Melvin Upton Jr. received a warm welcome by the Toronto faithful at the Rogers Centre Tuesday night as he approached the batter’s box for the first time in a Blue Jay uniform. He was traded by the visiting San Diego Padres for a minor league prospect and fortunately only had to travel from one dugout to the other. He went 0-1 on a Fielder’s choice in the 7th inning and eventually was left stranded at third. Not the impactful debut he was hoping for, but I’m sure winning in the end was all that mattered. So what does the veteran outfielder bring to the Blue Jays and why did GM Ross Atkins pull the trigger on this deal?
Upton Jr. does have some pop in his bat hitting double-digit home runs in 7 of his last 10 seasons. He is better known however, for his speed both on the base path and in the field. His usual position is centre field as he can cover a lot of ground, but with Kevin ‘Superman’ Pillar there, he is most likely to find time either in left to give Michael Saunders a day off, or in right moving Jose Bautista to DH and Edwin Encarnacion to first. After the dominoes have settled, it seems the one person that will lose the most playing time will be first baseman Justin Smoak. Although Melvin (formerly known as BJ) is great defensively, he has an average arm which isn’t an improvement over any of the current outfielders. Overall, Upton Jr. can be a great asset to have as a pinch runner, late game defender or even as an insurance policy should any of the other 3 get injured, but he isn’t a huge upgrade like Troy Tulowitzki was over Jose Reyes last year. The one main problem though is that to be effective at the plate, he needs to have consistent at-bats as he isn’t the type of batter that can sit for a couple of days and be effective. It won’t be that easy for Gibby to find him that time.
Now if someone like me knows that, then I would imagine that the powers that be know that as well. So the obvious question is why then would the Blue Jays GM pull the trigger on this deal when it may not be the best fit for the team. There are several reasons why this trade could turn out beneficial for the Blue Jays and those reasons can become apparent within a couple of days or quite possibly, not until next season. First off, Atkins and everyone else in the 6ix understands that the Blue Jays need pitching. If they are moving Alex Sanchez to the pen then a starter would make sense, preferably a lefty. There are no big names being mentioned out there and even if a Chris Archer or Chris Sale is available, the Blue Jays can’t afford them. But even finding a mediocre-to-good lefty is going to cost you, so it is possible that the Blue Jay GM is willing to trade one of their free agents like Canadian Michael Saunders or Jose Bautista. This would then make a fulltime position available for Upton. With Bautista being a 10 & 5 man (10+ years in the league and 5+ years on the same team) trading him would be more difficult than the All-Star Saunders as he could veto the trade.
— Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 8, 2016
If Atkins does not move one of them at the trade deadline, it is still looking like one or two or even all three of Saunders, Bautista and DH Edwin Encarnacion will sign elsewhere before spring training. Melvin Uptown Jr. has one year left after this season and therefore provides management with a bit of security having 2 outfielders (Kevin Pillar the other) under contract. This is valuable since all three free agents are looking for significant pay raises, and for the most part, deservedly so. There is slim to no chance that the Blue Jays would be able to afford all three. So although the move isn’t exactly what the Blue Jays needed (this would have been so much better if he batted left-handed) he does add value to the team both for this year and next. Whether this move turns out for the best will most likely depend on what Atkins does next.
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