The Tigers dodged a serious bullet this offseason by not signing Chris Davis, thanks to general manager Al Avila. Owner Mike Ilitch was reportedly willing to pay nearly $200 million for the slumping slugger had Avila not intervened and steered him in another direction, according to Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball.
That alternate course led to Justin Upton, who signed a six-year, $132.75 million deal with the Tigers, which included an opt-out clause after two seasons. For as inconsistent as Justin Upton was in 2016, his contract now sounds like a steal, even with the opt-out clause.
Upton had his issues this year, but he became a terror to opposing teams as the season wore on. He put together a 142 wRC+ in the second half, sixth-best among American League outfielders, and his .383 wOBA ranked fifth. Contrast that with his 77 wRC+ and .288 wOBA in the first half, both of which were sixth- and eighth-worst in all of baseball, respectively.
It’s quite the double-edged sword and the strikeouts were awful to start, but this was expected and the Tigers knew he would heat up as September approached. Davis, on the other hand, did the opposite. He hit well enough in the first half but his numbers dropped like a stone and he became dead weight in the lineup at the worst time for a team in the playoff hunt.
Davis out-homered Upton by a count of 38-31, but he did little else. Upton’s 28.6 strikeout percentage isn’t pretty but that was damage done primarily in the first half, and it’s nowhere near Davis’ 32.9 percent strikeout rate on the season.
Davis also has a track record of swinging away with inconsistent production in the last two seasons, lending questions as to whether he can be counted on in the long run. The only area where Davis beats Upton consistently, is with his fielding.
The two rank on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of DRS, UZR, and OOZ, with Davis soundly beating the current Tigers left fielder. But there’s no way to know whether Davis will produce better next season, or whether Upton will be a dud.
Between the two, though, the Tigers definitely avoided calamity by Avila’s actions in steering the ship clear of Davis. He may be better on defense and offers a tad more pop to his bat, but in terms of overall worth for the price, Detroit wound up with the better of the two options.