Saturday, June 25, 2022

Mariners, Justin Upton reach deal as four-time All-Star finds home after Angels release


The Seattle Mariners have signed veteran outfielder Justin Upton to a one-year deal, the team announced on Saturday night. Upton is expected to report to extended spring training as a means of getting back into game shape. (The Mariners designated right-hander Adrian Sampson for assignment to make space on their 40-player roster.)

Upton, 34 years old, was released by the Los Angeles Angels back in early April. A four-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, Upton had struggled in recent seasons to find himself on the right side of the league-average mark. Dating back to 2019, he’d hit only .211/.299/.414 (90 OPS+) with 38 home runs in 784 trips to the plate.

For reference, Upton even now has career marks of .262/.343/.471 (118 OPS+) with 324 home runs. At the time of his release, CBS Sports wrote the following about his chances of following in former teammate Albert Pujols’ footsteps and finding more glory with a new team:

Unlike Pujols, whose numbers against left-handed pitching made him an obvious short-side platoon candidate, Upton lacks a carrying skill. His .738 OPS versus left-handed pitching over the past three seasons ranks in the 27th percentile among right-handed batters, alongside the likes of glove-first players like outfielders Oscar Mercado and Delino DeShields Jr., and infielder Freddy Galvis, who now plays in Japan. 

Teams can still talk themselves into Upton having more to offer than those numbers indicate. His .838 OPS against lefties last season was his highest since 2017, and his multi-year ball-tracking metrics suggest he should’ve had better topline results. Given that the transaction cost is the prorated league-minimum salary and a roster spot (at a time when they have two more to spare than usual), it stands to reason that he is going to find a new home and return to the majors sooner than later.

It’s unclear how long Upton will spend in extended spring training before getting the call. The Mariners have found themselves relying upon the likes of Dylan Moore and Steven Souza Jr. because of injuries to Mitch Haniger and Kyle Lewis and the recent demotion of Jarred Kelenic. Upton doesn’t have to turn back the hands of time to represent an upgrade over the incumbents.

The Angels still bear responsibility for most of the $28 million remaining on his contract, with the Mariners owing him only the prorated league minimum. 

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