Outfielder Justin Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Detroit Tigers subject to passing a physical.
Upton wanted at least a five year contract. Who could blame him? This is Upton’s fourth team since the end of the 2012 season. The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Upton as the first overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft. He would make the big club two years later when he was only 19. Upton would lead the D’Backs to the NL West title in 2011 and would finish fourth in NL MVP balloting. However, neither then D’Backs manager Kirk Gibson nor then D’Backs GM Kevin Towers liked Upton’s approach to the game despite his MVP like numbers.
So following a disappointing campaign in 2012, the D’Backs shipped him off to the Atlanta Braves for a truckload of players. Nick Ahmed, Brandon Drury, Zeke Spruill and Randall Delgado have not made up for Upton’s departure (although to be fair Ahmed is someone who has All-Star potential). Martin Prado might have made up for the void Upton left, but the D’Backs shipped him off to the Yankees during the 2014 season (but got a very promising player in Peter O’Brien in return).
Upton had two productive seasons in Atlanta and drove in a career high 102 runs in 2014. But in December 2014, Upton was on the move again to San Diego. The Padres acquired Upton, Will Myers and Matt Kemp to be their new outfield. Unfortunately, these acquistions didn’t pan out as hoped as they finished 18 games back of the Dodgers in the NL West. Although Upton had respectable power numbers with 26 HR and 81 RBI, he hit only .251; his worst batting average since hitting .250 during his first full season in the bigs in 2008.
Entering 2016, Upton has collected 1,175 hits for a lifetime batting average of .271 with 190 home runs and 616 RBI and has been selected to three NL All-Star teams. Upton has been good, but not quite good enough to consistently be among MLB’s elite players. But at 28, Upton should be entering the peak of his career. In a lineup that includes Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, Upton should have a big year in Detroit. What with other additions like Jordan Zimmermann and Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, I can easily see the Tigers being playoff bound this season after a disappointing 2015. Yet I can also see Upton being productive but the Tigers not being competitive. If the Tigers aren’t in contention after 2017 or 2018, it would come as no shock if the Tigers trying to dump Upton’s salary.
Justin Upton arrives in Detroit at a crossroads. Upton will either step up and become the consistent MVP calibre player he’s been projected to be and find a home in Detroit or he will be good, but not good enough that he’s indispensable and be on the move yet again. It will be interesting to see how Upton adapts to a steady diet of AL pitching.
Only 76 more days until Opening Day.
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