Padres Editorial: Which Upton is More Exciting?


Let’s talk about the Uptons.

We’ll start with the “good” Upton, Justin.  The man’s on a pace to put up a 31-homer, 33-steal season. There are only 38 players in the history of baseball who have put up 30/30 seasons, and the list of 11 active players in that elite group includes names like Trout, Braun, HanRam, and Kemp. Exactly zero of those 38 thirty-thirty guys wore a San Diego Padres uniform in the year they accomplished the task. So what Upton is doing is pretty exciting for fans of the San Diego organization. He hasn’t done it yet, but it’s hard to remember any Padre being on anything close to that pace this far into the season. Steve Finley in 1996, maybe?

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Is Upton having a career season at the plate in this, the season that will determine whether or not he is the next $100 million man? Not really. His slash line of .275/.356/.470 is almost an exact duplicate of his career line. But J-Up is clever. He’s padding his stats in the way that he has the most control over, and that could earn him the biggest bang for the buck, or more appropriately, the most bucks for the buck. The 33 steals would be twelve above his career best. Upton used to steal bases, swiping 20-18-21-18 between 2009-2012. But he’s stolen only eight bases in each of the last two years.

It’s a little tough to judge how big a contract the 28-year old Upton will be looking at as he enters what should be his peak seasons, but $20 million a year seems like a distinct possibility. This past offseason, Pablo Sandoval, a .295-hitting, 28-year old third baseman with mid-teens power, signed for five years, $95 million. 31-year old Hanley Ramirez, a premier speed-power talent who‘s played one full season since 2010, signed for four years, $88 million.

The year before, Shin-Soo Choo, a 32-year old .280/20/20 outfielder, signed a 7-year, $130 million contract.

Speed gets you an extra couple of million a year. Heck, a fellow known as B.J. Upton, who just missed joining the 30/30 club in 2012, signed a 5-year, $72 million deal  the following offseason, and he had only hit over .250 twice in his six-year career.

Sure, Justin is helping the team out by taking some extra bases. But the team that signs him to a massive deal this offseason shouldn’t expect to see J-Up come close to 30 steals again. Sluggers who have already signed their big contract tend to prefer to let the steals dwindle back down into the single digits.

Speaking of B.J. Upton, I’ve liked what I’ve seen of his new incarnation, Melvin, Junior. He’s the best center fielder on the roster, he’s stealing bases because that’s how he plays the game, and he’s got balls. It may have gone unnoticed in this past Tuesday’s game, as it was a day game, and the box score obscured what really happened, but Melvin did something extraordinary in that game. After reaching base on an error, then stealing second and moving to third on a groundout, Melvin decided to steal home.  He streaked down the line, and although he was tagged out by the catcher, the home plate umpire immediately called a balk on pitcher Scott Kazmir, giving Upton the base and making his run count. Disrupting the pitcher so much that he committed a balk was exactly as effective as stealing home outright, and it was a damn exciting play. It also tied the score at 3-3.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the stands twice when the Padres have attempted steals of home. Back in 1999, I saw Eric Owens pull off a successful steal, and now Melvin. They may be the two most exciting plays I’ve witnessed at the ballpark, although watching Dwight Gooden hit a 3-run homer to give the Mets a 7-0 nothing lead in the first inning back in 1985 was pretty cool, too.

I’m aware that Melvin’s contract could weight the Padres payroll down for the next several years. I know he’s spent much of the last two-plus years looking up at the Mendoza Line. But right now, I don’t care. I like baseball players with personalities. I like baseball players who add excitement to the game. And I’m not alone. That’s why Derek Norris has become a fast fan favorite. He adds excitement. So does Melvin.

I like it.

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