According to MLB columnist Bob Nightengale, the Los Angeles Angels have agreed to a contract extension with star left fielder Justin Upton. The deal is worth $108m over five years. A deal that’ll surely see Upton play the part of Robin to Mike Trout’s Batman. The Angels added Upton in a trade on August 31st, sending pitcher Grayson Long and cash considerations to the Detroit Tigers. Upton’s time with the Angels didn’t yield the late season push they were hoping for, a push that saw them in a deadlock with the Minnesota Twins, for the second Wild Card. During that span, Upton hit .245 with seven home runs and .273 overall for the year with a career-best 35 round-trips.
All for Trout
The deal is necessary for numerous reasons. Unnecessary from a win long-term way of viewing things, but necessary in an alarmist sense. Alarmist thinking, though normally not something to praise, serves its purpose. The Angels, with little to no farm system, and a valley of waste in the aged Albert Pujols, are desperately searching for ways to win with Mike Trout now. The Mount Whitney-sized star is up for free agency in two years. Let me repeat myself: TWO YEARS.
Yes, this article is about Justin Upton. It is. He’s good enough to get a little spotlight and attention. But if we’re honest, any moves made, or anything written about the Angels, from now to the Winter of 2019, are about Mike Trout. He’s that big, that much of a league fault line. A player with the ability to shape and morph much of the MLB landscape. He’s the Mickey Mantle of the modern era and the Angels are wasting him.
Over six full years with the Angels, Trout has amassed 200 home runs, won a batting crown, netted two American League MVP trophies, and consistently sitting atop the WAR leaderboard. His stats speak for themselves. But unless you watch this guy every day, you can’t truly understand the magnitude of his abilities. He is one of few players who can go hitless with three strikeouts but still win games. He’ll do it defensively, or by working the count. He’ll walk and/or steal a base. He’s as much a gritty gamer as he is a star. He manufactures runs. And he’s been in the postseason only once. ONCE.
The perfect pairing?
If this marriage between Mike Trout and Justin Upton will work, Upton must know his place. I think he does. Judging by his demeanor in interviews, he seemed excited for the opportunity with the Halos. He saw this chance as a fresh start to a career that has already given him four All-Star appearances and two Silver Slugger honors. If that approach holds pat, this could work perfectly. Upton gives the best player in baseball the protection he’s never had. Upton’s numbers, good but not godly, suddenly become more impactful. He becomes more important. Name one modern player who doesn’t want to feel important. He also gets to stroke his ego. He’s the guy who–alongside Trout and defensive gem, Kole Calhoun–completes a top 3 outfield in baseball.
And based on Upton's short tenure with the Angels, the following moves should happen:
Trout should bat third in the order. He has to. Yes, he can set the table as good as anyone, but the Angels have evolved him into the run driving force he’s become. You could tell hitting second confused Trout as he struggled down the stretch of the season, and Upton must hit 4th for this to work.
The question then becomes, who hits in front of the Angels' middle order? Though not a traditional leadoff man, Kole Calhoun’s numbers rise dramatically at leadoff, or the two-hole. He hasn’t proven he’s consistent enough power wise when hitting with runners in scoring position but when he’s given the chance to set the table, he’s been good. I’d then hit Andrelton Simmons behind him. Simmons had his best year in 2017. He puts balls in play and adds a diversity at the top of the order as a righthanded bat behind Calhoun, a lefty.
The Angels have money though. They have the wherewithal to go after an arm and possibly a solid middle infielder. If they can find a table setter, Calhoun could slide down into the two-hole, and Simmons hit sixth or seventh in the order, areas where he equally thrived in 2017.
Overall, though, the deal's warranted. If the Angels want any chance at swooning Trout over the next two years, they must prove their commitment now. He’s clarified that he and his wife love sunny Southern California. Trout likes being an Angel. He wants to be there. But as he enters his prime, he’s aware that peak is short lived. It’s about setting himself up in an environment that gives him a chance to play in the postseason. It’s now or never, Angels. Now, or never.