To be honest, writing the beginning of this Fanpost was more of a chore than a pleasure. From day one I was expecting to be adding another rallying cry for the Tigers after their 120th game, knowing a playoff spot was still in their grasp. But I am determined to honor my commitment of posting a story after every 20 games.
The Tigers are now 53-67. The lack of consistency is highlighted by their 6-2 start, followed by 2-10 for a total of 8-12 this series. The highwater, (or should it be underwater) mark of their ineptitude was the series in Texas. We had pitching mistakes turned into homers, errors, a defense falling asleep allowing a steal of home (balk), and the predictable bullpen blowups.
Tiger's pitching was torched for 28 runs, eight home runs, 39 hits, and 15 walks while the defense had five errors and a run-scoring balk. The perils of West Coast trips can be expanded to West Division teams.
The Tigers have the third-worst record in the AL and sixth-worst overall. They rank in the top five in several offensive categories but dead last or 14th in ERA, hits, and runs allowed. They can score runs but can't keep up with the very porous pitching staff. When the Tigers give you a bucket of lemons instead of baseballs, we need to try and make some lemonade.
In the last few weeks there have been several Fanposts and articles talking about what the Tigers need to do to get better. Talk about players who need to be played more/less, traded, rested, sent down, released,etc. There are also discussions how the GM, manager, and even the owner must go/stay.
I will follow that path by talking about Justin Upton's decision to opt out (or not). His decision may be influenced by the outside forces all of these articles touched on.
He will have to make his decision before all or most of these things actually happen, but there are decisions being made that give us glimpses regarding what management has in store for the future. Moves that could shape Upton's decision. An example is Castellanos taking outfield practice and his willingness to "make a go of it" in right field. Keeping his bat in the lineup while getting a defensive upgrade at third could be a big improvement. Upton also has a ringside seat as a team member to see, hear, take in, and speculate on what is going on inside the clubhouse and organization.
I believe there are four main areas of consideration that Upton will use to make his decision.
Upton player for four different organizations within a five-year span, so moving has been done before. But is it a sticking point now? Stability was mentioned as a reason for the six-year deal in 2016. He has stated that he likes Detroit and is comfortable here. How much of that is sincere or basic PR is impossible to tell. Family, I would think, is priority number one, and the current stability has a lot of value. But a new five or six-year deal would get him the same results.
Money (and the market)
Ballplayers at Upton's skill level take great pride in their performance. They are measured by stats and rankings against their peers. They also take great pride (and are measured by) awards that they receive (All-Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, MVP, etc.). Their worth is also measured by the amount of money a team is willing to pay them,(and their ego demands) to play.
When Upton signed his six-year deal, Detroit elevated him into the top tier of earners. They wooed and showed Detroit really wanted him and valued his abilities. The $88.5 million left on his contract is right in line with the top dollars paid last winter. Last winter was not kind to power hitters but most were older than 30 with little else to offer.
But the fact that he wanted an opt-out in two years leads me to believe he was looking ahead towards either another big payday at age 30 or an escape valve if the team became flat and not playoff worthy. I will have more on his financial options in another article.
Winning a championship
One of the reasons Upton came to Detroit was that he wanted to play on a winner and the possibility of a championship. How he perceives the current landscape in Detroit will go a long way into his decision making process.
Does he see the front office realistically vying for a playoff spot over the next four years? When making moves, will they add talent that is major-league ready in two years or less? Who will the Tigers decide to keep as a core for the those seasons? Can the Tigers deliver a respectable record these last 42 games to act as a springboard to what could be possible in 2018?
Who gets traded away this winter and who stays could have a big influence on Upton's opinion as to how likely Detroit will compete during the next four years. So far, the only departed players were pending free agent and a reliever at the peak of his value.
Believing the Tigers will not dump payroll, keep veterans, and field a team capable of winning a playoff spot could be the spark for him to stay. A key to that could be if Upton thinks the pitching staff can turn around their worst ranking in baseball to become at least middle-of-the-road. The last 20 games did not help on that front.
Last year it seemed almost painful for Upton to join in on a post-game outfield hug. He looked like a guy who was going to get the plague from J.D. Martinez, Cameron Maybin, or both. He needed to feel his way into a comfort zone that must have been very difficult to do because of his struggles at the plate.
Now he looks like a team leader as we are shown clubhouse pictures of Miggy, V-Mart,(and others) sitting with Upton in round-table discussions prior to a game. Lots of conversations with everybody in the dugout and handshakes for everyone. Looks like Upton and Mikie Mahtook have a friendship that brings smiles from both of them. From our vantage point of looking in from the outside, he seems really comfortable and has commented on how the Tigers organization embraced him and showed how valuable he was to them.
How willing he is to give up on the "known" for the "unknown" is unclear. Is the drive for a better chance at a championship worth the gamble of the solid financial security he has now? Has his family settled in and really likes where they are right now?
Testing the market is a gamble with teams being stingy with the pursestrings and contract years. Does a career year in 2017 equate to at least an equal financial move to a contender? Lot's of variables to think about.