ANAHEIM, Calif. – Justin Upton is eager to get back into a playoff race. The Los Angeles Angels badly need another big bat to bolster their postseason push.
After the Angels acquired the slugger in a late-season trade Thursday, Upton also has at least one month in Orange County to decide whether to make it his long-term home.
The Angels acquired the four-time All-Star outfielder from the Detroit Tigers, giving up pitching prospect Grayson Long and cash or a player to be named. Los Angeles also allowed Cameron Maybin to leave on a waiver claim by the Houston Astros, clearing the way for Upton to take over in left field.
“What I’m excited about is being back into playoff contention and trying to help the Angels get to where they want to go,” Upton said in a phone interview. “I think I can be a piece that helps that.”
The 30-year-old Upton was an All-Star this season with the struggling Tigers, batting .279 with 28 homers and 94 runs batted in. He represents an immediate upgrade in left field for the Angels (69-65), who entered the day one game out of a playoff spot despite several major injuries to their pitching staff and one of the AL’s least potent lineups.
The Angels have showed remarkable resilience and grit while going 20-11 since July 28. General manager Billy Eppler and owner Arte Moreno decided to go wholeheartedly after the club’s second playoff appearance since 2009 by swinging this deal on the final day to acquire a player in time for him to be eligible for postseason play.
“This team showed a lot of fight over the course of the year, and what we were starting to see – to use a metaphor, the punches were getting stronger,” Eppler said. “The guys were hitting harder. Their play warranted a continued investment in this club, which we were able to do when Arte gave us the green light.”
The Angels began the day right behind Minnesota (69-63) in the congested race for the second A.L. wild-card berth. They were also just two games behind the wild card-leading Yankees (70-62).
Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 million deal to join Detroit before last season. Detroit agreed to pay the Angels $747,951 of the $3,747,951 remaining in Upton’s $22,125,000 salary this year.
Upton’s deal includes four more seasons at the same salary, but he can opt out after the World Series and become a free agent. He deflected initial questions about his upcoming decision.
“It’s a combination of everything,” Upton said. “I have a family. They have to be comfortable, and I have to be comfortable. I’ve never walked foot in the Angels’ clubhouse, so I’m in it with an open mind.”
While the Angels realize the moderate risk they’re taking, Eppler noted that Upton had already expressed interest in the Angels two years ago as a free agent before the Tigers signed him to that hefty contract. Upton likely would have been near the top of the Angels’ free-agent shopping list even if they hadn’t swung the trade, so the move essentially gives Los Angeles a head start on its offseason shopping while creating $22 million in payroll space if he leaves.
“We made the deal with the eye to what impact it could bring to our roster now,” Eppler said. “It’s understood that you have to be comfortable with the future, but Justin controls his fate. … I just hope he enjoys being here, and we’ll worry about that when the time seems appropriate.”
The Angels are Upton’s fifth big-league team, but he hasn’t reached the postseason since 2013 with Atlanta. He has never played in a World Series.
The Tigers get the right-handed Long, who was among the Angels’ better prospects after posting a 2.52 ERA in 23 Double-A starts.
But the Angels clearly needed another middle-of-the-order hitter. Despite the stellar production of two-time A.L. MVP Mike Trout, the Angels are 12th in the league in runs (584) and 15th in OPS (.713).
Left field has been a problematic spot for the Angels for several years, with oft-injured Josh Hamilton leading a long list of players who couldn’t produce at the position. The long-gone Hamilton’s five-year, $125 million contract finally comes off the Angels’ books this winter, freeing their payroll to absorb the rest of Upton’s contract if he doesn’t opt out.
Maybin has been relatively solid by the low standards for an Angels left fielder, batting .235 with 22 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in 93 games since joining the Angels last winter in a trade with Detroit. Houston will be his sixth big-league club.
The Angels open a nine-game road trip against A.L. West opponents on Friday night in Texas.
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