The Toronto Blue Jays put outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. on release waivers on Sunday as they finalized their Opening Day roster. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported that the Jays are listening to offers for Upton, but he will likely clear waivers and become a free agent. The Detroit Tigers seem like a natural fit given their unsettled outfield situation, but general manager Al Avila was noncommittal, telling reporters the Tigers would “do their due diligence” on the 32-year-old outfielder.
Upton has had his ups and downs over the course of a 12-year career. He was very productive in eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting .255/.336/.422. Advanced metrics were a bit mixed on his defense, but he was worth 22.2 fWAR with the Rays. His production fell off after signing his current contract with the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2013 season. Over the past three years, Upton has hit .218/.288/.356. He bounced back somewhat with the San Diego Padres in 2015, but regressed slightly last season. He was worth 1.2 fWAR in 149 games played for the Padres and Blue Jays.
More importantly, Upton hit a robust .275/.341/.533 against left-handed pitching last season. If the Tigers acquired him, they would likely use him in a platoon role, limiting the number of right-handed pitchers he would face. Upton doesn’t have a long history of mashing lefties, but he was very productive last year and also added a .792 OPS against southpaws in 2015.
While fans might think otherwise because of his name, Upton is almost certain to clear waivers on Wednesday. He is entering the final season of a five-year, $72.25 million contract. The San Diego Padres are paying $11.45 million of his $16.45 million salary this season, but anyone who claims him would be responsible for the remaining $5 million. If he clears waivers and signs with another team as a free agent, that new team would only owe Upton a prorated portion of the league minimum salary. The Blue Jays would be stuck with the remaining $4.5 million (or so) in salary.
If Upton clears waivers and becomes a free agent, one would think the Tigers would have a compelling pitch. His brother, left fielder Justin Upton, is on the roster, and the Tigers could use a proven outfielder with Melvin’s talents. Mikie Mahtook and JaCoby Jones could potentially fill the short side of an outfield platoon in either right field or center, but haven’t established themselves at the major league level. Upton also provides more of a base stealing threat; he has 300 career stolen bases and swiped 27 bags in 35 tries last season.
The Tigers could easily make room for Upton if they sign him. They have a few spots open on the 40-man roster after cutting Mike Pelfrey, Mark Lowe, and Steven Moya at the end of spring training. Both Mahtook and Jones have minor league options remaining, making the transition to the 25-man roster an easy one as well.
Because of how easy it would be to create a roster spot, the Tigers have little to lose by taking a shot at the speedy 32-year-old. His offensive upside is limited, but he likely has a higher floor than Jones, and is a better baserunner than Mahtook. The team shouldn’t trade any prospects or add salary to acquire Upton, but it’s hard to argue against the idea if they pick him up at the league minimum.
Should the Tigers try to acquire Melvin Upton, Jr.?
This poll is closed
Yes, in any way possible
Yes, but only if he clears waivers