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September 4, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Justin Time (Part 1)

by Bryan Grosnick and Jarrett Seidler


IN THIS ISSUE

American League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Acquired OF-R Justin Upton from Detroit Tigers in exchange for RHP Grayson Long and a player to be named later or cash. [8/31]

Ben Revere has hit .261/.298/.336 this season, which is good for a dismal .233 True Average. As far as left fielders go, the Wild Card-chasing Angels can and should do better than Revere, or Cameron Maybin, or whatever entity has inhabited Eric Young Jr.’s body and caused it to hit surprisingly well this season. When you’re in a crunch for every possible win, and your team has some gaping holes of performance to fill, you do what you need to do in order to paper over your weaknesses. And if that means dealing away one of your last remaining good decent prospects for a star left fielder who is one torn ACL away from torpedoing your budget for the next four seasons ... well, dovie’andi se tovya sagain.

You’re forgiven for assuming that if the Angels would acquire an Upton, they might go after the freely-available Melvin Upton and not his younger, higher-performing brother. The six-year, $133 million contract procured in January of 2016 by the younger Upton contains one of the most interesting opt-out clauses in baseball, a demarcation line separating four years at approximately $88.5 million from another dive into the free agent market. And while the Tigers must’ve gotten some inkling that Upton was looking to bail on his deal and try again this coming offseason, the Angels still bear the risk if something dramatic were to happen in the next couple months.

However, more likely than not the Angels are just renting one of the game’s better corner outfield bats for a month or so and hoping that J-Up’s good wood can help this team build a bridge to the final Wild Card spot. Make no mistake, Upton is a plus overall hitter capable of providing a large performance boost in that Angels outfield. If you forget about the defensive numbers—just for a minute, we’ll get back to them later—and focus on his prodigious hitting skill, you’ll find a little inconsistency but a lot of production. This year, he’s delivered 55 extra-base hits and a .362 OBP, which is good for a .299 True Average. (That rates well above average, even for a corner bat.)

And though his offensive numbers ebb and flow with his notable hot and cold streaks, Upton is one of the game’s most consistent at staying on the field—149 games or more in every season since 2011—and delivering solid WARP totals. While Upton doesn’t rate as a good defender in the outfield, this season FRAA has him at plus 10 runs defensively, which is likely a blip of statistical noise. Nevertheless, his offensive prowess and consistency are more than enough to make up for any defensive shortcomings.

This deal, combined with the acquisition of Brandon Phillips hours later, gives the Angels two veterans to replace less-than-appealing options in an already competent lineup. Upton should handle the duty once filled by the game’s worst player: driving in the game’s best player. Just a game-and-a-half out of the second Wild Card spot—and just two-and-a-half games behind the first spot—the Angels need every run, every win they can eke out. Replacing the combo of Revere and Upton’s former teammate Maybin, Upton might be a win upgrade despite joining the team with only a month to go before the playoffs.

And if they do make that Wild Card game, well, Upton will certainly put a little extra fear into whichever opposing pitcher lines up against the Angels. No other team in the Wild Card mix can match the Angels’ small-but-bright constellation of stars. The Angels’ stars-and-scrubs policy is still in full effect, as Albert Pujols and the team’s rotation are definite weaknesses, but at least now the team has an extra star to try to take them over the hump. When you have this many top-tier talents, anything is possible in one month of baseball. —Bryan Grosnick

DETROIT TIGERS
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Acquired RHP Grayson Long and a player to be named later or cash from Los Angeles Angels in exchange for OF-R Justin Upton. [8/31]

Welcome to the report of an archetypical polished, low-upside future innings-eater. A third-round pick in 2015 out of Texas A&M, Long is a large human who appears built to eat innings, notwithstanding a few missed months in 2016. As we say in the risk assessment of basically every pitching prospect, well, he's still a pitcher. Once on the mound, he’ll mix in a low-90s fastball with an average changeup and slider, commanding all three pitches well.

Long passed the Double-A test that knocks many with this profile down a few pegs, but his status as one of the top prospects in the Angels' system had more to do with that system than great projection. Honestly, with Jo Adell not yet eligible to be traded, it was going to be hard for the Angels to get taken to the cleaners in a trade unless Jahmai Jones was included. Long has a very good chance to pitch in a big-league rotation for a half-dozen or more years, and that's about as good as it gets if you're trading with the Angels. —Jarrett Seidler

Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here
Jarrett Seidler is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jarrett's other articles. You can contact Jarrett by clicking here

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