In a surprising move, the Los Angeles Angels recently designated veteran Justin Upton for assignment despite him being owed $28 million this year.
Arriving in LA via trade from Detroit in 2017, injuries played a major role through his Angels tenure, limiting him to only appearing in 366 games across five seasons. He slashed .232/.322/.443, with 75 homers, 203 RBIs, and an OPS of .764. The four-time All-Star is coming off the worst year of his career, hitting .211, with 17 homers, 41 RBIs, and an OPS of .705 in 89 games. However, in his career, he’s hit .262, with 324 homers, 1000 RBIs, and an OPS of .814.
His struggles stemmed from him battling multiple lower back issues, which caused him to suffer multiple IL stints. Finally healthy, Upton was having an excellent spring, slashing .333/.474/.933, with three homers, 11 RBIs, and an OPS of 1.407.
If Upton isn’t traded and makes it through waivers, the Nationals need to take a flier and sign the veteran slugger.
Washington’s current outfield consists of Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Lane Thomas, with the latter two still needing to prove themselves. Robles in particular has struggled offensively this spring, but Dave Martinez wants his glove in the lineup.
Despite signing Nelson Cruz to DH, the Nats offense still needs more production in the middle of the lineup and would benefit from Upton’s power. During the lockout, we discussed the Nats’ offensive struggles to drive in runs stating:
"Despite trading away what felt like the entire roster at the trade deadline, the National’s new-look offense produced at a high level. Since the trade deadline, the Nats offense led the NL in OBP (.348), and walk percentage (BB%) (11.1%), were third in batting average (.257), and were fourth in wRC+ (104).While they excelled at getting on base, the team was dreadful when it came to delivering the big hit. Washington ranked fifth in OPS (.762), eighth in RBIs (252) ninth in SLG (.415), and 10th in homers (63)."
Upton’s 17 homers and 41 RBIs last year would have ranked fifth and sixth highest amongst the Nats respectively. His 90 OPS+ and .705 OPS last year don’t bode well, but he looked like his old self during the Spring.
Upton may not want to play for a rebuilding team, but he would have plenty of protection in the lineup and Washington would be able to keep him fresh. On the wrong side of 30 and having not appeared in over 100 games since 2018 — Upton would benefit more from platooning in left with Thomas and occasionally taking DH reps whenever Cruz needs a day off.
For the Nationals, they can buy low on a power bat and if he bounces back, they can flip him at the deadline for prospects. Upton also brings plenty of veteran leadership and is a Virginia native. At the end of his career — Upton would finally have a chance to play for his hometown team while rebuilding his trade stock.