The success of the Los Angeles Angels’ offseason could depend on their ability to retain Justin Upton, who is expected to opt out of his contract.
For the Los Angeles Angels, finding complementary players to put around superstar Mike Trout has been a thorn in the franchise’s side for the past several years. Former MVP Albert Pujols is fading, while guys like Kole Calhoun and C.J. Cron are generally serviceable at best.
By trading for Justin Upton on the last day of August, the Halos made an attempt to give Trout some legitimate support in the lineup. The former Tigers outfielder put up respectable numbers in L.A. during the season’s final weeks, slashing .245/.357/.531 with seven home runs and 15 RBI in 27 games.
The 30-year-old enjoyed a landmark season overall, batting .273/.361/.540 on the way to his fourth All-Star Game. His 35 homers, 109 RBI and 135 OPS+ were all career highs. Coming off that kind of production, it’s a relative no-brainer that Upton will likely opt out of the remaining four seasons and $88.5 million of his deal.
The Angels knew they were taking a gamble in acquiring a player who could very well turn out to be a rental. However, you can’t fault them for trying: They stayed in the Wild Card race down the stretch, finishing five games out of the second spot. If they had Upton all year, who knows what may have happened.
Assuming Upton does hit the open market for the second time in three offseasons, L.A. will naturally aim to bring him back, as it should. Yes, handing out multi-year deals to players over 30 doesn’t always work out, but without Upton the Angels’ outfield depth chart looks fairly grim outside of the mighty Trout.
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Light-hitting speedsters Ben Revere and Eric Young Jr. will also enter free agency, and the organization’s top outfield prospects – headlined by Jo Adell and Jahmai Jones – aren’t expected to make their debuts for a few more seasons.
Unfortunately, the Angels don’t have the luxury of time as far as Trout is concerned. The consensus best player in the game is eligible to test free agency for himself following the 2020 campaign. Meaning the Halos have three more seasons to put a winning club together in the Trout era and convince him to stay.
Retaining Upton or signing another high-profile offensive weapon must be at the top of GM Billy Eppler’s list to avoid taking a step backward in 2018. J.D. Martinez is the big prize, but he’ll cost significantly more than Upton given his stirring performance in Arizona. Beyond that, there are some solid options such as Lorenzo Cain and Jay Bruce, but most come with question marks.
The Angels say they are keeping a “dialogue” open with Upton, but just how serious their pursuit is remains to be seen. While the pitching staff could certainly use some help as well, maintaining a competent sidekick for Trout, whether it’s Upton or someone else, should be the first item on the team’s offseason to-do list.