Report: Jays the “front-runners” for Melvin Upton (UPDATE: They went all out, Upton here)

Melvin Upton
Photo credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Oh, hello. The Jays have actually done it! They’ve traded for Melvin Upton — formerly known as B.J. Upton — who happens to be in town with the San Diego Padres, and will be able to immediately step into the lineup.

How might he actually fit into this Jays lineup? Well! It turns out that I wrote all about that last night, when the rumours first started getting truly serious — which you can read below.

In the meantime, here’s what we know about the deal so far: Shi Davidi tells us that the Padres will be paying “a substantial sum” of what remains on Upton’s contract ($16.45-million for next year, plus about $5.15-million for the rest of this season), while the Jays will be giving up a Class-A prospect, according to Ken Rosenthal.

That sounds pretty good, depending on who the prospect is. If we’re going to see a bit less of Jose Bautista in the outfield, it kinda can’t not be a bad thing. And Upton has been especially good against left-handers both this year (146 wRC+) and last (126), which is significantly better than Justin Smoak’s 87 wRC+ this season (though not as good as Ezequiel Carrera’s weird, reverse-split, small sample 161 mark against them, or Saunders’ reverse-split 167 either).

So who might be going the other way? If he’s in A-ball we know it’s not anyone just drafted, we know it’s not Vlad Guerrero Jr., or guys in Double- and Triple-A like Dalton Pompey, Conner Greene, or Rowdy Tellez. But that still leaves a whole lot of interesting names that might be going to the Padres. A quick look shows Jon Harris, Sean Reid-Foley, Adonis Cardona (does he still count?), Anthony Alford, and Richard Urena are currently in High-A Dunedin, while Lansing sports Justin Maese, Angel Perdomo, Tom Robson, and Max Pentecost are at Low-A Lansing.

I’m guessing it’s somebody out of that group, though maybe there are names that I’m missing.

Thing is, if it’s someone with a fairly recognizable name, it’s probably not even that big a deal, considering that the Jays just added another halfway decent outfielder who is under contract for 2017 at a price that — assuming the reports are true — shouldn’t hurt their flexibility too badly when it comes to re-signing other players.

His presence makes it that much harder for the club to justify taking too much of a step backwards in 2017, like so many fans seem to fear, too. This is an actual major leaguer who will be on the roster, and hopefully for not much. Plus, it’s not like the Jays don’t have a pretty good track record when it comes to getting the best out of hitters, so maybe there’s more upside to this than I even give credit for in the original post below.

So… not bad. Not bad.

UPDATE UPDATE: Welp, so much for all those potentially scary prospect names I listed: according to a tweet from Jon Heyman, the Jays are giving up right-hander Hansel Rodriguez in exchange for Upton. That makes me worry a little bit about just how “substantial” the portion of Upton’s salary the Padres will be paying, but maybe they really like Rodriguez.

J.J. Cooper of Baseball America tweets that Rodriguez, who is 19-years-old and 18th among Jays’ prospects according to BA (and who, quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of), is a “big arm” but a “long, long, long way from the big leagues.”

Sure.

Meanwhile, Rosenthal adds that Baltimore was close to nabbing Upton in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez and a couple of prospects, but that the deal broke down over finances.

UPDATE THE LAST: Holy shit, so about that thing where I was worried about the money? Um… no, it turns out this is a tidy piece of business that barely will impact the Jays’ bottom line going forward.

To wit:

That’s legit incredible, I think. Whatever fears Jays fans may have had about this deal somehow being an impediment to bringing back Michael Saunders or Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion surely have instantly disappeared. The club may find other impediments to bringing those guys back, but it sure as hell won’t be this.

And while the fact that San Diego got so little and paid so much to get rid of Upton tells you something about how little the rest of the league valued him, the Jays really do have a fit for him here. And I think the upside is still very real. And that price? Man alive. (FWIW, Ben Revere, who is mentioned below, makes $6.5-million this year.)

Not a damn thing to dislike here.

OK, now finally, cue DMX.

