While Angels fans waited anxiously over the past month to see whether Justin Upton would be back next year, it turns out that Billy Eppler was never that concerned, for the simplest of all reasons. It was clear early to the Angels’ general manager that this is what both sides wanted.
“You never feel entirely sure in the process but cautiously optimistic was an appropriate term for how I was feeling and they were feeling,” Eppler said Thursday, after the Angels announced a new five-year, $106-million deal with Upton.
Upton came to the Angels with an opt-out in his deal at the end of this season. But in the month he played with the Angels and the month after the season, Upton and Eppler made it clear to each other they wanted the relationship to continue.
“It felt to me over the last 30 days of our season that Justin wanted to be here, and we wanted to have him here, so we just focused on our relationship and didn’t consider other alternatives,” Eppler said. “We wanted to keep this union together and he did too.”
Upton said via Twitter that he was out of the country Thursday, but he released a statement on the new deal.
“My family and I are very excited and happy to be back with the Angels organization,” he wrote. “After talking with Billy Eppler several times it was evident to me that (owner Arte Moreno) and the whole organization was as committed to winning as I am, and that was the biggest factor in my decision to come back.”
The Angels also sweetened his deal. Upton had four years and $88.5 million remaining on the six-year deal he signed with the Detroit Tigers, who traded him to the Angels on Aug. 31. The opt-out deadline was three days after the end of the 2017 World Series – Saturday.
Eppler began talking with Upton and his agent shortly after the season ended, and the talks culminated in a restructured deal, which adds a year and $17.5 million. They also added a full no-trade clause.
Upton, 30, hit .273 with 35 homers and 109 RBIs, with a .901 OPS in 2017, one of his best seasons. He hit seven homers with an .887 OPS in the month after the Angels acquired him for two minor league pitchers, adding a dangerous hitter behind Mike Trout.
By Jess Fletcher