Three months ago, on the day the Angels were eliminated from postseason contention, manager Mike Scioscia identified one hole that he believed would demand the club’s focus this offseason.”The obvious talking point this winter is going to be our offense,” Scioscia said. It didn’t take the Angels long to take a significant step toward bolstering their lineup. On the first day of the offseason, the club announced that it had re-signed left fielder Justin Upton to a five-year, $106 million contract, adding an extra year to his deal to entice him to stay in Anaheim instead of using his opt-out clause to test free agency.
Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and the Angels are hoping to receive boosts from a fit Albert Pujols and three newcomers, Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani, veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler and All-Star infielder Zack Cozart, in 2018. But the key to the Angels’ offensive turnaround could ultimately be a full season of Upton, who offered a snapshot of his potential impact in September after being acquired from the Tigers in exchange for pitching prospects Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez.
Upton, 30, batted .273 with a .901 OPS, a career-high 35 home runs and 109 RBIs in 152 games between the Tigers and the Angels last season. Seven of his home runs came with the Angels, who ranked last in the American League with a .397 slugging percentage in 2017.
“You’re going from a left fielder [Cameron Maybin] who hit six [home runs] for us to hopefully a left fielder who is going to hit 36 for us [next] year,” Scioscia said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.
Along with giving the Angels another middle-of-the-order bat to pair with Trout, Upton is also expected to bring long-term stability to left field, a position the club has struggled to fill since Josh Hamilton’s departure. In 2015, Angels left fielders posted a .574 OPS, the worst in the Majors at that position. The following two years weren’t much better, with a .628 OPS in ’16 and a .699 OPS in ’17. Upton, who has a career .828 OPS over his 11 seasons in the Majors, should finally help break the streak of futility.
“Justin embodied our offensive philosophy, which is to get on base and hit the ball hard,” general manager Billy Eppler said in November. “He’s shown a knack for doing that. He’s got the power and the on-base skills that we covet, as well as the character and the professional approach necessary to be a key member of our core moving forward.”
By Maria Guardado