Original Post…

I’ve never really understood the way that MLB trade rumours are reported as though they’re horse races — as though those plucky Orioles might make some kind of huge run down the home stretch from the back of the pack in order to pip the Jays at the very finish.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something at least a little bit significant when Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports lays this on us — especially when it comes in the midst of other rumours pointing in the same sort of direction:

Rosenthal adds that the Padres’ return on Upton will hinge on how much of his remaining salary (about 1/3 of the $15.45-million he’s owed this season, plus $16.45-million for next year) they’re willing to eat. So that’s an interesting dimension to this, but so too is how Upton is a fit here.

Upton isn’t great, and isn’t worth the salary he’ll command next year, but that doesn’t mean he’s without value — especially to a club like the Jays, that only has one big league outfielder under contract for 2017. As I wrote when Jim Bowden made the suggestion that the Jays were sniffing around on Upton a couple weeks ago, locking him in for next year on what is essentially a one-year contract at about the level of the qualifying offer certainly makes some sense for them. They wouldn’t have to give anybody a multi-year deal, and would be getting a decent enough player. And to get San Diego to pay some of that? Even better.

Upton is a league average hitter who provides value on the bases, strong defence in left field with the possible ability to still play centre the odd time, and has a little bit of pop, too. He gets on base a little better than it looks, with an above average walk rate, though with that comes a few more strikeouts.

He’s a little bit like Ben Revere, only a better, more powerful hitter, who isn’t quite as reliant on his base running to make up for other deficiencies in his game. The power, with a move to the Rogers Centre and back to the AL East, would be an asset, I think, as is the fact that he’s not a pure singles-and-speed hitter, given that the presence of all the mashers in the Jays’ lineup necessitates more restraint on the bases.

If you remember anything about my feelings for Ben Revere, you’ll recognize that this isn’t exactly glowing praise — especially if you look at Upton’s lacklustre OBPs (though he’s much better against LHP). But even if neither player is the ideal corner outfielder or lead-off hitter, Revere did prove useful for the club in his limited time here, and I think Upton could, as well.

As nicely as Ezequiel Carrera has filled in for the Jays this year, he’s not someone we can expect to continue to hit this much better than he has in the past, I don’t think. And while Upton’s two dismal years in Atlanta have to be concerning, you’re certainly more comfortable with him going forward as an everyday guy than you would be with Carrera — both this year and next.

Having Upton would move Justin Smoak more regularly to the bench, would give the Jays the chance to sit Michael Saunders against tough lefties, or allow Saunders and Jose Bautista to rest their ailments with days at DH or additional days off. Upton could potentially spell Pillar, as well — though you wouldn’t want to do that very often, I don’t think.

For an organization that’s now thinking hard and in different ways about optimizing performance and health, you can see how a move like this might appeal. Especially considering the contract stuff — and the fact that they might be able to get the Padres to pay some of the freight.

But who knows?

If such a deal ever happens the money stuff will, I’m sure, make people lose their minds a bit, but let’s not just yet. The Jays still don’t have a whole lot to give up in trade, so despite their “front-runner” status, I still think it would be surprising to see them take one of the bigger names off the market — especially in an area where it just doesn’t give them all that much of an upgrade, really. (Though if Jose Bautista were to move more regularly to DH or first base, the defensive upgrade would be significant, while the difference between the league-average-hitting Upton and Justin Smoak would be almost a wash — as @AdrianChrisostim astutely points out).

The front office does seem to be sniffing around a whole lot of things, though. According to a tweet from noted teen Chris Cotillo, the Jays are “scouring the market” for both starting pitching and right-handed hitting outfielders, which means it’s not necessarily only Upton who they’re looking at — and indeed maybe it’s a package involving both him and Cashner. And as far as outfielders go, given that Jose Bautista is still not fully recovered from his “turf toe,” that Michael Saunders was replaced for defence late in Monday’s win over San Diego by Ezequiel Carrera (which… oh yeah, the Jays won tonight!), and that Chris Colabello has seen some time in the outfield in Buffalo, you maybe start to see too many things aligning to think it’s a coincidence.

Then again, we’re a week out from the August 1st trade deadline, so the bullshit is a-flyin’! We shall see, I guess. But as odd a move as a play for Upton might seem on the surface, I dunno? Maybe?