The Padres’ MVP this year has obviously been Justin Upton. He has on paper been the best addition to the team. Upton will undoubtedly reject the Padres’ inevitable qualifying offer and depart to the highest bidder. Padre fans ought to be happy at this seeming inevitability.
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With the added salaries of the backloaded James Shields contract and the added $15 million in salary for Matt Kemp as well as all the arbitration salary increases, logistically, the team cannot afford to sign Upton. So let us not look at the situation with rose-colored glasses and hope GM A.J. Preller can finagle his way into keeping Justin Upton.
In his interview with the Mighty 1090, Upton said that the team didn’t really start becoming, well, a team until just before Bud Black got fired. Then, they had to revamp around Pat Murphy, which took time for the team to gel again. Yet, it seemed like, though he didn’t say it outright, the team really hasn’t come together to become one. Now, when there are a soup of player changes, switching managers only creates more factors to have to adjust to.
But when the teams most productive player says: “I think as a whole – as a team – we know what it takes to win. We just didn’t do that consistently enough,” there should be red flags everywhere. Either that means that the manager failed to unite the squad or there was something about the players themselves that kept them from becoming a team. Perhaps this should be a criticism on the manager. Considering that he was highly regarded at every level for motivating and bringing together a team, let us focus on the player who is at the center of this article.
Now, I do not want to cast judgment upon someone I have not met. So I will only put forward questions and let you decide what to do with them. For all we at FriarsOnBase know, Upton could be a truly great teammate and an upstanding individual.
But! Why is it that a player with this level of talent hasn’t translated it into more production? With that kind of talent, shouldn’t he be hitting 35 home runs a year with a high batting average and on-base percentage? Why is it that Arizona put such a young guy on the trading block? Even after making the playoffs in 2011 in which Upton had his best year to date, the Diamondbacks were shopping him around. One would think that either Arizona or Atlanta would have wanted to sign him long-term. The Braves have the money. Extending a player they traded at age 27 would have fit into their plans of competing in 2017 and 2018.
Regardless of Upton’s effect on morale, his departure will be a major positive for the team’s defense. Perhaps the biggest reason the Padres have failed this season is defense. BaseballProjection.com’s total zone total runs above average put the Padres at -24 runs. That is second worst in all of baseball. Baseball Info Solutions’ metric for runs above average puts the Padres at -17, which is third worst in the league.
Upton has actually been fine defensively. BaseballProjection.com has him at zero runs above average, while Baseball Info Solutions has it at +8, good for second-best on the team. But leaving will allow Wil Myers to not occupy centerfield. Yonder Alonso and Brett Wallace are first base only type players. So Myers could likely only go there if a replacement outfielder were better than Alonso or Wallace. If there is a replacement player better than them or traded for one of them, then that’s a major positive that must cost way less than Upton.
The added payroll flexibility should permit Preller to go after an improvement at the team’s worst possession – shortstop.
Plus, the Padres would get a draft pick in the first round. If Preller is the great prospect evaluator his reputation has led on, then that draft pick might actually turn out well.