Angels Trade For J. Upton, Strengthen Playoff Push

Last night the Los Angeles Angels completed a sweep of the Oakland Athletics, complete with a 7th inning go-ahead grand slam by Cliff Pennington:

This was a big series for the Angels, who had come off of losing four of five games to the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros just before it. Somehow, the Angels have clung to life all season, despite really only having two standout players the entire season in Mike Trout and Andrelton Simmons. Yet as of last night, the Angels sit at 69-65, just 1 game back of the second wildcard spot, right in the middle of the hunt.

Back at the end of May, just after Mike Trout was injured, I believed that the Angels should perform a full rebuild because there was no chance they would make the playoffs in 2017. Since then, Trout missed just a month and a half, came back and continued to be the best player in baseball. Andrelton Simmons learned to hit at some point before the end of last season and now has a bat to go with his Hall of Fame level glove. But despite the MVP level play of these two, players like Kole Calhoun, Albert Pujols, Cj Cron, and nearly their entire pitching rotation have all underperformed.

However, yet again, the Angels are just a game out of a playoff spot at the moment. Seemingly, they just need some kind of push to really get into gear. It appears their push has come in the form of Justin Upton.

The Angels Trade for Justin Upton

The news broke of the trade for Justin Upton within the last 30 minutes or so, and it is exactly what the Angels needed to get to the playoffs. Upton will fit perfectly in the middle of the Angels lineup, as he is in the middle of the second best season of his career: 125 G 520 PA .279/.362/.542 with a 138 wRC+, 28 HR and 4.1 fWAR.

While Upton has not had offensive numbers this good since 2014 with the Braves, or arguably 2011 with the Diamondbacks, Upton’s resurgence started in late August of last season, hitting .286/.370/.593 with a 153 wRC+, 46 HR, and 45 2B in 676 PA going back to 8/20/2016. Upton has been one of the MLB’s top 15 hitters in that time, more than living up to his hefty contract.

Upton’s Contract

Speaking of his contract, Upton is owed $22.125M each season through 2021, putting him owed $88.5M after this season. However, there is an opt out in his contract after the 2017 season. This is very important due to the fact that Upton is having such a great season, and many signs point to him opting out as possibly the best free agent of the 2017-2018 free agent class.

A week ago, Jon Morosi tweeted comparing Cespedes’ opt out last offseason to Upton’s potential opt out this coming off season, saying he could justify a similar deal to Cespedes’ $110M/4 deal.

Based on this, the risk for the Angels is minimized and this move could be seen almost purely as a rental. This would be good news as the Angels already have a bloated payroll bogged down by Albert Pujols’ contract, and they may want to have more flexibility going forward.

If Upton ends up not exercising his opt out, this should be welcome news for the Angels anyway. Upton has proven to be a 3-plus fWAR player with an exception here or there, and would be a big addition to the Angels roster going forward.

Detroit Tigers Return

The return for the Tigers in this deal is 23-year-old AA starting pitcher Grayson Long:

While Grayson Long is having a very nice year in AA, pitching to a 2.52 ERA with 8.21 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 0.52 HR/9 and a 3.07 FIP in 121.2 innings pitched, MLB.com’s midseason prospects update has Long as the Angels 9th best prospect in an already very weak farm system, so this is being seen as a very good deal for them.

As far as the return for the Tigers, with just a month remaining in the season, and it very likely Upton would have opted out anyway, they did not have much in the way of trade negotiations. If they do actually like Long going forward, this was the best course for them.

Angels Rest of Season Outlook

As mentioned above, the Angels have only had two standout players this season. Mike Trout is a top three MVP candidate despite missing six weeks, and Andrelton Simmons is certainly going to get top 10 votes. Not only is adding Justin Upton to the roster going to be a big help, but other players in their lineup have been coming back to life in the second half of the season.

CJ Cron – 35 G 130 PA .305/.369/.610 with a 161 wRC+ and 10 HR

Luis Valbuena – 35 G 116 PA .232/.336/.606 with a 146 wRC+ and 11 HR

Kole Calhoun – 39 G 159 PA .250/.352/.412 with a 111 wRC+ and 5 HR

Cliff Pennington – 24 G 63 PA .316/.355/.456 with a 119 wRC+ and 2 HR

Ben Revere – 32 G 112 PA .314/.366/.382 with a 107 wRC+ and 11 SB.

As of today, that Angels lineup that looked so weak earlier in the season, is now looking very imposing. The problem for the Angels, as always, is their starting pitching. Seemingly only Parker Bridwell has been effective for them in their starting rotation, but even he has his drawbacks. Thankfully for the Angels, their bullpen has picked up a lot of the slack and has been quite good this season.

It’s going to be a tough final month of the season, despite so many things going well for the Angels. They are just a game back of the second AL Wild Card spot, but Baltimore is 1.5 back, Texas is 3.0 back, Tampa Bay is 3.5 back, then Seattle and Kansas City are 4.0 back. The good news is that although they do not play the Yankees or Twins, they do have 12 games against Texas and Seattle, as well as seven against the bottom-dwelling A’s and Chicago White Sox.

It was never going to be an easy September for the Angels, not with the team currently constructed. But with the addition of Justin Upton to an already surging lineup, the Angels may just surprise a lot of people and end up in the playoffs.