When the LA Angels extended Justin Upton last offseason, most around the MLB thought the signing was good for both parties.
The LA Angels of course got to keep the slugger they had just traded for a couple of months prior. For Justin Upton, the five-year, $106 million deal was far more than he likely would have received in the new MLB agent market, where players are getting signed to all-time low deals.
For roughly $21 million a season, it seems like the four-time All Star was a solid piece for the Halos going forward. However, there is reason for concern with Upton. With 2019 being the second year of his contract, Upton needs to show he can be the top-tier hitter he was earlier in his career.
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A look at the numbers shows Upton has not yet hit a sharp decline. His .257 batting average was only 11 points under his career average, and he hit at least 30 home runs for the third straight season. However, he struck out 176 times despite playing in his fewest games since 2010. That rate is above his career average, and for a player going into his age 31 season, it can be a cause for concern.
Upton’s defense was also worrisome in 2018. While he has been a Gold Glove caliber player in years past, there have been times where he looked downright lost in left field since he joined the Angels. Considering the Angels have Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun in center and right field, defense is supposed to be one of the Angels’ strengths, especially in the outfield. To have a below-average fielder like Upton, whose range is rapidly declining, doesn’t kill the team, but it certainly hurts.
Maybe this is all being overblown. While his contract is scary considering he’ll be into his mid-30’s during the final years of it, it is still a good value as of now. Despite these concerns, Upton was worth $24.9 million last year, per Fangraphs. He is still, until Shohei Ohtani returns, the second best hitter on the Angels as of now.
In 2019, Upton needs to prove these concerns of a decline were instead outliers last year, and that he can still be the star he was just a couple of years ago.