The Red Sox should look at Justin Upton if he hits free agency
The Boston Red Sox have a plan for their outfield but plans can change with the addition of new pieces. While they may take a patient approach by waiting until the trade deadline to evaluate their needs, the Red Sox could jump on an opportunity before the season starts if an appealing option presents itself.
A potential option might hit the market soon. The Los Angeles Angels designated outfielder Justin Upton for assignment, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
It’s highly unlikely that any team will claim the $28 million owed to Upton in the final year of his deal. If he clears waivers, Upton will be a free-agent, allowing him to sign with another team at a far more reasonable cost.
The four-time All-Star is a shell of his former self as injuries have taken a toll to diminish his elite skill set. Upton hasn’t produced an OPS+ above league-average since 2018 and he’s appeared in fewer than 90 games in each of the last three years. He hit a meager .211/.296/.409 in 318 at-bats last season.
You must be wondering why the Red Sox would have any interest in a player whose production has fallen off a cliff, but look closer and we can find scraps of evidence that he can be useful.
He no longer warrants a spot in the everyday lineup but Upton can still mash against lefties, producing a .355 OBP and .483 SLG against southpaws last season. That makes him a perfect compliment to pair with Jackie Bradley Jr. in right field. The Red Sox intend to sit JBJ against lefties and could use another right-handed bat to cover his spot in the outfield for those games.
Whether or not Upton is still capable of sufficiently covering a spot in the outfield is debatable. He was a decent defensive player early in his career but he’s compiled -28 defensive runs saved over the last three years. He’s a liability to the outfield defense but is he any worse than J.D. Martinez would be? If Upton’s defense becomes too much of a concern, manager Alex Cora could stick to his original plan of giving Martinez time in the outfield against lefties while Upton serves as the DH.
The hits aren’t coming as frequently as they did in his prime but Upton is still capable of crushing the ball. He ranked in the 97th percentile in max exit velocity and the 79th percentile in Barrel% last season, per Baseball Savant.
Strikeouts will be a source of frustration, as Upton ranked in the bottom seven percent of the league with a 29.6 K% last year. Historically, he’s been slightly less strikeout prone against lefties, so that alarming rate should dip if he’s used in a strict platoon role. Upton also draws walks at a solid clip, ranking in the 73rd percentile in BB% last season. His batting average will be tough to look at but he can still reach base at an acceptable rate.
The current version of Upton may not seem like much to get excited about but keep in mind that we’re talking about a platoon player for the end of the bench. He would be competing for a roster spot with the likes of Rob Refsnyder, Travis Shaw and Franchy Cordero. At least there is more upside with Upton.
The Red Sox might prefer to wait to see if Jarren Duran develops enough in Triple-A to earn another shot in the big leagues or see what’s available at the deadline. At some point, they are going to need another bat to complete their outfield. There was no chance of the Red Sox trading for Upton’s contract but if they can get him for cheap in free agency, it’s worth rolling the dice on him with a low-risk deal.