Justin Upton Moves On, Signs with Tigers

We knew it was coming, but now that Justin Upton has signed a six-year contract with the Detroit Tigers, one of the boldest moves by A.J. Preller last year has proven to be largely a failure.

For one year of Upton, the Padres got 26 home runs, 81 RBI, a .790 OPS, and a nice 4.4 WAR—not bad, considering his batting average, OPS, and RBI were down compared to his regular numbers.

But why do I call it a failure? For two reasons. First, to get him, they traded away top pitching prospect Max Fried, outfield prospect Mallex Smith (who hit .307 with a .376 OBP and 57 stolen bases between AA and AAA last year), infielder Jace Peterson, and minor leaguer Dustin Peterson.

If Fried can overcome his Tommy John Surgery, if Smith continues on his current trajectory, and if Jace Peterson builds on his decent 2015 rookie season, then the Braves will have some very solid building blocks for their current rebuilding project: a potential frontline left-handed starting pitcher, a speedy leadoff center fielder, and a pretty good second baseman—the first two of which are major needs for the Padres.

And the Padres? What do they have to show for it? One year of Justin Upton and a compensatory draft pick this June.

Second, Preller’s clear intent in trading for one year of Upton was to win it all last year. The Padres didn’t even finish at .500, going 74-88.

What Now?

So the question is, what now? Where do the Padres go from here?

Answer: they rebuild. Prior to Upton’s departure, they had five of the first 100 picks in the June amateur draft. Now, they have six.

Oh yeah, they also need a left fielder; preferably one who hits left-handed, provides some balance to a righty-dominant lineup, and holds down the fort until prospect Hunter Renfroe is ready—likely in the second half of 2016. Since the front office is apparently trying to trade rookie Travis Jankowski and newcomer Jon Jay is being viewed as sharing time in center field with Melvin Upton, Jr., they will need someone else to pencil in at left field.

There are a few in-house options:

  • they could bring up Renfroe to start the season. This is a possibility, though highly unlikely unless he wows new manager Andy Green at spring training.
  • Rookie Alex Dickerson is another possibility. He bats left-handed, an obvious plus, although it’s hard to see if the Padres view him as an everyday player; he will be 26 in May. But he will probably get a shot. He hit .307/.374/.503 with 36 doubles and 12 home runs at AAA in 2015.
  • Rymer Liriano could get a second chance. While he was terrible during his extended 2014 audition, the talent is still there: he slashed .292/.383/.460 with 14 home runs and 18 stolen bases at AAA, though he also had 132 strikeouts.
  • They could pick a free agent bounce-back candidate like Delmon Young, Matt Joyce, or Dominic Brown.

Which ever route they choose, one thing is certain: left field will not be the same without Justin Upton. He will be missed.

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