uniform for 2018 and beyond.
Upton can choose to enter the open market — which he’d do free and clear of any qualifying-offer-related draft compensation — or elect instead to keep the four-year, $88.5MM guarantee remaining on his contract. The Angels are surely hoping to convince Upton to stay, though we don’t know anything else about the substance of the chatter. Beyond pitching Upton on the organization, it’s not known whether some additional inducement has or could be contemplated. In theory, though, the sides could completely re-work the contract, modify it in some way, or instead just continue their discussion into free agency.
Unusual circumstances surrounded the 30-year-old Upton’s move out west. Despite the presence of the opt-out provision, the club acquired him from the Tigers at the last possible moment — during the revocable trade period, on August 31st, the last day that teams could add outside players who’d be eligible for the postseason. Righty Grayson Long and a player to be named or cash went to Detroit in the deal, which included no assurances or future considerations regarding Upton’s remaining contract (or lack thereof).
Upton played well in Los Angeles, though the club fell shy of the postseason. Through 115 plate appearances, he slashed .245/.357/.531 with seven home runs — good for a 137 OPS+ that matched his output over his first 125 games on the year with the Tigers. Though Upton has had a few productivity dips in his eleven-year career, he carries an excellent .269/.348/.479 cumulative batting line through more than six thousand trips to the plate at the game’s highest level.
Youth is still mostly on Upton’s side. So are defensive metrics, which see him as a solid-to-excellent fielder in left. In the aggregate, it’s fairly easy to make out a case for Upton commanding a guarantee of $20MM or more annually for a five- or six-year term — as he received the last time he went to the open market. Now that the risks of playing out the season are in the past, he doesn’t have much reason to take a (hypothetical) offer from the Angels before testing the broader market, though perhaps he could try to gain a sweetener if he’s at all inclined to avoid the risks of free agency by declining the opt-out opportunity.